Saturday, December 23, 2023

To the Lighthouse: the Place of Politics in Poetry by Seamus Heaney

My Dear Readers and Fellow Poets:

Two days ago, CBC Radio re-aired its May 23, 2010 interview with Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney on the place of politics in poetry. 

This interview was timely, sociopolitically conscious, and most importantly, relevant to "our life in this broken world."

Below is an excerpt from this interview:

Pondering Poetry:

I was first interested in poetry as 'poetry.' Early on I was familiar with recitation.

We had little concerts at home as children, where we recited poems we'd learned at school of course. Then at Christmastime and at Easter, elder friends of my father's and mother's would be in, and there would be sing-songs. As I came into adolescence I would be asked to do a recitation. I knew several, such as The Shooting of Dan McGrew, The Spell of the Yukon and The Cremation of Sam McGee, all from Robert W. Service...

I wrote some poems as every literary undergraduate does, but it wasn't until 1962, that something started in me. But it came from reading poetry by Patrick Kavanagh, an Irish poet with the same kind of background as myself, a wonderful sudden burst of energy from him; and likewise from Ted Hughes, who again touched on subjects that I thought were known only to me, such as dead pigs lying in barrows, and bulls in outhouses, and barns and so on...

Poetics & Politics:

The question of what a poet's responsibility is to address the politics in their time is one that I kept answering ad nauseum between about 1969 or 1970 and 1989. Almost everything that I've written in prose and much that's in verse is about that question. Poets of the 1930s in England especially felt that. I mean, Spender, Auden and Louis MacNeice — who's an Irish poet of course, but part of that British generation — spoke to and about the Spanish Civil War, the rise of fascism and so on.

They were lyric poets, they had private subjects. They had love, eros, sex, time, childhood and yet there was the big war and the need for commitment. Communism was flowering as an ideology. The attraction of working for the wretched of the earth was deep, moral and compelling. So what was the private lyric poet to do? Was he or she to just keep to the lyric matter of the self and beauty or was there a bigger obligation?...

Just a few minutes before Seamus Heaney  died, he sent a message, in Latin, to his wife Marie. It said simply: "Noli Timere – Don't be afraid."

In a war situation or where violence and injustice are prevalent, "poetry is called upon to be something more than a thing of beauty." 

-- Seamus Heaney, Ireland's most renowned poet since Yeats, playwright and translator who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature

History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme

Seamus Heaney, "The Cure at Troy"

I would like to conclude today's post with a "haiku called upon to be something more than a thing of beauty"

This Brave New World, CXXIX

a teen waves his bloodied keffiyeh becoming Flag

FYI: For many Palestinians, the keffiyeh symbolizes their yearning for freedom and serves a nod to their history. For some non-Palestinians, it's a show of solidarity. 

And The Guardian, Jan.9, 2023 (9 months before the Hamas attacks): Israel security minister bans Palestinian flag-flying in public: Itamar Ben-Gvir’s order follows series of punitive steps against Palestinians since Israel’s hardline government took office.

Note: For more about Seamus Heaney's view of haiku and writing of tanka, see my "Dark Wings of the Night" posts: Seamus Heaney and His View of Haiku and Tankas for Toraiwa

AddedThis Brave New World, CXXX

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

nativity scene
Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus
amid tangled rubble

the sound of church bells
fades in the gathering dark
empty Manger Square

FYI: Manger Square is a city square in the center of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. "In 1950, Bethlehem and the surrounding villages were 86 percent Christian. But by 2016, the Christian population dipped to just 12 percent, according Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun."

The New Yorker, Nov.1 2023The Gaza-ification of the West Bank: As the war in Gaza escalates, so, too, has the forcible displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank. Is Israel’s approach to the two regions linked?

An interview with Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli activist and the former executive director of the nonprofit organization B’Tselem, which works on human-rights issues in the occupied territories.
Government of Canada, Dec. 15: 14 countries, in addition to the EU, call on Israel to take immediate and concrete steps to tackle record high settler violence in the West Bank.

And Haaretz, Dec. 24: "Christmas During Gaza War: Bethlehem Marks a Somber Holiday"

Bethlehem and the entire Holy Land are in a state of grief and deep sadness. There's no problem with attending Midnight Mass: There are no tickets, no stress and no worshippers.

No comments:

Post a Comment