Despite it only being about an hour long, Seamus Heaney, one of the world’s most prestigious living poets, covered several far-reaching topics in his Q and A session. I had the opportunity, along with about fifteen other individuals, to meet with the poet and ask questions regarding his career, inspiration, and life.
“I believe poetry is too big for any of us…to be defined. To call yourself a poet is quite an undertaking, or overtaking.”
Heaney, 73, in his wry and witty demeanor, quickly demonstrated his creativity and eagerness in tackling different subjects. When asked about how to introduce young students to poetry that do not already have an appreciation for it, Heaney mentioned an occurrence from a few years ago when, in an interview, he praised the rap artist Eminem for his “subversive attitude” and “verbal energy,” and he stated that perhaps music lyrics, especially rap, may be a proper gateway or introduction to poetry and poetic styles. He also comically stated that the title of the journalist’s article the next day was something along the lines of “Poet commends vulgarity in rap music.”
“I’m not sure if this is poetry or not, but it is a thing that I can do,” Heaney recalled saying after writing “Digging,” one of his first major poems. He indicated that he was not comfortable being considered a poet by profession until years into his career. He would write “in binges, on a roll for awhile” when struck with ideas instead of devoting a set amount of time each day to his work. However, he admitted that he regretted not having a more strict process, saying “At this age, I’m more sorry that I didn’t practice a more disciplined attitude.”
“Perhaps you should write a journal, which I didn’t do either.”
An appreciation for the fellowship of support between poets is something that was readily apparent in talks with Heaney. When discussing influence, he declared that the “enabling quality of other writers was important. Love was also important.” He discussed the methods used in reviews and criticism between poets. Heaney stated that he favors appreciation and having a “judicious take” on poems, stressing that reviews need “honesty and mercy.” On the importance of love in his works, Heaney mentioned the importance of his wife and family on his career.
“It would be hard to keep it going for 50 years” without the support of his family. “Marriage is a hell of a job, really. An inevitable job, I suppose.”
The conversation with the renown poet ended on his perception of his legacy. He jokingly pointed out that he was once referred to as “Famous Seamus,” and he followed Wordsworth’s definition on the difference between pleasing an audience and pleasing the public. “You don’t set out to please the public. You set out to please the audience.”
After the private Q and A session, Heaney engaged several hundred people in a public poetry reading.