Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney

In Poetry on July 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm

As of last week, I am a proud owner of a wonderful, thick, hard-bound copy of “Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney” by Dennis O’Driscoll (published by Faber and Faber).  As the subtitle says, the book is a collection of interviews conducted by O’Driscoll, himself an Irish poet, essayist and critic, over a period of 6 years (2001-2007), mostly done “in writing and by post.


Tracing out the long arc of his progression, the book is divided into two main sections: Bearings – which deals with his early childhood in Mossbawn and his early forays into poetry – and “On the Books” – which, using each of his published volumes as a framework, discuss the circumstances and influences that went into their composition. Along the way is abundant anecdotal information about Heaney’s personal and public life, his friendships, influences, challenges, all interspersed with pictures.

In the words of O’Driscoll, “[..] But Seamus Heaney- as anyone who has heard him interviewed on the radio, or who has been the fortunate addressee of one of his handwritten letters or postcards will know  – has the rare capacity to improvise sentences which are at once spontaneous and shapely, playful and profound, beautiful and true. The same extemporaneous eloquence is a feature of these interviews”

And although this eloquence is sufficient all by itself, even to those unfamiiar with much of Heaney’s work, to warrant a copy, I personally feel it is a must-read for all Heaney lovers, as the only book-length portrait of this giant of contemporary English poetry.

Here, finally, is one little nugget from the book:

What has poetry taught you?

That there’s such a thing as truth and it can be told – slant; that subjectivity is not be theorized away and is worth defending; that poetry itself has virtue, in the first sense of possessing a quality of moral excellence and in the sense also of possessing inherent strength by reason of its sheer made-upness, its integritas, consonantia, and claritas.

  1. I would love to just look at all the pictures in this book. Not to trivialize his amazing work, but I think he is an incredibly handsome person 🙂

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