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Collected Q&A's with Seamus Heaney

November 28, 2008 |  5:45 am

Heaneyfsg Among the more unexpected appearances by Seamus Heaney in the last year has been a blurb on the cover of "The Way I Am" by Eminem ("'There is this guy Eminem... He has sent a voltage around a generation.')

More expected is a collection of interviews, organized by Dennis O'Driscoll, titled "Stepping Stones," that will be published in December by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. There is much to enjoy here, much that causes one to regard him with the awe normally given to a poet of his reputation and much that shows him as just another human being trying to deal with deadlines and get his work done.

First the awe part. Asked about the composition of one of his bog-poems in "North," Heaney makes it sound as if no meditation were required at all to write it. Here's his brief response to the question, Was it difficult to write?:

"The Grauballe Man" was done quickly. I had these notes scribbled on stray bits of paper that had been in my pockets in Aarhus, and one day I suddenly rallied them into a poem.

Then, asked when the writing gets done, he sounds like any other writer with a day job and family to support:

Well, it used to be that -- whatever I did -- I wrote at night. That was in my twenties, thirties, forties, partly because I was teaching and busy all day and living a full life with the thrilling Heaney household. The house, you see, quietened later at night. Now that the house is quiet all day, I tend to work in the mornings if poems are coming. But I don't have a time of day for poems and a time of day for essays. In fact, my experience is that prose usually equals duty -- last minute, overdue-deadline stuff or a panic lecture to be written.

"Prose usually equals duty" -- such is the life of journalists. The later interviews in this collection also show Heaney, now approaching 70, confronting the inevitable issues of aging and death. Just as other writers are engaging with mortality in their writing, which Heller McAlpin pointed out recently in our section, so too does Heaney. He says he doesn't feel fear anymore when he thinks of death, only grief at "having to leave 'what thou lovest well' and whom thou lovest well." 

-- Nick Owchar

Photo credit: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2001)