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Talking to Heaney
on 26 February 2013
More biographies should be like this.
But where would you find such an equable, articulate, fluent subject as Seamus Heaney, who spent what must have been many hours talking to the late Dennis O`Driscoll, about poetry, people, places, and - luckily for us - more poetry.
Over 500 generous, packed pages, prompted by his intelligent interrogator, Heaney talks like the most literate companion you could, in your wildest dreams, wish for.
As can be discerned in TV interviews with the Nobel laureate, his gentle and compassionate nature never compromises a rigorous, fair-minded, fiercely eloquent artist, whether in prose or poetry.
You could happily quote from any page anywhere in this remarkable book, and you`d find gold. Heaney doesn`t just have `a way with words` he seems to freshly mint each word he says, while sounding utterly natural, pearls flowing from his amply stocked mind like pure water from a deep well.
This book acts as a kind of (auto)biography of the Northern Irish poet - his home life, both as a child then with his devoted wife Marie, as well as his friendships and collaborations with more fellow poets than you can shake a stick at, some of whom, such as Milosz or Hughes, live in these pages more vividly and truthfully than in many a conventional biography. Heaney`s balanced and informed views on other poets make for stimulating reading, for example his only slightly qualified praise for the great American poet Wallace Stevens, or his unqualified love of Robert Frost, who (unsurprisingly) has been a life-long inspiration.
If you have the remotest interest in poetry, poets, why, what and how they write, then you really should read this literally marvellous book. I sometimes pick it up and spend an hour - invariably becoming two - contentedly browsing its pages, knowing I`m in the safest of literary hands. Heaney is a poet to his fingertips, and a man who can talk like a dream.