Saturday, August 23, 2014

About the Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading: On Wednesday the 27th of August 2014 at 7:30 pm

About the Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading
On Wednesday the 27th of August 2014 at 7:30 pm
At First Church Congregationalist
11 Garden Street by the Sheraton Commander off of Harvard Square

by Michael Todd Steffen

The reading to honor Seamus Heaney this Wednesday came about in a very simple way. We had a reading this past May in the Hastings Room of the church. That reading went well and drew a lot of compliments for the space. Steve Brown, who helps organize events at the church, brought up the idea of doing another reading this summer, for late August. Wondering how to organize it, which readers to choose, and being an admiring reader of Heaney’s, I proposed that we make the reading to remember him around the one-year anniversary of his death, August 30 2013. Then I’d know I was looking for Irish-American poets, and I had Joan Houlihan and Daniel Tobin in mind right away. Joan brought up the excellent suggestion that we invite Fred Marchant who knew Seamus Heaney. I also for my own reasons wanted to have Doug Holder there as a reader. And Alex Green who runs Back Pages Book Store and Publishing in Waltham will be making a presentation of a fine press broadside he did of a poem given to him for that purpose by Heaney.

The poets will be reading, I believe, something of Heaney’s as well as from their own work. Each of the readers has something unique that relates to Seamus’s poetry. Notions or themes will sort of guide the event, like the mystery and inspiration of craft, of written language and poetry, the “living past,” what the voice of peace says in a time of war and violence, and the poet of his times relating tradition on his individual terms. Any one of the readers would have been sufficient as a feature reader. They are all really that good. But since it was a special occasion, I just reached out to the people I felt I knew well enough to invite. The Boston-Cambridge area must have many many poets worthy of such an occasion. Maybe the readings at the Hastings Room will be extended, and we’ll be able to do this again, and bring more dimension into Heaney’s legacy in the area, but nothing like that has been projected yet.

Our readers each have exciting new work to share, published this year or forthcoming. I think what Joan Houlihan has done in her narratives The Us and Ay speaks so relevantly and freshly to remind us who we are beneath our layers of historical expectations (and excuses), which Heaney expressed so well in his archeological poems. I’m also very excited about having Daniel Tobin who has written so extensively and insightfully in his book Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney. Daniel also has just this year put out a very powerful book of his own poetry called The Net. I think Fred Marchant has something special in the way of reminiscence and homage for Heaney. Fred has a book forthcoming from Graywolf Press, The Later Day, in 2016. The evening has a promise of wonder about it very suitable for Heaney who was a much endeared poet and individual to the Harvard community, to Ireland, and to the world. Doug Holder has had a new collection, Eating Grief at 3 A. M., released this year by Muddy River Press. Holder’s poetry in its own way, as it has been described “spare yet rich,” I think evokes the epigramist’s rigor that utterly haunts so much of the silence in Heaney’s riddling poems. Alex Green’s broadside and his story about getting this poem from Heaney will fascinate us all. Everybody who wants to celebrate Heaney’s memory and poetry is more than welcome. That’s what it’s all about. It’ll be a great time.

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