Friday, August 21, 2015

Welcome to The Hastings Room for our second annual Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading. Aug 26 7PM

Hastings Room--First Church Congregationalist--Series Curator: Michael Todd Steffen 

Welcome to The Hastings Room
for our second annual
Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading

And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens… — “Song” S.H.

Wednesday 26 August 2015 at 7:00pm
First Church Congregationalist
11 Garden Street, near Harvard Square

Featuring Greg Delanty and Tomas O’Leary

By Michael Todd Steffen

I just wanted to make a few comments about our event this Wednesday evening.

The brief discussion at this year’s Memorial Reading will raise topics such as “crediting poetry,” Heaney’s disposition to an art devoted to things as they are, ideas about song and lyric as traditional poems, forms from the past addressing things of our time, and so singing, in Heaney’s words, “close to the music of what happens.” This makes lyrical poetry different from the news or “reality” shows.

Why state something so obvious? Because today via the Internet we are able to access news, music, movies and programs, surfing the links, as well as poetry pages, at the risk of giving them all the same sort of attention. In fact, poetry, good lyrical poetry especially, asks of us more focused attention on particular word choice, the arrangements of words and phrases, not just their literal sense, but their multiple suggestions and allusions.

So to content-read through one of Seamus Heaney’s poems, like “The Underground,” the first poem in Station Island, would result in missing a lot of the poem’s intentions. There is so much present that is not outwardly stated, the public image of the couple in the modern city compared to Greek mythology, the couple’s intimacy likened to the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, the exhilaration of memory, the pain of loss, the separated individual’s anxiety yet also transformation, and so much more, all just suggested by the rhythms of the language, the allusions to flowers, to Orpheus, and the emphases of words and phrases.

This is not a poem we’ll be discussing Wednesday evening. I just use it as an example, because it has the astonishing resonance of a great lyrical poem. You don’t have to work to memorize it. It settles in on its own. I read it for the first time almost thirty years ago and though it is a poem of only 16 lines, it keeps revealing new things to me.
Our guest readers Wednesday, Tomas O’Leary of Cambridge and Greg Delanty, an Irish-American citizen who is poet in residence at St. Michael’s in Vermont, will be remembering Seamus Heaney. Greg and Tomas and their work are definitely UP to the occasion. Greg knew Seamus personally. There are several photos of them together here and there.

In his widely anthologized career, Greg Delanty has won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, the Allan Dowling Poetry Fellowship, a Guggenheim, and he is a former President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers. Add to that an Austin Clarke Centenary Poetry Award and an Irish Arts Council bursary, and on and on.  An entire issue of Agenda (summer/autumn 2008) was devoted to celebrating Greg on his 50th birthday, upon the rare achievement at that young age of releasing a Collected edition.

Tomas O’Leary is one of the most appreciated characters on the Boston Area poetry scene, certainly in Cambridge and Somerville. Though Tomas was raised in Somerville, his manner is all emerald and fifey, unaffectedly so. If they both weren’t so well known, I’d try to introduce our Irish guest, Greg, as Tomas and vice-versa, to see if anybody would catch us out.

As well as a poet, Tomas is a translator, folk musician, artist and art therapist. He has this broad approach and embrace of character sanely maintaining joker and gentleman, much as Greg does. They each have the knack of being able to make you feel good with an insult, and giving you second-thoughts at a compliment. That is what we’ll be dealing with.

Both poets have a new collection of poetry out. I’ll be talking about those books Wednesday. The poets will be reading from them as well as from their previous collections. It will be well worth everybody’s effort to come and help us celebrate Seamus Heaney. He was one of the truly great poets of the language, as well as such a kind person. Cambridge and Harvard got to know that, so it’s right that we’re doing this at First Church.

Oh and: Come early. Last year we were at standing room only. And nobody left early.

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