Nonfiction November, Week 3: Be The Expert on Seamus Heaney

Renny is hosting our Be/Ask/Become the Expert topic this week as part of Nonfiction November. Here’s what you need to do!

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I took part in this last year and talked about the world of theatre, as I have a Masters in Modern Drama Studies. This year, I’m going to look at nonfiction relating to the poet Seamus Heaney. As Arts and Literary Programmer at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, this is something I need to be an expert in if I want to do my job well!

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Denis O’Driscoll

My well-marked copy of Stepping Stones!

Seamus Heaney never wrote an autobiography, but Stepping Stones is as close as you will get. The book takes the form of Heaney’s answers to questions sent to him by poet and writer Denis O’Driscoll and their conversational interview sheds a light on not just what it is to be a poet, but on what it is to be human. It’s a remarkable book and not just for poetry lovers. O’Driscoll’s questions are insightful and knowledgeable and Heaney’s replies are intelligent and belie an easy good humour that is infectious and the book manages to combine the spontaneity of in person conversation with the considered qualities of the best autobiographical writing. When I say that this is my work bible, I’m not kidding!

Crediting Poetry by Seamus Heaney

This in turn became a journey into the wideness of language, a journey where each point of arrival – whether in one’s poetry or one’s life turned out to be a stepping stone rather than a destination, and it is that journey which has brought me now to this honoured spot. And yet the platform here feels more like a space station than a stepping stone, so that is why, for once in my life, I am permitting myself the luxury of walking on air.

Crediting Poetry is the publication of Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in Stockholm in December 1995. In it he details his rural childhood, his joy in the discovery of language and his belief in poetry as an affirmation of life. If you ever need reminded of the power of literature, this slim book will give you just what you need!

Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971 – 2001

Heaney was a prolific essayist and this pubication is the definitive collection of his prose works.

‘How should a poet properly live and write? What is his relationship to his own voice, his own place, his literary heritage and his contemporary world?

In this collection he explores the work of other Irish poets Like WB Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh as well as including pieces on Larkin, WH Auden and Elizabeth Bishop. Finders Keepers is a prime example of literary criticism at its best and its most accessible.

The Redress of Poetry by Seamus Heaney

Poetry cannot afford to lose its fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness, its joy in being a process of language as well as a representation of things in the world.

The Redress of Poetry is a collection of the acclaimed lectures delivered by Seamus Heaney while he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, from 1989 to 1994. In the first of them, Heaney discusses and celebrates poetry’s special ability to function as a counterweight to hostile forces in the world. He goes on to explore how this ‘redress’ manifests itself in a diverse range of poems, and the whole book constitutes a vivid proof of Heaney’s claim that ‘poetry is strong enough to help’.

On Seamus Heaney Roy Foster

Irish critic and historian Roy Foster published On Seamus Heaney just this year and his slim book is a warm and accessible account of Heaney’s life and work, told through a keen reading of his poems. Foster sets Heaney’s body of work against the background of a changing Ireland and explores the deliberate creative ambiguity within his work.

Forthcoming books to look out for!

Heaney aficionados are in for a treat in the next few years as poet Christopher Reid is editing The Selected Letters of Seamus Heaney (as he also did for Ted Hughes), with publication due for 2022. Irish writer, journalist and academic Fintan O’Toole is currently writing the official biography of Seamus Heaney, also due for publication in 2022, both of which will be published by Faber. The recent find of letters between Heaney, Ted Hughes and the artist Barrie Cooke promises further insight into the poet’s life and work.

Irish Literature nonfiction

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’d be interested to read Heaney’s selected prose (essays).
    I read one of his essays “From Monaghan to the Grand Canal”
    ..about the poet Patrick Kavanagh. (see my blog: dd. 14 Dec 2018)
    Heaney gives an analysis of 3 poems by Kavanagh….enlightening insights from the master!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re-reading Stepping Stones myself at the mo. There is so much in there, so many layers and levels of insights and information.
    I used to think he was a man whose path was starred with successes and the right people. None ever are. it was a disservice on my part.
    His style of writing, and approach, although it changed, developed, does it still talk to people?

    Bug topic you’ve taken on. And thanks for the info on the biog and letters (the Jonathon Bates Unauthorised Biog of Ted Hughes was pretty bad. This can only be better).


  3. I have a volume of the selected poems and whenever I flick through it I find wonderful stuff. I love that Joe Biden sometimes quotes Heaney. 2022 will be a big year for scholars and amateurs alike — you’ll be busy at work!


  4. I don’t know anything about Seamus Heaney so this is incredibly interesting and useful. Stepping Stones sounds wonderful, what a good idea to interview somebody instead of just a straight biography, would you start there or with the Roy Foster – for an absolute novice?


    • The Roy Foster will probably give a good overview – it’s not too long and not too heavy on the critical theory side of things, so will just put his work into context. Stepping Stones is really wonderful though.


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