Saturday, 31 August 2013

Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013)

We were very sad to learn yesterday of the death of the poet Seamus Heaney. He was festival poet at the St Magnus Festival in 1982 and 1994, and was photographed during his first visit by Gunnie Moberg.
photo by Gunnie Moberg
In the book St Magnus Festival: a celebration compiled and edited by Pamela Beasant, Maureen Gray who worked at the Pier Arts Centre - venue for the festival poet readings - recalls the relationship between Seamus Heaney and Stromness' resident poet, George Mackay Brown :

Seamus Heaney mentioned that it was such an honour to come and read here with George sitting in the audience. George appeared to be in awe of Seamus Heaney too. There was great mutual respect.
The book includes an extract from  Morag MacInnes' review in The Times Educational Supplement from July 2, 1982, where she describes this reading, and Seamus Heaney's effect on the festival audience:

He looked like a piece of bog-cotton among a lot of hot-house orchids: he won his audience with his modesty, his humour, and his brogue.

The mutual respect between Seamus Heaney and George Mackay Brown is evident in each poet's reflections on the other's work. Brown writes of Heaney in The Orcadian, June 23 1994:

The supreme art of making simple events not only memorable but immortal - Seamus Heaney is a master there, like all the great poets.

While Heaney wrote of Brown:

W.H. Auden once called poetry "a way of happening" and in the work of George Mackay Brown the way is a fabulous one; he transforms everything by passing it through the eye of the needle of Orkney. His sense of the world and his way with words are powerfully at one with each other. His vision has something of the skaldic poet's consciousness of inevitable order, something of the haiku master's susceptibility to the delicate and momentary, and since the beginning of his career he has added uniquely and steadfastly to the riches of poetry in English.
Seamus Heaney went on to write the following poem in memory of George Mackay Brown  which was included in the volume Dove-Marks on Stone: Poems for George Mackay Brown which was published to mark what would have been Brown's 75th Birthday in October 1996:

A Landfall
i.m. George Mackay Brown

Far north, in sunlight,
the stone ship ran aground. Larks
sing at the masthead.

A copy of Dove-Marks on Stone is available for reference in The Orkney Room of Orkney Library and Archive in Kirkwall. A copy of St Magnus Festival: a celebration and Seamus Heaney's Open Ground: Poems 1966-1996 are both available to borrow from Stromness Library.

Seamus Heaney was also one of the patrons of The George Mackay Brown Fellowship - along with Sir Andrew Motion and Stewart Conn -  which was established in memory of George Mackay Brown with the aim of both celebrating Brown's writing and encouraging and promoting new creative writing in Orkney. 

This ongoing link with Orkney was a testament to the connection between Seamus Heaney and George Mackay Brown, and today we mourn the loss of another great poet.

photo by Iain Stewart

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