A Review: The New Selected Poems of Seamus Heaney


There were nine mosquitos standing upsidedown on the ceiling above my bed. I managed to kill three that came down, but the others stayed up there and were too high to reach, even standing on my bed waving a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems. I turned out the light and waited for the others to descend. I could imagine them planting their feet on my skin, injecting me with their needle-like straws and sucking my blood out. I wrapped my sheets around me like a mummy and curled my pillow around my face.

It didn’t take long. Pretty soon there was a buzzing in the air that kept growing louder. I tried to ignore it. They won’t get through the sheets I said to myself and started thinking about Seamus Heaney and his poems that mostly seemed to be about peat and bog with a sprinkling of words no one ever uses in regular conversation. I couldn’t connect with them. Not because they weren’t technically proficient. I could appreciate the talent and skill it took to craft them. I just didn’t feel them. It was as though they were written for the head alone, and neglected the gut, the sinews, the bone marrow, the bloodstream and soul. They were as flat as the paper they were written on. They were – even worse – academic.

The poems for me have a living quality to them. They hold a mirror up to my experiences. They delight, they instruct, they weave the air and breathe. You can read them again and again. They’re like the rapid heartbeat of a bullfinch in your hand or a Komodo dragon hiding under the living room sofa – immediate and vibrating with life.

The poets for me are the ones who give you the sense of a deep heart, a heightened consciousness, humor, gamble, passion, tenderness, originality, a refusal to compromise or heed to public opinion.

“For whether we agree with the Greek poet that ‘Sometimes it is sweet to be mad,’ or with Plato that ‘A man sound in mind knocks in vain at the doors of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘No great intellect has been without a touch of madness,’ only a mind that is deeply stirred can utter something noble and beyond the power of others.” ~ Seneca

Give me Horace, or Hafez, or Rimbaud, or Lorca, or e.e. cummings, or Pound or Bukowski or Tranströmer. Give me anyone but someone who has nothing to say and a million ways to prove the fact, whether it be via dribblings and runnings-on about peat and bog, or an overabundance of words like bullaun, or Pennines, or vowel-meadow, or hidebound, or Catkin-pixie, or whatever other clever contrivance it takes to tickle the mind but fail the senses and soul (of the universal man).

The buzzing grew louder and started circling my ear. Then it became a chorus. All six mosquitos must’ve been hovering over me, waiting to feast. There was no way I could sleep with that threat, I decided. My insomnia is bad enough as it is. I de-mummified, turned on the light, grabbed Heaney’s Selected Poems, and started batting away.

The book proved to be a good flyswatter at least. Well, it only cost me a pound. I bought it used at a bookstore in London.