Skip to main content

Charles Bennett On His One-to-one with Seamus Heaney



One-on-One                                                                                                      Charles Bennett

He put on his glasses. They were half-frame reading glasses, over which he gazed, suddenly fearsome. His whole frame centred and grounded itself, and the gravitas of his gaze made the warm afternoon sticky. I prickled with sweat.
                For a while he praised the weak poems I showed him. And then, with a disconcerting stare from over the rim of those glasses, his eyes directly challenging mine with kindly authority, he pointed at one particular spot in the poem and asked, with a growl of enquiry, “And what about this bit, here?”.
                In was my first and last one-to-one with Seamus. His office at Harvard (near where I had left my hire-car illegally parked on a leafy Cambridge avenue) was quiet. Not that I was a student of his, far from it. This was a personal favour – and all because Joseph Brodsky had introduced me by saying “Well, this is Charles: and he doesn’t write bad poetry all the time”. No. Just most of it.
                Of course I knew about the weak spot in the poem – had known it all along, had hoped he wouldn’t notice. And so I learnt two things: firstly to trust my judgement and rectify whatever I felt wasn’t working in my poetry from then on. And secondly to remember that if the poem didn’t have full confidence in its ability, if it was embarrassed about itself, then the reader would pick up on this either consciously or otherwise. They would feel the poem was weak even if they couldn’t, as Seamus had done, put their finger on my problem.
               
What we have lost with the death of Seamus Heaney is this level of insight and acuity: the mastery as well as the mystery of poetry craftsmanship. But the work remains. And once the dust has settled, once his reputation has been valued and discussed, the work will always be with us: valuable and careful, the poems looking at us over the top of their reading glasses in warm but wise scrutiny.

 
Dr Charles Bennett is Associate Professor of Poetry & Creative Writing at the University of Northampton.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…