Tag Archives: Seamus Heaney

Celebrating Seamus Heaney on his ‘Home Ground’

24 Jul

South-Derry-Bogland-940x400Those who recall the visits by the late Seamus Heaney to StAnza will remember how passionate he was about the connections between poetry and place, and our current project to Map Scotland with Poems is in sympathy with this. It’s also fitting that a festival devoted to Heaney is to be held among his own ‘home ground’, the landscapes he evoked in his poetry.

Celebrating Seamus Heaney On Home Ground 2014, will run from 11-14 September at Laurel Villa Guesthouse in Magherafelt (just 3 miles from Mossbawn where Heaney was born) and will celebrate his life, work and legacy of the poet through poetry, music and art.

It follows on from last year’s inaugural festival, which was named by Heaney himself before his untimely death last September. As a result the festival became a tribute to him.

Organised by Laurel Villa’s husband and wife team, Eugene and Gerardine Kielt, in partnership with the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry and curated by BBC arts broadcaster Marie-Louise Muir, this year’s festival will feature readings from some of Ireland’s finest writers and poets, children’s workshops, a poetry picnic, coach tours of ‘Heaney country’ and a rare re-showing of films made by the BBC which Heaney presented.

The full programme will be revealed by the Verbal Arts Centre tomorrow, on 25 July, but some events have already been confirmed: In Conversations with special guests – including Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody who will read Heaney poetry and perform songs, one of which he has dedicated to the late poet – and artist Colin Davidson, who painted Heaney’s last portrait, will be In Conversation with the writer Glenn Patterson. There will also be a session of music and readings with musicians Neil Martin and Rod McVey and actor Bríd Brennan.

The main venue, Laurel Villa Guesthouse, has long been a centre of poetry and outside the festival runs regular readings by well-known poets and tours of local ‘poetry places’.

More details are available online at http://theverbal.co/blog/story/2014/celebrating-seamus-heaney-on-home-ground-2014 and http://laurel-villa.com/.

 

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Edinburgh and Glasgow Preview Events for StAnza 2014

22 Jan

Gerda StevensonFor those of you who like to hold it in your hands, to flick through poetry and take a spoonful of events with each cup of coffee, the StAnza brochure for 2014 is almost ready and will be available fresh from the printers at this year’s programme previews.

The first of these free public events takes place at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW on Wednesday 29th January at 6pm, and as ever we’re very grateful to the NLS for their support. There will be short readings from two of this year’s festival poets, Diana Hendry and Gerda Stevenson. All this, plus some music from Edinburgh’s own John Sampson, who will be accompanying Carol Ann Duffy at her events in March, and a round-up of some of the festival highlights. It promises to be a delightful hour of entertainment and if you’re in the Edinburgh area, be sure not to miss it. It’s a free event but please book a seat by calling 0131 623 3734 or via the NLS web page at http://www.nls.uk/events/booking.

The following week the StAnza Roadshow rolls into Glasgow. We’re thrilled that the Tell it slant poetry bookshop at 134 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6ST will be hosting a preview event for us in collaboration with St Mungo’s Mirrorball, as part of an evening of poetry. The StAnza preview will take place on Thursday 6th February at 6.30pm lasting half an hour, with taster readings from some of the Glasgow poets on this year’s programme, Alexander Hutchison and Kathrine Sowerby, and some spoken word from Colin McGuire.

Then there’s the chance to take a short walk up Rose Street for Mirrorball’s Seamus Heaney celebration hosted by the Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, Robyn Marsack. She will be in conversation with award winning novelist and short story writer Bernard MacLaverty on his personal reflections of the life of the Nobel Prize winning poet, including a reading of some of his own favourite pieces by the great man, starting at 7.30, Glasgow Art Club, 185 Bath Street, Glasgow.

Seamus Heaney at StAnza

9 Sep

A personal reminiscence by Brian Johnstone, former Festival Director 

In his funeral tribute to Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon talked about how everyone in the poetry community has been devastated by our sudden loss. Muldoon went on to describe Seamus’s “signal ability to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another.” So in this small remembrance of his connections to StAnza, and to me through my work for the festival, I can only call him Seamus. To address him as Heaney seems too impersonal for such a generous and gregarious man. Although I only met him a few times, and attended no more than half a dozen of his appearances, my feelings tell me that I have lost a friend – a friend whose poetry has inspired me in my own writing, but also a man who made me feel he was a friend and supporter of all I tried to do with StAnza – someone who encouraged me in both of these endeavours whenever we met.

1999Seamus’s first appearance at StAnza was in 1999 – only the second festival, so we were aiming high even in those days. Through the support of the University School of English we were able, despite being a very young festival, to feature him on the bill. Seamus appeared on the Thursday night in the Buchanan Theatre – our subsequent main venue The Byre not having been built by then – taking the stage for a two part reading. In the first half he read from his various collections and in the second from his recently published translation of Beowulf. Needless to say, the event was wonderful and very well received by a capacity audience.

I had actually first come across Seamus in performance at an event held as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe some years before. Watching the funeral online brought back powerful memories of this first experience. Playing at various points during the service was the uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn, with whom Seamus had performed at that Fringe event years back. Sitting side by side on the Assembly Rooms stage in front of a large audience doesn’t sound like the best way to achieve a close rapport with those listening, but so focused were the two that the experience was one of extreme intimacy. I felt as if I had been sitting at their fireside in rapt attention as the poet and piper swapped verses and tunes. It was my first encounter with Seamus Heaney and it is one I will never forget.

It is this very sense of intimacy that Seamus was so adept at putting over to his audience, and which was characteristic of his subsequent appearances at StAnza. At that first one in the Buchanan Theatre, however, I only got to meet him very briefly because of his other commitments. I managed to shake him by the hand and thank him for his reading, and that was it. But this was enough for him to remember me when next we met, despite the hundreds of people he must have met in all his travels. This was in London at the British Library when I was representing StAnza at the 2005 launch of The Poetry Archive website. Seamus was the guest reader at this event and I was astonished to discover that he not only remembered me but was even happy to have a chat for ten minutes or so. We had bit of craic about the great Scottish poet – and mutual favourite – Norman MacCaig and I was able to personally invite Seamus back to St Andrews for a future festival. He was glad to accept, and we subsequently agreed on him topping the bill for the 10th festival in 2007. But I would be in his company again before then.

In the summer of 2006, Seamus gave a superb reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I was fortunate to be invited to the reception held in his honour at the Irish Consulate. As always, Seamus was feted by a large crowd, but the reception gave me another chance to have a friendly chat with Seamus&Brianthe poet and an opportunity to meet his wife Marie. I remember him reiterating his real fondness for St Andrews and for Scotland in general and my saying how much we were looking forward to welcoming him to StAnza the following March. Sadly, that was not to be.

I was on holiday in France later that summer when I had a call from Eleanor Livingstone, then StAnza’s Artistic Director. The news was bad. Seamus had had a stroke and was in hospital. His doctors had advised him – ordered, more like – to cancel all engagements for the next year at least. All I could do was ask Eleanor to pass on my sympathies to Seamus’s family, with whom we were in touch through a mutual friend, and start thinking about who we could book as a replacement.

Back home, meeting Eleanor to discuss this, she told me about an extraordinary phone call she had had while I was still on holiday. If proof were needed – which it’s not – of Seamus’s extraordinary character, this is it. Having been unable to get any definite information, Eleanor called the mobile number Seamus had given us. The following day Seamus, having noticed her missed calls, phoned back. He was, he told her, still in hospital but he wanted to apologise to StAnza for letting us down!

Thankfully, Seamus recovered from that bout of ill health and by the next year was ready to discuss honouring his promise to come back to StAnza. While he explained that he wouldn’t be able to be at StAnza in the immediate future, he wanted to be clear – more generosity – that he hadn’t forgotten his promise. And so he was booked to appear in 2010, the last StAnza for which I was Festival Director. For me personally, this was a wonderful coup and for our audiences it meant that my stepping down would be marked with the biggest name possible. I was – am – so grateful to Seamus for that.

Working together on festival planning, Eleanor and I managed to programme not one but three separate events featuring Seamus. A full main stage reading, of course; but Seamus was also willing to give a round table reading, one of StAnza’s signature intimate readings for only a dozen or so people; on top of that, we arranged for him to take part in an In Conversation with Dennis O’Driscoll (sadly also recently departed). A bumper appearance indeed!

Seamus book signedI have a very special personal memento of my last festival as a director – and all down to Seamus. Naturally, I asked him to sign a few of his collections for me, one of these being my long-term favourite Station Island. The original Faber publication of this features on the cover and title page what looks like an illustration from an ancient Irish manuscript. This Seamus deftly altered adding speech bubbles to mark my departure from StAnza, but my continued commitment to the stanzas of my own poetry. It’s just such a quirky and amusing bit of personal response – I will treasure it always.

Both the main stage reading and the In Conversation were sold out in record time and in the end we had to relay both events to the Byre studio and conference room for overspill audiences whom Seamus surprised by dropping in on them unexpectedly during the interval. Again, generous to a fault. Other visiting poets were crammed into every available corner of the theatre, just to ensure they caught the events. In the end, the audiences for both main events were at full capacity in the main theatre, and overflowing to not one but two additional venues. The audiences for both main events were well in excess of the actual capacity of their original venues!

But for me, the true highlight of Seamus’s last StAnza appearance was his round table reading. At that he surprised all present by producing photocopies of a series of new, unpublished poems and passing them round the table. These he proceeded to read and then – more astonishing yet – to more or less ask the audience for a crit. We could scarcely believe that we were sitting round a table with someone of Seamus Heaney’s stature and he was asking us what we though of his new work. Generous again, and inclusive in a way that, as Paul Muldoon said, made us all feel so connected to him and, through him, to each other.

There is little more I can say except that, while I owe StAnza so much, and through it have met numerous poets whose work I love and admire, being able to meet and share some small bits of time with Seamus Heaney is one of the things I feel absolutely the most grateful for. As the poet Jo Bell said so eloquently in her tribute to Seamus, “Poetry stands for love. Those whom we remember are the ones who said most clearly, that which we are trying every day to say.”

Brian Johnstone

9th September 2013

 

StAnza ’99 programme:

http://issuu.com/stanza/docs/1999?e=1457317/3190480

StAnza 2010 programme:

http://issuu.com/stanza/docs/stanza10-final?e=1457317/3187815

2010 photo gallery:

http://stanzapoetry.org/2010/photo-gallery10.php

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

1 Sep
StAnza 2010 In Conversation event

Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O’Driscoll at StAnza 2010

The death of Seamus Heaney has prompted tributes from all over the world: it is indeed rare to see a poet’s passing command the front pages of newspapers and dominate the internet and social media the way his has done. For those of us at StAnza he will be particularly missed. His second appearance at the festival in 2010, after a gap of ten years, was one of the most memorable ever. He and the late (also much missed) Dennis O’Driscoll brought humour, grace and wit to their performances and to the festival atmosphere in general. Heaney said at the time that he had an especially ‘deep connection’ with St Andrews and with the poetry audience there.

His is a great loss, for family, friends and to poetry.

Much has already been published about the life and work of Heaney including this Guardian obituary. We will be posting a full appreciation soon about the poet’s involvement with StAnza and St Andrews, from Brian Johnstone, former Festival Director.

In the meantime here is a recent recording by Heaney himself, reading the beautiful poem Postscript, which captures so well the preciousness and transcience of life:

http://www.rte.ie/archives/2013/0830/471296-seamus-heaney-postscript/

Celebrate the poetry of Seamus Heaney ‘On Home Ground’

18 Jul
StAnza 2010 In Conversation event

Seamus Heaney in conversation with the late Dennis O’Driscoll at StAnza 2010

Like Scotland, Ireland is famous for its literary festivals, usually centred on areas associated with writers. This one is really rather special: a celebration of poetry and place in the territory of one of the world’s most prominent poets: Seamus Heaney.

‘On Home Ground’ is a new festival, taking place over a long weekend in Magherafelt,  in the South Derry of Heaney’s poetry. The Festival, unique in returning the local Nobel Laureate to his home ground, is one of the highlights of the Derry~Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 events programme.

Seamus Heaney, as Patron, will open the festival with an address entitled Important Places: A Reading with Commentary on Friday 20 September 2013. During the weekend there will be talks and readings about local places and the chance to take a guided tour of the places Heaney talks about or there will be ample time to explore them yourselves.

Other poetic gems include a reading by award-winning poet Michael Longley and novelist and short story writer Bernard MacLaverty, both of whom are favourites at StAnza. And among the other events are readings by Colette Bryce, Nick Laird and Sinead Morrissey. During the course of the weekend there will an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Michael McGuinness, one of the finest Irish artists of his generation. The National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, will close the Festival on Sunday 22 September.

Nine of the 10 Festival events will be held in the grounds of Laurel Villa Guesthouse in Magherafelt, a designated UK Poetry Society Landmark, which hosts regular poetry readings through the year.

On Home Ground Poetry Festival is part-funded by Culture Company 2013.

The full Festival program including box office information is available at http://www.laurel-villa.com

Poetry Parnassus

10 Jun

It’s not all going to be sport in London this summer. The Southbank Centre are hosting Poetry Parnassus from 26th June to 1st July, the UK’s largest ever gathering of the world’s poets. If you are going to be in or near London later this month, be sure not to miss this huge turn out of poets from across the globe – more than 200 and as far as possible one to represent every olympic country – as they give readings and masterclass workshops. The line up includes big names such as Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney and Wole Soyinka along with many others from far and near who have taken the StAnza stage, such as Nikola Madzirov from Macedonia and Tusiata Avia from Samoa who both took part in StAnza 2012, two of our previous Poets in Residence, Kei Miller representing Jamaica and Bill Manhire from New Zealand; and from earlier festivals Canada’s Karen Solie, Soleiman Adel Guemar from Algeria, Yang Lian (China), Pia Tadrupf (Denmark), Jack Mapanje (Malawi), Imtiaz Dharker (Pakistan) and Jo Shapcott representing Britain. You can see the list of some of those already chosen here .  More names have been added recently to that list, however the Poetry Parnassus team are still looking for suggestions for a few more countries, such as Liechtenstein, so if anyone has any ideas, they’d be pleased to hear them.  There will be the chance to get involved with over 100 free events and activities, full details of which can be found on the Poetry Parnassus website. The programme includes on Tuesday 26th June a World Poetry Summit at which StAnza’s director Eleanor Livingstone will be taking part to talk about StAnza’s digital festivals and events.

Tusiata Avia at StAnza 2012 (photo by Al Buntin)

Poetry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

13 Aug

 

Get your poetry fix at the EIBF this month. New director Nick Barley asked one of Scotland’s premier poets Don Paterson and the Scottish Poetry Library to advise on selections for the Poetry Programme and the line-up is stunning.

Four of the six poets shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize are appearing: Seamus Heaney’s event is sold out but tickets for Jo Shapcott, Robin Robertson and Sinead Morrissey were still available a few days ago.

Also on the roster are Simon Armitage, Paul Muldoon John Glenday, Carol Ann Duffy (reading from her forthcoming collection, The Bees), Jackie Kay, John Stammers, Ron Butlin, StAnza’s own former Director, Brian Johnstone, Kathleen Jamie (in conversation with Jonathan Bate), Douglas Dunn and Mandy Haggith (on Norman McCaig). Kei Miller, our Poet in Residence last March, is also taking part. Click here for full programme and booking details.

Kei Miller at StAnza 2010

And check out the festival’s innovative – and free –  Unbound evenings at the Highland Park Spiegeltent, which will feature a poetry night on Thursday 19 August. Expect the unexpected…

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