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Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001
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on November 13, 2002
As a person of Irish descent, I am especially proud of Seamus Heaney's contribution to poetry and literature study. His voice is uniquely Northern Irish, but his understanding of that which makes language and literature deep spans the world--its ages and cultures. With a poet's vision, Heaney latches onto the resonance of words and images that explicate the human experience, in Icelandic sagas, Dante's verse, Milosz, or fellow Irish writers.
Heaney's aim in this collection of prose writings (some have been previously published and some are lectures) is to "celebrate and take possession" of poetry's excitement and exuberance. Each piece is autobiographical, in that his approach is not strictly the performance of formal literary criticism, but is rather the creative sojourn a poet can take into the depths of his own craft, to call the poetic spirit home. As he says, his central preoccupations are: How should a poet properly live and write? What is his relationship to be to his own voice, his own place, his literary heritage and his contemporary world?
Heaney's leading article is "Mossbawn," which describes the County Derry in the 1940's--as an 'omphalos' or navel which marks the center of the world--whereby one gets the sense that Heaney is a young Stephen Dedalus attempting to locate himself in Ireland, his community, and the world at large. His sentences are rich and carefully worded to evoke just the proper provincial image. He talks about his first forays in reading literature, rhymes, and the formidable Byron and Keats.
The next piece, "from Feeling Into Words" talks about the craft of writing poetry--his "Digging"--lines from Wordsworth. The next articles in Section I are interesting and special--on T.S. Eliot, living in Belfast and No. Ireland, being an Irish student and writer who writes in an English language.
Section two engages various interests: English writers and poets, Yeats, No. Irish poets and poetry, Kavanagh, P. Larkin, Dante and modern poetry, Z. Herbert, W.H. Auden, R. Lowell, S. Plath, Kinsella, E. Muir, Marlowe, John Clare, H. MacDiarmid, D. Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle...," E. Bishop, and R. Burns.
Section Three: S. Smith, Calvino's "Mr. Palomar" (an excellent book and review of it), Norman MacCaig, Ted Hughes, and C. Milosz (who writes marvelous verse).
This is a superb collection. I also recommend Heaney's meditations on Frost. He always attempts to uncover--to 'dig into'--features in poetry that make it 'good,' and in so doing, he immerses himself in a loved craft and discipline, to create vibrant, poetic prose. One gets the feeling here that Heaney is showing-off his 'finders keepers' treasures--his favorites--his cherished agate marbles, which clink and rattle in a bag of sensuous word play.
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on July 14, 2014
Bravo all around.....great book.
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on June 25, 2013
This collection of Heaney's essays and speeches puts a lot of Heaney's voice and his wisdom in one volume. The range of poets he discusses is wide ranging and his view is consistent.
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on June 25, 2002
I'm a fan of Heaney's poems, but I'm very uncomfortable with his status as a "major" literary figure on the world stage. The title of this book says it all. Heaney's career, as poet as well as critic, has consisted entirely of finding and keeping--rarely of making. He has been very successful at appropriating and synthesizing the ideas and techniques of others (esp. Lowell, Hopkins and Yeats) into a satisfying if never very original whole. In choosing this title, he apparently now sees fit to congratulate himself for it. Originality may not be the highest quality--how many are ever truly original?--but somebody of Heaney's prominence ought to do more than just recycle the successes of admired precursors. "Finders Keepers" would be an apt name for his collected works as well, and far more honest than what it's actually called--"Opened Ground." In addition to the influence of the perennially confused Swedes, I think Heaney's outsized success is largely due to his comforting conformity to easily recognizable tradition--critics, especially those of a conservative bent, eat this kind of stuff up. If you want to read a real innovator, also Irish, who really opens ground--and for that reason will never have "Winner of the Nobel Prize" trumpeted across her covers--check out Medbh McGuckian.
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