Thursday, 21 November 2013

Setting the Darkness Echoing: A Literary Wake for Seamus Heaney

And so to the Festival Hall for Seamus Heaney's Literary Wake.  

For some reason the woman who, less than five years ago, couldn't pluck up the courage to look at her car as she walked past it, parked outside the house, thought it would be a good idea to drive there.  And actually it was, quite.  (It probably helped that I hadn't cleaned the inside of the windscreen for a while so I couldn't see just how scary all the other traffic was.)  Though I don't feel a pressing need to repeat the experience any time soon.  


Riding shotgun were Colin Brown and Hazel Hammond.  Upon arrival, we wondered around for a bit - helpless Southbank virgins - until we met up with the far more organised Rachael Clyne, who'd sensibly made her own way up from Glastonbury.


The evening got off to an intriguing start when Hazel's glass of orange juice, untouched on a table in the bar, unilaterally upended itself all over the floor tiles.  I suppose such a happening could have been construed as inauspicious, but actually it felt like the prelude to something special.    

Here's Hazel and Rachael, waiting for the show to start.  
At this point, we had a wager about how long it would be before we got emotional.  Rachael claimed she was already teary just reading the programme.  Predictably, I held out only as long as the final line of 'Mid-Term Break', Heaney's early poem about the death of his little brother, read by Bernard O'Donoghue.  


I have a bowl of shell buttons on my table through which I like to run my fingers.  Choosing highlights from an evening featuring so many heroic poets would be as impossible as choosing a favourite button or two.  Except that I did love Paul Muldoon's reading of 'Death of A Naturalist' ...


  ... and Carol Ann Duffy, again accompanied by John Sampson, reading 'The Blackbird of Glanmore', another, later poem about Heaney's little stillness dancer ... lost brother ...


... and Edna O'Brien. who is, unbelievably, 83 now, giving an object lesson in how to read poetry.  And such poems! ... 'Punishment' - so loving, so tender - 'At the Wellhead' - 'Postscript' ... God, I'd've crawled on my hands and knees to London and back to hear her read them, and there she was, alongside the likes of Simon Armitage, Paula Meehan, Tom Paulin, Michael Longley, Christopher Reid, Charlotte Higgins and the actor, Ruth Negga.  Just how lucky were we?


And as if they weren't riches enough, there were reels, jigs and a Lullaby for the Dead from The Chieftains ...


... and the mesmeric sound of the uilleann pipes played by master piper and Heaney collaborator, Liam O'Flynn, with Neil Martin on cello.  

Ooh and as we left, my cup overflowed just a tiny bit more at the realisation that I had been sitting within spitting distance of the lovely Michael Wood for the whole evening!

Anchor for the night, Andrew O'Hagan conjectured that Heaney would have been 'embarrassed but secretly pleased' by the evening's event, and said he might have once more quoted Hugh MacDiarmid - 'it was excessive, but not enough'.  I could have listened for hours longer, but it was time to head west through the London traffic and along the rain-dark M4, cupping the flame that is Seamus Heaney's legacy.  





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