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John Oxley Library

Death of a Poet

By Simon Farley, Librarian, State Library of Queensland | 5 September 2013

"I've always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward" Seamus Heaney

Today as the Brisbane Writers' Festival is underway here at the State Library, which is home also to the Queensland Writers Centre, it is timely to reflect on the importance of poetry in the lives of ordinary people like me. Some poets change your life forever and stay with you...I'm thinking of Yeats, Heaney, Rilke, e e cummings, Alan Seeger and other names that make up my personal canon. Others fail to hit the mark but do so through other means. "Girl I love your poetry...but I hate your poems" to recall a line from a  Trash Can Sinatras song that always makes me smile.

You may never meet these poets but there is a soulful meeting that occurs across time and space in the experience of reading their words. They remain as gatekeepers, or guides like Virgil into into hellish or heavenly realms...the inner world of the imagination that transforms and refashions the ordinary into something sublime and unforgetable.

Seamus Heaney died last week and this news saddened me because of a connection forged a long time ago. I first read about his passing in a Facebook post last Friday by Billy Bragg who had learned of the death of the great poet Seamus Heaney as we were driving from Belfast City to Derry for tonight's show at the Nerve Centre, passing close by his birthplace in County Derry. He goes on to quote from The Cure at Troy "Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme"

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When Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 I was working in Japan  and would often go into Tokyo on the weekends and buy books and English language newspapers from Maruzen bookstore. On one trip I purchased his book of poems Death of a Naturalist and recordings of him reading from his collection Stepping Stones. I used to listen to the tapes and luxuriate in the Irish poet's words, spoken in his own voice, as a respite from broken Japanese and baby English.

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A couple of years later back in Australia out in the Queensland bush in Blackall on a “writers safari” I was talking to the writer Herb Wharton about my favourite poet Seamus Heaney. He had met him and stayed at his house in Ireland. To my astonishment he took out of his rucksack a copy of the poem Tollund Man that he kept with him everywhere he went. It was a personal copy signed with a warm dedication and given as a present to Herb. Heaney made up limited copies in gold gilt for his friends when he won the Nobel Prize.

From Ireland to Japan to Outback Australia…unexpected rewards of poetic beauty connect us all…and bring us the kind of peace that, in a hectic world, “comes dropping slow”. 

RIP Seamus Heaney.

Simon Farley - Librarian - State Library of Queensland


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