I went yesterday evening to hear Seamus Heaney talking to Kevin Crossley-Holland about his life and work. It is a measure of how very highly SH is regarded that the uncomfortable upper levels of the Sheldonian were packed.
I took a few notes during the evening -
He talked about his early writing:
'The first thing I made up was pastiche Milton' (at school)
'At university I wrote poems, I thought, but I wasn't sure.' He mentioned form, the craft of poetry - 'Making the cage is important and sooner or later you can get the bird to sing by itself.'
He read to us, 'Personal Helicon' amongst others and, at the end, 'Postscript'.
'I was lucky enough to write some poems that I believed in...Some poems come quickly - in my experience they're the ones that you love and trust the most. They come like a gift.'
He talked about the poets he loved, poetry that he returns to again and again - Dante, Homer, Yeats, Ovid, Virgil - and about encountering Ted Hughes for the first time when he read Lupercal: 'I thought, my God! How does he know about all that? I thought I was the only one who knew about it.'
Gerard Manley Hopkins is a huge influence, too - 'I got gooseflesh when I read him first, which was at school...in the full sense of the term, he brought me to my senses.'
He said that at first, he didn't think of himself as a poet. He wrote poems, and had a teaching job. He had some poems published, but carried on teaching. Then, after his third collection, he and his wife moved out to the country with their boys and he went to the local school to register his children there. The teaching was all in Irish. The headmaster asked his profession and, before SH could answer, he saw the man was writing 'file' - Irish for poet...He worked on his translation of Beowulf because he was used to going to work every day and thought he should keep it up...
He was asked about what he thought the effects of poetry were, how you recognised poetry, and described a poem such as Elizabeth Bishop's 'Fish' as 'moving towards some sense of satisfaction...It helps inwardness...it establishes a useful solitude in you...you feel verified...Poets you know and love, they more than satisfy you, they settle you.' Poetry, he said, 'has staying power - it stays the moment.'
'I was stretched between the contemplation of a motionless point and the urge to participate'
He greatly admires Robert Henryson, the Scottish poet.
He also strongly recommended learning poetry by heart: 'It's a support system, having a head full of quotations.'
Someone asked how he knew when a poem was finished - an excellent question, he said. Someone he knew had tried to write a PhD on the subject but had to give up for lack of evidence.
Welcome to The Woodstock Bookshop
The shop opened in May 2008 and is on the main road in Woodstock, just next to the bus stop. We can supply most books to order by the next day and have several thousand books in stock: to order books ring or email the shop. We have a large selection of children's books and are happy to advise and recommend. We can also supply second-hand and out-of-print titles. We offer discounts for school orders and for book clubs and have a free local delivery service.
We were on the regional shortlist for Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009, 2013 and 2017, and listed in the recent Independent's Top 50 UK Bookshops.
Two monthly book groups take place at the bookshop - a poetry group, initially formed to read collections submitted for the annual T S Eliot Prize and now following a slightly wider brief; and a book group focusing more on fiction. Both are open to everyone but occasionally space is limited - please contact us for details.
We hold a series of informal talks and readings throughout the year. If you buy any book at the talk the cost of the ticket will be deducted. Please ring or email to book a place - early booking advisable.
The Woodstock Literature Society also holds an excellent series of monthly talks - do visit their website for further details.