This article is from 2006.
As Seamus Heaney arrives for two heavily-anticipated events, Owen O’Neill describes his lifelong fascination with the poet.
Only someone of Seamus Heaney’s Easter Island literary stature could describe poetry as ‘balancing the scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium.’ Coming out of any other mouth this statement may be considered a candidate for pseuds corner, but one only has to read his poetry to understand that this is exactly what his work does and more.
I first became aware of Heaney’s poetry in 1975 when I was given a book of his called North. I had never seen poetry like it. I can’t say the poems were easy going or that I could fully comprehend their meaning; they had more of a physical effect on me. Reading those poems that addressed the ‘Troubles’ in the North of Ireland I felt exhausted. It was as if I was almost digging into the blood-stained earth itself. Heaney’s archaeological approach and the repeated image of the bog, that ‘deep ancient black place’, made me realise that if I wanted to be a writer then it was pointless to just write about what was on the surface.
Over the years I have written and performed seven one-man shows in Edinburgh, most of which were largely autobiographical. I would like to think that it was reading Seamus Heaney that helped me always to strive to go that extra mile and not be afraid to delve a bit more into my murky past. Someone once said that the best comedy was tragedy plus time. I believe this to be true. Being without doubt the leading poet in the English speaking world today, Heaney is a prime target for parody and, at times, truly deserves to have the piss taken out of him.
A poem like what Seamus Heaney might write like.
Only the sense of the deep bog bogged in the sense of itself
Into the black wetted layers of sucked soil and the bogman’s boot
fertile on the edge of a pushing down into a drowning in his trousers.
A long slow gurgle of burgled water like salt in the tonsils of the throated call in all of us. Going back to the turf and the old woman hunched on her haunches, lighting the long clay pipe and spitting into the light which splits the log fire roasting her mottled shins and the urine famined man steaming in the corner, waiting on his dinner, which will never come.
My show this year is called Owen O’Neill is a * * * t and so is Seamus Heaney. I will be reading poetry, telling stories and revealing my hatred of the use of the asterisk as some kind of cloaking device for swear words. The British press are a bunch of Z * * * * * * * * * * *y. I’m sure Seamus Heaney would agree.
Seamus Heaney, Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 24 Aug, 8pm, £8 (£6), 25 Aug, 11.30am, £7 (£5); Owen O’Neill is a ***t and so is Seamus Heaney, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, until 28 Aug, 7.45pm, £9-£10 (£8-£9).