Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Stepping Stones, the collection of interviews with Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney by fellow poet Dennis O'Driscoll, has been deservedly hailed, admired, and gushed over. It is a behemoth of a book, an archival monster of sensitive subjectivity and poetic power. Even if one carries great confidence in a ready knowledge of the poet and his work, this volume will disabuse such a notion. The depth, density, and radiating intelligence on display here complements autobiography, storytelling, recollections of other poets and the act of writing various poems (the sections are mostly organized by the titles of individual volumes). These interviews will help you get into the mind and materials of this Master and compel you to go back to the poems.

The interviews were conducted over the course of several years by email and in writing. Various levels of mediation can be discerned and the time taken to respond to O'Driscoll's queries can be reasonably assumed by the different lengths of the responses. Short or long, the answers are always perceptive and deftly woven into a tapesty of insights.

Just as W.B. Yeats described Oscar Wilde has someone whose casual speech seemed as if it had the perfection of a long-mulled and sculpted thought, Heaney's turns-of-phrase and dazzling descriptions seem to come off with ease and quickness. My expectations of these interviews were high and reading through them my regard of them is even higher, on the highest "crate of air," to use Heaney's phrase. Bravo, Maestro! J/C