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Showing posts from May, 2006

Taking Bearings: Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle

District and Circle is Seamus Heaney's twelfth book and it is very much a re-visiting of his own past, a circling and remapping of terrain familiar from forty years of previous work. Few poets are likely to abandon their lifetime's concerns and preoccupation and jump on board some skittish new craft, but what's remarkable about this collection is the extent to which it situates itself in the essential elements of the earlier work – as if the poet wanted to re-ground himself by testing the old sources again and subjecting them to the pressure of experience and craft. In their solidity and immediacy the early poems in the book give the same kind of pleasure as the first Heaney collections, though it’s a pleasure somewhat diluted by familiarity. From the outset Heaney was a poet of extraordinary materiality: the visible world swarmed in to be reconstituted in dense stacks of language – those processions of thickly textured nouns and adjectives, that lust for exactitude, for a…

Lost Country: Dunya Mikhail

I was in Cúirt the other week to give a reading and to enjoy some of the fare on offer. I read with Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqi poet currently based in Michigan. She speaks and writes in three languages: Arabic, English and Aramaic. The Aramaic comes from her Christian background – Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, is the language of the Chaldeans, the Iraqi Christians who pre-date Islam. Mikhail has published five books since the 1980s, and New Directions publishes The War Works Hard , translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow (winner of a 2004 PEN translation Fund Award). Carcanet will publish it in July of this year. As that title implies Mikhail’s chief subject is war. The poems are blunt and satiric and return obsessively to war and its effects, not surprising for a body of work produced between 1985 and 2004.


Born in 1965, at the juncture of the most atrocious campaign the Baath party waged to trounce the smallest pockets of popular resistance, Dunya Mikhail’s imagina…

The Charm Factor

Today the wannabe poet progresses like the academic, the civil servant, the manager, up a series of marked steps to become a member of the fraternity and sorority of Published Poets. The obedience such an ascent requires can be at odds with the very principles of the art. It is an art of speculation not in the old sense but entirely in the new, speculating on the prize, the publisher, the public -- poetry has become as keen to embrace the main chance as the basest prose.

The above is from Michael Schmidt’s lecture ‘What, How Well, Why?’ given at the StAnza festival in Scotland this March. Schmidt, the founder of Carcanet and Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University argues for a critical culture that’s open and receptive as well as rigorous: ‘If we want our poets to develop and grow without pollarding, trellising, pruning, grafting, we need a diverse and vigorous culture of reception.....’ The kind of insularity that routinely dismisses Modernism and post-Modernism ends up privilegi…