THE REDRESS OF POETRY: A New Defense of Poetry by One of Our Foremost Poets by Seamus Heaney

THE REDRESS OF POETRY: A New Defense of Poetry by One of Our Foremost Poets

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ten Oxford University lectures on poetry from Heaney, perhaps the best-known Irish poet in America. Think of it as a transcontinental overview of English (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, and American) poetry: George Herbert, Christopher Marlowe, John Clare, Brian Merriman (an 18th century Irish poet relatively unknown to American readers), up through Hugh MacDiarmid, Philip Larkin, and Elizabeth Bishop. Heaney's tendency is to look for the poet's visionary prowess within a repressive social context. This is not a simple political stance, familiar to American readers in the works of Robert Bly or Denise Levertov, but the endurance of the poet's words to envision either a Utopia or a chaotic universe entrapped by its priorities. Moreover, Heaney asserts, these visions can be arrived at through a path of inspired linguistics. ""How the poem sounds is probably more important than what it sees,"" as he says of MacDiarmid's work. Far from being an idealist, he discusses a poet's limitations as well as strengths: preferring the early Wilde, perceptively noting the ""linguistic hype"" in Dylan Thomas's weaker poems. Ultimately, he posits that there is a"" 'frontier of writing', the line that divides the actual conditions of our daily lives from the imaginative representation of those conditions in literature, and divides also the world of social speech from the world of poetic language."" But rather than focusing on the poems in this analysis, Heaney stresses the historical context. Thus, his lectures are as much about sociology as they are about poetry; the biographical persistence necessitated by his theories can try the reader's patience; and his discussion is not of the poem so much as of the poem as it furthers his thesis. General readers beware: Despite Heaney's personal asides and deceptively casual tone, his complex line of thought is indeed that of the highfalutin Oxford lecturer.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"