Saturday, 7 August 2010

Seamus Heaney Simplified.

Here I am in the middle of the night – well, not the middle of the night actually, in the early morning – up out of bed, my computer switched on, making a cup of tea by the light of the open fridge door. Not wanting to miss the moment, fracture the natural light and blast the ideas flying around in my head with harsh electric light.

And why? Because I have just heard The Interviewwith the prize-winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, on the BBC World Service. This is one of the greatest radio services in the world for insomniacs. It sends my Best Beloved to sleep. Music wakes him up. However, for me, it is the opposite. Instead of helping to send me to sleep the World Service has such interesting programmes that it stimulates thought and keeps me awake with this the result!

Heaney was talking so evocatively of memory - remembering what one has forgotten ones knows: of the wonder of childhood surroundings and how flashes of those memories can connect with later flashes of experience. And about surprise – how a poem can come on him when least expected or how an exexperience can surprise him. An experience such as Wordsworth had coming from the lush green landscape of the Lake District that he loved, to the city of London, and his being surprised by the beauty of it on Westminster Bridge.

Upon Westminster Bridge

EARTH has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth

Heaney’s use of language, never stilted or pretentious, moves me, creatively speaking. He uses words in such a natural way, changing them almost organically, like words a child might make up. It struck me anew how difficult it is to write simply. Poets are, on the whole, deep thinkers. And I like that. I like being encouraged to examine a thought, a concept, call it what you will: to tease it out and fathom its meaning. Try and make sense of it.

But poets are also (among many things) masters at simplification; shortening, condensing. Often taking the convoluted and making it simple and direct. Heaney's words made me realise that I must proof read my manuscript once more. That again - before I go any further, do any more research, write another single word - I must critically but constructively review my text. And - so easy to say, so difficult to do - simplify.


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