We don’t review much poetry here. I think that this is in part because the reading of poetry is an intensely personal experience. If talking about why you enjoyed a book is hard for many folks, talking about poetry is even more challenging. Another issue is that for many people, poetry reading is associated with schoolroom experiences of having to look for themes or say what the poet meant. This sort of thing could put anyone off reading poetry. Additionally, contemporary poetry has a sometimes deserved reputation for being willfully obscure.
If you are one of the many folks out there who think that poetry is not for you, let me encourage you to give Seamus Heaney a try. Heaney, who won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1995, writes thoughtful, thought-provoking, poems that display a love of language and life. Since the 1960s, Heaney has used his poems to explore the natural world, farming and farmwork, the violence that shattered his native Ireland, the intersections of the Irish and English languages, and above all his own place in the world.
In all of his poetry, Heaney moves easily and gracefully from the personal to the universal, remembering his Aunt Mary in the kitchen making bread, and moving from there to the larger absences we feel when those who are important in our lives are no longer there (“Mossbawn: Sunlit”, 1975). His language can be playful or serious, but it is always considered. These are poems that, while sometimes challenging, always are accessible to a reader who is willing to read and listen to the words.
The poems in Human Chain have perhaps a darker edge; a more intimate connection with mortality. Heaney suffered a small stroke in 2006, and the poems here, while not addressing his health directly, have an elegiac feel perhaps. As in his earlier works, Heaney writes movingly of his father, now a quarter century gone. There are also several poems in memory of friends or colleagues.
So if you have the inclination, check out a book of Heaney’s poetry. He is a chronicler of the human condition in all its joy and sorrow.
Check the WRL catalog for Human Chain