Heaney exhibit celebrates poet's life and work

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Feb. 18, 2014

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An Emory exhibit pays tribute to a beloved friend and master poet with "Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens." Emory Photo/Video.

"Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens," the first major exhibition to celebrate the life and work of late Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner, opens Saturday, Feb. 22, in the Woodruff Library.

The grand opening celebration will be held in the Schatten Gallery at 5:30 p.m. Remarks and toasts will be at 6 p.m. with W. Ronald Schuchard, Emory professor emeritus of English, as toastmaster. Directions and parking.

It will be preceded by two other events:

  • "Feeling into Words: A Conversation about Seamus Heaney" features Fintan O'Toole, Bernard O'Donoghue, Fiona Ross, and Geraldine Higgins discussing the life and work of Heaney at 1 p.m. in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library. Directions and parking.
  • A poetry reading by Paul Muldoon will be at 4 p.m. in Glenn Memorial Auditorium. Muldoon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize, eulogized Heaney at his funeral in September 2013. The free, ticketed event will be followed by a signing at the Woodruff Library by Muldoon of his books and a limited edition broadside. Directions and parking.

A large kite will be at the center of the exhibition, suspended over the spiral staircase in the gallery that descends to the lower floors of the library.

A few notable components of the exhibition:

  • The surface of Heaney’s old writing desk from the 1980s – two oak planks that were part of an old bench from Carysfort College in Dublin, where Heaney taught in the 1970s. Heaney wrote he "liked the makeshift nature of the arrangement. I always had a superstitious fear of setting up a too well-designed writing place and then finding that the writing had absconded."
  • Selected correspondence between Heaney and other writers whose papers are held in Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), including Ted Hughes, Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon, and Michael Longley.

The exhibition will be divided into four quadrants.

1. "Excavations," partly inspired by Heaney’s best-known poem "Digging," will focus on his origins and introduces some of the friendships that remained important to him throughout his life, many of them with writers whose papers are also held by MARBL.

2. "The Word Hoard" will examine Heaney’s writing process and include a magnetic poetry board on which visitors can compose their own "Heaney poem."

3. "The Republic of Conscience," named for the poem commissioned by Amnesty International, will examine Heaney the political poet.

4. "Listen Now Again" will feature a custom-built media space where visitors can listen to Heaney and other distinguished writers and artists read his poems.

Heaney’s connection to Emory

Heaney's connection to Emory can be traced back to his first reading in March 1981. He delivered the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature in 1988, donated his lecture notes to MARBL (then called Special Collections), and conducted readings and poetry workshops in the 1980s and 1990s. His last visit to Emory was in March 2013, when he read his poems before a capacity crowd at Glenn Auditorium.

The exhibition will remain on view through Nov. 25.