2013-09-02 14.38.14

In the spring of 1998 I wrote to Seamus Heaney. I asked him to consider writing a Foreword to the book I was editing with Siân Hughes, then Education Officer for the Poetry Society.

In all honesty I did not expect him to reply. I was sure a poet as well-known as Heaney, and with as many demands on his time, would do the expected thing and file my request in the waste paper basket. I was also secretly ashamed of the guff I know I had subjected him to, proclaiming poetry as ‘the original virtual reality’, among other howlers.

So when Heaney wrote back to me, I was dumbfounded. Delighted, yes. But dumbfounded. To quote his own response when Charles Monteith invited him to submit a manuscript to Faber, it was like getting a letter from God the Father.

In a typed note of not more than seven lines he explained that he had to say no: ‘I feel I have to watch how many of these introductions I do. The writing I do nowadays seems to be mostly endorsements, exhortations, millennial messages, and so on. As Matthew Arnold said “I am fragments.” Please excuse me.’

The courtesy of his tone knocked me sideways. I had readied myself for curtness. Instead I held in my hand this tiny admission that seemed both unnecessarily honest and somewhat heartbreaking. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

Lifesaving Poems

Seamus Heaney’s ‘Night Drive’