Working the room

‘So is that your main idea?’

‘That’s it, yes.’

‘That people get stuff done out of a social need to interact with others?’

‘That’s pretty much it, yes.’

The book regards me for a second. ‘Tell me about it.’

‘I really am tired, you know,’ I say. ‘Can’t it wait?’

‘You know it can’t,’ the book says.

‘It’s like this. I was doing some reading, one of those days when nothing much is going on, but I had carved out some time and though it wasn’t much fun, I was hanging in there clinging to this thing, this thing that I had found, seen, read I mean, and I just couldn’t find it. Terrible feeling, losing a reference. Anyway, there I was, literally pacing in front of the shelves, and I found myself reaching out for The Redress of Poetry. Hadn’t looked at it in years. I noticed this bit of underlining, a quote, you know, as the book fell open in my hand. By Robert Pinsky. To the effect that a poet needs not so much an audience as a need to answer. And I loved that. The idea that you can be answering anyone, any group of people, or ideas, or language itself, in e moment of your writing. I began trying to apply the idea to Heaney himself. Oldest child in a big, not classically literate family. Catholic, rural, from the sticks. And I began to see his work as a kind of answering to all those different states of being and belonging and becoming. In part I really think he was mostly writing to his mum and dad, you know. His brothers. They were much higher up the food chain of recognition for him than politicians. As he grew and developed of course he began hanging out with Milosz and Vaclav Havel, so I think he began writing for them, all the while looking over his shoulder at the farm kind of saying ‘I’m still here, I’m still one of you’. That’s what I think, anyway. Read Stepping Stones. The boy knew how to work the room. It’s a good theory, don’t you think?’

The books is looking at me with its mouth open. ‘This is your ‘Year in Review’? I have to say it’s not what I had in mind.’

‘Take it or leave it,’ I say. ‘There’s more where that came from, too. Coffee?’

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