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Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series: "The importance of being Seamus: Heaney as local and global poet."

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Friday, February 16th, 2018
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM

In Ireland in 1964, Timothy Brownlow, now VIU Professor Emeritus from the English Department, became co-editor of a literary magazine called The Dubliner (The Dublin Magazine from 1965). As Brownlow later commented, the goal was “to help keep the flame of Irish writing alive” in a period that was still largely inhospitable to the arts. Among the many writers that he and co-editor Rivers Carew published there was one whom Brownlow remembers particularly well. This was a young poet from the North, Seamus Heaney.

Heaney's work and his significance in English-language poetry will be the subject of Professor Brownlow's talk. Heaney, who died in 2013, became a significant literary figure. The American poet Robert Lowell once described Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Heaney went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1995 and, says Brownlow, “created a readership for poetry not known since Tennyson.” For Timothy Brownlow, it has been fascinating watching the upward trajectory of Heaney’s career.

Heaney was born in April 1939. His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Many of his mother’s family were employed in the local linen mill and an aunt had worked "in service" to the mill owners' family. Heaney’s parentage thus contained both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution. Heaney grew up as a country boy, and even though his life was a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace, County Derry remained at the heart of much of his poetry. He began writing when he was a young teacher in Belfast in the early 1960s and soon started to attain public attention. He was associated with a group of poets who were later considered a "Northern School" within Irish writing. Heaney was part of a society deeply divided religiously and politically, a society fated to endure a quarter-century of violence and polarization during the Northern Ireland conflict (known as The Troubles in Ireland). “This had the effect not only of darkening the mood of Heaney's work in the 1970s, but also of giving him a deep preoccupation with the question of poetry's responsibilities and prerogatives in the world.” As Heaney wrote and published, his work became increasingly well known. Honour and international fame followed.

Timothy Brownlow, too, was born in Ireland. He left for Canada in 1970 and embarked on a doctorate at York University in Toronto. He expected to return to Ireland or England after his graduate work had been completed, but, he later said, Canada “released many of my hidden energies.” Dr. Brownlow taught at VIU from 1992 to 2006. He is also an accomplished writer whose publications include a scholarly book on John Clare (Oxford University Press, 1983); a collection of poems (Oolichan Books,1998); a book of essays (Oolichan Books, 2008); and numerous reviews, articles, and poems in Ireland, England, the U.S., and Canada.


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