Editor Blog: Heaney’s HomePlace
In Bellaghy in County Derry a new centre, HomePlace, dedicated to the late poet Seamus Heaney has been built, and opened earlier this month. That such a home place for poetry be built in 2016, that it should be erected here in a quiet village known more for its past than its present or future, that it be supported so keenly by local community and council makes me very hopeful. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening weekend of HomePlace for a festival of poetry, music and talks dedicated to the life and work of Heaney.
There was one particularly special moment. It was not just special because we had to get up very early on a Sunday morning and make our way in the cold to a muddy spot overlooking Church Island in Lough Beg – a feature in the landscape where Heaney imagined so many of his poems. The poem being featured, Mycenae Lookout, is actually set in Ancient Greece and it was a juxtaposition between ‘home’ and ‘away’ that helped make the event special. But it wasn’t just because of this or the gift of whiskey in plastic cups. It was probably Fiona Shaw performing Heaney’s words from in hay cart in a field steeped in mist.
The view behind her was obscured so she was eerily foregrounded and we were thus completely present with her and the poem. ‘Mycenae Lookout’ speaks from the perspective of a watchman at the house of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He speaks of the queen’s command, of being the ‘blind spot her farsightedness relied on’ and he senses terror and violence far off beyond what he can actually see with his eyes. Shaw embodied his words in her voice and movement and the moment felt extremely vivid in its ‘nowness’, but also ancient. And because the poem speaks of a prophecy of a violent future event, we were also in a future – a past-future.
The watchman speaks of the mist rising from the fields – and it was, slowly but surely rising as dawn broke. The watchman thinks he sees Troy’s battlefields, ‘clouds bloodshot with the red of victory fires’ and indeed a small fire burned in the far bog.
The watchman’s troubled ‘farsightedness’ is a prophecy he is cursed with, stuck between the plotting sexed-up Clytemnestra and the distant Agamemnon’s extreme violence. ‘My sentry work was fate, a home to go to,’ he envisions, ‘What was to come out of that ten years’ wait that was the war / Flawed the black mirror of my frozen stare.’
He sees the future in the present, his fate is a home to go to. So we were here, we were there and we were also in Shaw’s voice and in Heaney’s words and at his home. The past and the present and the future collapsed in this moment.
There is a future for poetry that is both a homecoming and an adventure. In this way HomePlace is both a return and a setting out. HomePlace gives hope that such a homecoming will this time not be bloody. However Heaney was not shortsighted as to the challenges faced or the violence experienced in far, or not so far, places. ‘Mycenae Lookout’ is an uncanny poem and this was an uncanny moment of hope and sympathy with victims of violence, past, present and future.
Find out more about HomePlace at www.seamusheaneyhome.com