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Stepping Stones


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A unique insight into the life and mind of Seamus Heaney.

About the Author

Dennis O'Driscoll's previous publications include New and Selected Poems (2004), a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, and Reality Check (2007). He is editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006), author of a collection of essays and reviews, Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams (2001), and a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (2008). He works as a civil servant in Dublin.


There is no shortage of writing by or about Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Heaney. Yet this big book is a unique and useful addition to the Heaney canon: beginning in 2001, the Dublin-based poet, essayist and anthologist O'Driscoll entered into an extended correspondence with Heaney for the purpose of collaboratively constructing a kind of autobiography-in-interviews. The result is a collection of 16 discreet interviews, the first two of which discuss Heaney's childhood and poetic growth. Then there is one interview-chapter for each of Heaney's celebrated books (except the last two, which are grouped together), followed by a summing up. In conversation, Heaney comes across as extremely friendly, expansively intelligent and in possession of the groundedness in the details of his environment that readers of his poems will be familiar with. Here are boyhood recollections ("Our travelling grocery van... was run first by a man called McCarney, but 'the egg man' was our name for him"), memories of the famous Belfast Group and accounts of coming-of-age, and then coming to international prominence, against the backdrop of Ireland's troubled 20th-century politics. And, of course, Heaney traces the events-both political and personal-that led to many of his poems. For fans of Heaney, of 20th-century Irish literature or anyone eager to get deep into the mind of a major artist, this is an essential book. (Dec.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Popular contemporary Irish poet O'Driscoll (Reality Check) began work on this book of interviews with Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney in September 2001. Interestingly, aside from some transcriptions in Chapters 13 and 15, these interviews were conducted in writing and through the mail. This format allowed Heaney to pick which questions to answer and to rearrange their order as he chose, and O'Driscoll sees his role as "prompter rather than interrogator," giving Heaney a good deal of influence on the final book. The result is not a comprehensive biography (nor is it meant to be) but rather "a survey of his life, using the poems as reference points." Though Heaney has been interviewed by many others, this collection's unique method of creation makes it a worthy addition to literature collections. Recommended for academic and public libraries of all sizes.-Felicity D. Walsh, Emory Univ., Decatur, GA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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