Thoughts on Seamus Heaney and other poets of genius

By Barrie Hudson - 2 February 2024

Arts and CultureOpinion and Features

A column by Swindon Link poetry correspondent Maurice Spillane.

We haven’t had a living poet dominate the English-speaking sector since Seamus Heaney’s death left a huge gap 10 years ago. 

His 1995 Nobel Prize was one of many honours. I’ve been reading his “Letters” book that came out in December. It is page after page of wonderful writing. 

It gave me a lift in this grey month. Seamus represented 66 percent of UK poetry book sales in his time, an astonishing statistic. 

I’ve been researching the poet WB Yeats for a drama project. Yeats was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize. He dominated the sector for decades and while I love his work, I’ve become ambivalent about the person. 

He had little room for others, such as withering his friend and sponsor, the dramatist Lady Gregory, in his Nobel speech as “a living woman sinking into the infirmity of age.” She was deeply hurt. 

After Yeats’s death in 1939, the American poet, TS Eliot, got breathing room and was at the forefront into the 1960s. The English poet, WH Auden, had ups and downs during the period, but what a man. In 1939 he, a gay man, married Thomas Mann’s gay daughter, Erika, to get her out of Germany. 

In the States there were big hitters in Robert Frost and many American poets such as: Rich, Crane, Stevens, Aiken, Moore. They are my “go-to” poets! 

There’s still that gap. I’m in no hurry to see who of our rich pool of poets will fill it. As Heaney wrote: 

Say ‘canal’ and there’s that final vowel 

towing silence with it, slowing time 

to a walking pace 


I’ll be giving a presentation on my recent trek to Nepal and the Annapurna Circuit, with some amazing photos. Email me if you fancy coming along: mspillane@ 


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