Human Chain: Poems

Human Chain: Poems

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by Seamus Heaney
     
 

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A Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011
Winner of the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2011 Poetry Now Award

Seamus Heaney's new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present--the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is

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Overview

A Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011
Winner of the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2011 Poetry Now Award

Seamus Heaney's new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present--the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. Human Chain also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics, poems that stand at the crossroads of oral and written, and other "hermit songs" that weigh equally in their balance the craft of scribe and the poet's early calling as scholar. A remarkable sequence entitled "Route 101" plots the descent into the underworld in the Aeneid against single moments in the arc of a life, from a 1950s childhood to the birth of a first grandchild. Other poems display a Virgilian pietas for the dead--friends, neighbors, family--that is yet wholly and movingly vernacular.

Human Chain also includes a poetic "herbal" adapted from the Breton poet Guillevic--lyrics as delicate as ferns, which puzzle briefly over the world of things and landscapes that exclude human speech, while affirming the interconnectedness of phenomena, as of a self-sufficiency in which we too are included.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nostalgia and memory, numinous visions and the earthy music of compound adjectives together control the short poems and sequences of the Irish Nobel laureate’s 14th collection of verse, a work of familiar strengths and unparalleled charm. Old teachers, schoolmates, farmhands, and even the employees of an “Eelworks” arrive transfigured through Heaney’s command of sound: a schoolmate whose family worked in the eel trade “would ease his lapped wrist// From the flap-mouthed cuff/ Of a jerkin rank with eel oil,// The abounding reek of it/ Among our summer desks.” The title poem applies Heaney’s gift for physical mimesis to an image from the day’s news: “bags of meal passed hand to hand... by the aid workers” remind the poet of the grain-sacks he swung and dragged in his own youth. Other pages remember, and praise, libraries and classrooms--from grade school, from Harvard, and from medieval Irish monasteries, with their “riddle-solving anchorites.” For all the variety of Heaney’s framed glimpses, though, the standout poems grow from occasions neither trivial nor topical: Heaney in 2006 had a minor stroke, and the discreet analogies and glimpsed moments in poems such as “Chanson d’Aventure” (about a ride in an ambulance) and “In the Attic” (“As I age and blank on names”) bring his characteristic warmth and subtlety to mortality, rehabilitation, recent trauma, and old age. (Sept.)
Library Journal
While retaining the linguistic brawn and bristle one expects of Nobelist Heaney, his latest collection (after 2006's District and Circle) strikes a deeply elegiac note, commemorating both the personal and the historical past with urgent poignancy. From the vantage point of 70 years, the poet is all too aware of how easily "the memorable bottoms out/ Into the irretrievable," and so images preserved from youth—of eels, gooseberries, coal fires, Irish militiamen guarding a rural road—achieve three-dimensional, iconic status, still lives affirming the fact of lived experience, whether joyous or tragic ("I had my existence. I was there./ Me in place and the place in me"). As always, he thrives on robust descriptions of physical labor. In the title poem, relief workers pass bags of grain, "ready for the heave—/ The eye-to-eye, one-two one-two upswing/ On to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drain/ Of the next lift." VERDICT Reading Heaney's poems, like viewing Breughel's and Courbet's depictions of worldly life, can leave readers feeling palm-roughened and muscle-sore, but as contemporary poetry grows ever more conceptual and theory-based, Heaney continues to remind us of William Carlos Williams's famous line, "No ideas but in things." Recommended.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466855670
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
01/13/2014
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
96
File size:
2 MB

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