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This report is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

A Tribute to Seamus Heaney
Laying Down the Memory
Michael Parker
The Royal Festival Hall was filled to capacity on the evening of Wednesday, 20 November, for a celebration in words and music of the work of Seamus Heaney. The event brought together a distinguished gathering of Britain and Ireland’s foremost poets, many of them longstanding personal friends of the Heaneys, such as Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Bernard O’Donoghue and Tom Paulin. They were joined on stage by Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Paula Meehan and Edna O’Brien, in what turned out to be not a solemn or sombre occasion, but an act of collective affirmation, illustrating ‘poetry’s power to replenish the imagination’, the capacity of song and sound to lift the spirit-level.  

Much credit for this must go to James Runcie, the Festival Hall’s Head of Literature, who had devised the programme with such skill, and to the compère, Andrew O’Hagan. Tasked with providing a coherent thematic narrative capable of containing the evening’s diverse offerings, he executed his responsibilities with consummate ease. His commentary was invariably astute, concise and witty, and managed to capture much about Heaney, the man and poet. He was spot on in suggesting that Heaney would have been both embarrassed and pleased by all this attention, and quipped, like Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘It’s too much, but not enough’.

From the outset it was clear that considerable attention had been given to the staging of the event. As well as providing multi-angled, close-up shots of the changing cast of readers and performers, a large screen, centre-stage, presented stills of Heaney ...

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