HomePlace by Matthew Rice

heaney-homeplace

Heartless, corporate venture, or world-class, local commemoration: there appears to be a debate circulating around these two standpoints, but whatever the complexities of both arguments for and against, I birthday-treated myself on Saturday 22nd of October to a visit to the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, with neither viewpoint in mind.

Upon arrival I observed from the outside a building that was top-heavy in appearance, like one of those 8-6 sonnets the man himself so often penned.

I had booked online to attend an event, and as I approached the reception desk to enquire as to where I should go, a fragment of one of those 8-6s, ‘Fosterling’, came floating to mind: ‘Their in-placeness/ Still more in place when mirrored in canals.’

In-placeness

Perhaps it was this ‘in-placeness’ that chimed with my initial opinion of the layout. Everything seemed ‘in place’, neat and tidy, like a tight Heaney sonnet.  As a poet and a person upon whom Heaney has had a huge influence, it was just nice to be surrounded by Heaney stuff.

I made the five minute pilgrimage on foot to the grave, having left enough time before the event began, which was entitled ‘Heaney, Sir!  St Columb’s remembered’; a conversation with three school friends of Heaney.

The Helicon is where events and readings happen at HomePlace, and the room was full.  It’s a very impressive space that houses just over 200 people, I believe, with seating on three sides.

One room that is particularly worth a visit is on the upper floor, kitted out to resemble the poet’s study (complete with skylight).  In that room there is a video that shows reaction to the Nobel win, along with various other trinkets related to it; but what caught my eye was a glass case containing about six handwritten drafts of the poem ‘The School Bag’, in memory of John Hewitt.  The finished printed poem is included within the book it appeared. I was sure I had seen these drafts before, somewhere, but I obviously couldn’t have.

The School Bag

Later that evening I contacted my father, Adrian, (himself a well-known poet and friend of the Nobel laureate, and to whom Seamus Heaney provided his first book blurb), and mentioned them.  ‘Yes, they’re the ones I showed you in Dublin’, was his reply.

My father – via a scholar-friend who had Seamus’ permission – had received photocopies of the drafts in question, which my father and I had then poured over on a magical evening in Dublin in 2006.

The overall impression I got of the Heaney HomePlace was one of humility; a well-crafted and well-designed building that is not overbearing in its presentation, and is representative not only of Heaney’s importance to Northern Ireland, but of his global importance.

In this respect, it is my opinion that it reflects the character and the work of the man; the ‘Heaney stuff’ that I, for one, admire.

What Happens

(in memory of Seamus Heaney)

So, when Socrates’ legs had gone numb
They laid him down on his back
To register comfort in the final moments.

Up until then his friends
Had held back their tears.
But then in spite of themselves

They came in floods,
So that many had to cover their faces.
Sorrow sat with every man.

Earlier, Socrates had calmed them
With the promise of stoic silence,
And had told them not to fear.

Apollodorus had wept so heavily
That he affected everyone present;
Afterwards, as the body was carried out,

He noted the sun through the dust,
And in that moment became aware
Of the birds, singing close

To the music of what happens.

Matthew Rice

(First published in Iodine Poetry Journal [North Carolina, USA] 15th Anniversary edition, Spring/Summer 2014)

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