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Seamus Heaney exhibit is tribute to friend of Emory, master poet at work

By Maureen McGavin | Emory Report | Jan. 13, 2014

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"Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens," opening Saturday, Feb. 22, will be Emory's major exhibition celebrating the life of the late Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner.

Heaney had a special connection to Emory beginning with his first reading in March 1981. He delivered the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature in 1988, donated his lecture notes to Emory's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL) and conducted readings and poetry workshops in the 1980s and 1990s. His last visit to Emory was in March 2013, when he read his poems before a capacity crowd at Glenn Auditorium.

The exhibition will be in the Schatten Gallery of the Robert W. Woodruff Library. Remarks and toasts will be offered beginning at 6 p.m. with W. Ronald Schuchard, Emory professor emeritus of English, as toastmaster.

Geraldine Higgins, director of Emory's Irish studies program, curated the exhibition, choosing the title from a line in the Heaney poem "Song:" "The finest music of all is the music of what happens."

The exhibition will showcase Heaney's poems and drafts showing his handwritten revisions, rare publications, and artists' books containing Heaney's poetry.

Selected correspondence between the late poet and other writers whose papers are held by MARBL, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, Ted Hughes, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley will be exhibited.

One of Heaney's old writing desks will be on display from the 1980s. The desk consists of two oak planks that were part of an old bench from Carysfort College in Dublin, where Heaney taught in the 1970s.

There will also be a custom-built media space where people can listen to recordings of Heaney and other distinguished writers, artists and well-known figures, including Irish actor Liam Neeson and novelist Sir Salman Rushdie, reading his poems.

A large kite will be at the center of the exhibition, suspended over the spiral staircase in the gallery that descends to the lower floors of the library. The last poem in Heaney's final volume, "Human Chain," is "A Kite for Aibhín," written for his second grandchild. It was also the last poem he read at Emory,  says Higgins, "so that also makes it a poignant connection for us."

Heaney, who died on Aug. 30, 2013, was known for his generous spirit and inclusiveness, and his death was a devastating blow, says Higgins. Woodruff Library had been planning this first-ever exhibition with the poet for over a year prior to his death.

The University hosted a remembrance event Sept. 10, 2013, during which members of the Emory community — many of whom were well acquainted with Heaney through the university's ongoing relationship with him — shared stories and read from his work.

Higgins says . . . "we hope the exhibition will take visitors through the trajectory of his writing, from the earth-bound bog poems of his early work to the airiness and uplift of crediting marvels in his later career."

"One of the things we really want for the exhibition is that it reflect his warmth as well as his words," says Kathy Dixson, exhibitions manager for Emory Libraries.

The exhibition will remain on view through Nov. 25.

Reading by Paul Muldoon

The opening of "Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens" will be preceded by a free reading by poet Paul Muldoon, who gave the eulogy at Heaney's funeral.

Muldoon's reading is at 4 p.m. Tickets are required and will be available Wednesday, Jan. 22 beginning at 10 a.m. through the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts box office — either in person or online — and by phone at 404-727-5050, with a $4 per order service fee.

A limited number of tickets also are available at four local independent bookstores: A Cappella Books, Charis Books & More, Eagle Eye Book Shop and Little Shop of Stories. Tickets (limit two per person) must be picked up in person at these locations.

Books and a limited-edition broadside will be for sale at Muldoon's reading, and a signing event will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the exhibition opening celebration.

"Muldoon inaugurated the Irish Studies Program at Emory 10 years ago with a wonderful poetry reading and a limited-edition broadside of his poem 'The Coyote,'" Higgins recalls. "We are delighted to welcome him back for a reading that will not fail to engage, elevate and entertain his audience," she says.

The reading will be the latest installment of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library's (MARBL) Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series, which has featured a range of acclaimed poets including Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver and Natasha Trethewey, among many others.

"We are so excited to be kicking off the 2014 season of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series with a reading from Paul Muldoon," says Kevin Young, curator of MARBL's literary collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.