I had not read it, really. I may have forced myself to look at the words, one after another, hurriedly so I could lie to myself that I had, perhaps. I wrote in my diary on 7 May that I had got it: “One needs to read modern poetry, if only so as to drop names” but did not write about it again that month.
As I thought: this was Culture, and Culture is a good thing. But Heaney was an Irish Catholic, the Enemy, the Terrorists: at the absolute best deeply suspect. The book made no impression on me at all. I did not see the value in it. Unlike my battered copy of TS Eliot Collected Poems (Stephen Languish 2 8 86) it is only battered from being moved from house to house.
Around 2000, at the Community Building weekend- too soon for me after Good Friday 1998, the IRA had not decommissioned- I met Tom Deevy, also known as Christopher Condren (I have no idea why or when he used the different names) and said to him something like, You’re Irish Catholic, you’re the enemy, and yet- you’re not; and he said he felt something similar.
Celebrate that moment of openness. Celebrate the opportunity, and that I took it, and won, and recognised, that connection and that divide. I had been so chained up, how could I be otherwise; This has been so difficult! The pain of it! I am not chained like that, now. Why should these poems have any effect on this racist homophobe?
Then there was the BBC documentary. I videoed it, because, still, this is Culture, and Culture is a Good Thing. Kirsty Wark and Melvin Bragg and others talk of Heaney reverently, and there are extracts from his TV documentaries and interviews, and I half-watched part of it, while playing with my computer.
Then this morning I watched the rest of it, and saw- how beautiful he is! He was a voice against death, and- I must not be too harsh on that earlier I, but- I could not see it, because it was important that the Right Side win. I see it now. I am glad I see it now
So, Station Island. Much thicker than the average slim volume. The title poem is a long poem in twelve parts over thirty pages. The first part, of five-line stanzas, each line 4-7 syllables long, with clauses and sentences ending mid-line, seemingly randomly- these statistics are actually the best way I can give my impression of it-
It introduces three characters: Simon Sweeney, tinker and Sabbath-breaker; a crowd of shawled women; and a Narrator, split between self-as-child and self Now. Trapped in my ideas of clear, defined categories, Good and Bad, rather than Good and Good, of course I could not understand it.
At last, perhaps I will read it.