In Memory of Seamus Heaney

When you get to be my age, i.e., the ol’ “three score and ten” of Psalm 90, the years can seem like a blur, so when I opened Facebook this morning, I was surprised that already nine years have passed since the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s death at 74. Although it is commonplace now to hear somebody call 70-something sort young for death, Heaney’s mortal dress was more than a little tattered – he looked frail, every bit of three score and fourteen – and it appears that a mere fall did him in. 

among school children

I first became enamored with Heaney in 1978.  Ashley Brown, a former professor, invited me to dinner at his house on Barnwell Street not long after he had garnered a bit of fame for appearing frequently in The Habit of Being, a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters.  It was a memorable evening with Dr. Brown as he hauled out personal photographs of him and O’Connor and also of his dear friend Elizabeth Bishop, whom he had brought to South Carolina for a reading when I was still in graduate school.[1]  During the evening, he asked me if I had heard of Heaney, and when I admitted I hadn’t, he whipped out a couple of poems, so as soon as I returned to Charleston, I purchased Heaney’s second collection, A Door into the Dark.

Of course, the 60’s were the decade of confessional poets like Plath and Lowell, poets whom my teacher James Dickey once referred to in class as “scab pickers,” poets who more often than not wrote in free verse and who demanded from the reader – at least in Lowell’s case – the patience to unravel seemingly random associations, many of which pertained to his private life.[2]  

Heaney’s verse was different – musical, earthy – its subject matter a mixture of the mundane and the political strife of Northern Ireland.   Here he is in “The Outlaw” describing in loose iambic couplets a bull mating with a cow:

Unhurried as an old steam engine shunting.

He circled, snored, and nosed. No hectic panting,

Just the unfussy ease of a good tradesman;

Then an awkward unexpected jump, and

His knobbled forelegs straddling her flank,

He slammed life home, impassive as a tank.

Dropping off like a tipped-up load of sand.

“She‟ll do,‟ said Kelly and tapped his ash-plant

Across her hindquarters. “If not, bring her back.‟

I walked ahead of her, the rope now slack

While Kelly whooped and prodded his outlaw

Who, in his own time, resumed the dark, the straw.

Heaney, standing, fourth from the left

Many of his poems deal with childhood experiences on the family farm right outside of Castledawson in County Londonderry.  Here’s a segment from the title poem of his first collection, “The Death of a Naturalist”:

Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

Of course, Yeats is the standard for any Irish poet and an impossible one at that, but it’s certain that Heaney was the greatest Irish poet since Yeats and one who belongs in the same pantheon with the postwar English master Philip Larkin. Heaney is one of the four Irishmen to receive a Nobel prize in literature along with Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett – rare company indeed.   His loss is a great one for poetry and for Ireland – for all of us really – but old men are destined to die as Yeats reminds us on his very tombstone.  

Nevertheless, like his hero Beowulf, Heaney will live on in his verse.

Personal Helicon

for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells 

And old pumps with buckets and windlasses. 

I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells 

Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss. 


One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top. 

I savoured the rich crash when a bucket 

Plummeted down at the end of a rope. 

So deep you saw no reflection in it. 


A shallow one under a dry stone ditch 

Fructified like any aquarium. 

When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch 

A white face hovered over the bottom. 


Others had echoes, gave back your own call 

With a clean new music in it. And one 

Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall 

Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection. 


Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime, 

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring 

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme 

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

[1] Brown had also in his youth visited Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s, so being in Brown’s presence put me a mere two degrees of separation from my heroes Joyce, Eliot, and Hemingway. You can read about Elizabeth Bishop’s visit to USC HERE.

[2] I witnessed a dual reading featuring Dickey and Lowell in 1974. Afterwards, I learned that Lowell detested Dickey, so there’s that.

Guest Post: Post Hoc, Ergo Procter Hoc[1]: Post Dobbs Bralessness

You Do Hoodoo is honored to welcome Archibald Ascot Anderson, Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus of the University of Greenville, who has contributed the following WesTalk. The Editors of Hoodoo (i.e. I-and-I) do not necessarily agree with our guests’ suppositions, but we do take pride providing a wide range of provocative views on newsworthy topics.

So, with no further, ado. Dr. Anderson, you’re on.

[tepid studio applause]

Um, thank you.

I’ll start this sensitive subject with a confession: Even more than your typical heterosexual male, I –especially in my younger days – suffered an unhealthy obsession with female mamilla. I remember when I was five sitting on the sofa of our roach-infested two-bedroom rental on Laurel Street drawing pictures of mermaids and my mother informing me that once I started kindergarten, I couldn’t draw mermaids anymore, at least not at school. I don’t remember if I asked why or not, but I do remember feeling sort of weird, wondering why it was bad.

Of course, my mother is to blame for my early obsession because, as the story goes, she breastfed me until I was three or so and only began to wean me when I began sliding my hand under her blouse and unhooking her brassiere.[2] Not surprisingly, I associated breasts with comfort, love, food, and my buxom raven-haired bovine Mama. For me, a pacifier offered no succor comfort. I’d spit it out in disgust when they attempted artificially to soothe my anxiety.

Being born in 1950 would turn out to be propitious because in the late 60s during the full bloom of my adolescence, bralessness became a thing with young women sporting halter tops, tube tops, gauzy peasant blouses, etc. And still today, even in my testostretonic-challenged semi-dotage, I find the unfettered soft sway of braless bosoms aesthetically pleasing.[3]

What has prompted me to write about such a potentially touchy sensitive subject is that I’ve noticed a marked increase in bralessness on the barrier island where I live, admittedly a spot more inclined to hedonistic behavior given its sea, salt, sand, and all that jazz.[4] However, I hasten to add, this discarding of foundation undergarments is a recent change. I recall around the 4th of July a bartender friend remarking that if he were an investor, he wouldn’t be buying shares in the Bali or Maidenform corporations. He smiled, I smiled. We’d noticed. We dug.

Last week, a colleague texted from New Orleans and in a postscript added, “I’ve been here 8 hours and haven’t encountered one bra.

Based on these two examples, I think we can say confidently that bralessness is on the rise. But what are the factors that have contributed to this fashionable discarding?

I have a theory. Women shedding the undoubtedly uncomfortable harness is, whether conscious or unconscious, a reaction to the Dobbs-Sayonara-Reproductive Rights decision of 24 June 2022. Women have had it. They’re not going to take it anymore.

It’s possible, no probable, and with that, I bid thee a fond goodnight. I just can’t talk about it anymore.

[tepid studio applause]

Well, thank you, Dr. Anderson, for your fascinating theory. Of course, we welcome your feedback. Do you think overturning Dobbs has prompted an increase in bralessness? Let us know by flinging your two cents worth in the comments box.

And stay tuned for next week’s WesTalk when Congresswoman Nancy Mace will discuss what it’s like standing in line waiting a turn to be photographed with Donald Trump.

[1] “After this, therefore because of this” – an informal fallacy which argues A occurred, then B occurred, so A caused B. E.g., I didn’t wear my lucky Gamecock baseball cap; therefore, USC lost to Clemson 55-10.

[2] BTW, breastfeeding was the opposite of “all the rage” in the early 1950s with Ike and Mamie in the White House. At least in the small provincial Southern town (pardon the redundancy) where I was reared, breast-feeding was for poor people. (Also, c.f., Toni Morrison’s Son of Solomon.)

[3] In, of course, a wholesome, detached non-objectifying way. By the way, since my near fatal pickleball injury in 2018, I have been confined to a wheelchair.

[4] In fact, it ranks second to Nashville as the most popular bachelorette party destination on the East Coast.

Brat Power

image by Wesley Moore

brat, noun

a disparaging CHILD specifically an ill-mannered annoying child, a spoiled brat

b: an ill-mannered immature person

                                                Merriam Webster On-Line Dictionary

the perverts, the perverters of language,

    the perverts, who have set money-lust

Before the pleasures of the senses

                                                Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”[1]

Perhaps modeled on Josh Hawley’s raised fist on 6 January as the Senator from Missouri manfully strode past the soon-to-be insurrectionists, Donald Trump has in recent days been photographed clenching and raising his Pinocchio-sized paws in an obscene appropriation of the Black Power salute of the 1960s.[2]

This gesture has replaced the two-thumbs up pose Trump favored in those halcyon days before the confiscation of classified documents he had stolen from the National Archives, those relatively placid days of mere impeachment, Congressional hearings, attempted election overthrowing, and income tax evasion.

I mean, come on. Trump’s ripping off the iconography of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale is sort of like Vladimir Putin twisting his legs into the lotus position and reciting the Sermon on the Mount.

I mean, you raise your fist to defy the Man, not to spur on a latter-day incarnation of the KKK.

Donald Trump and Josh Hawley are the Man, in favor of teargassing peaceful Black protesters.

“Why can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Trump asked his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Not Power to the People but Power to the Elite.

Brat Power, not People Power.

[1] The irony is not lost on me that I’m quoting a fascist poet here, doing in a lesser sense what I’m accusing Trump and Hawley of doing.

[2] Of course, Hawley’s jogging exit from the capitol during the riot was not, shall we say, the stuff of the traditional Western hero, not the stuff of Hercules – or Andy of Mayberry for that matter.

Everybody’s in Showbiz

The democratization of media means that we’re all stars now. Self-styled comedians flood TikTok with their bits, musicians upload videos, retired English teachers with lowly BAs spew cultural observations in blog posts as if they’re social scientists.[1]

You don’t need any talent or expertise to do any of this, only the right software and an internet connection.

Seems as if everyone, whether it be Marjorie Taylor Greene or Mr. Disgruntled Cattleman from Wyoming, has the infomercial eye-contact, emphatic-hand gesturing down as they look you in the eye from whatever sized screen they appear on.

I noticed years ago that Trump himself had incorporated some stand-up body language in his rallies, particularly the [cue New Yorker sarcastic voice] who-would-have-thunk-it shrug.

More than ever, politics has morphed into showbiz. Do the above-referenced MTG and her not-all-that-comical sidekick Laura Boebert ever attend committee meetings, or is all they do is hold mikes and pace back and forth pretending that they’re rightwing incarnations of Paula Poundstone? [2]

Seems like a waste of taxpayers’ money from where I’m scrolling.

Oh, yeah, then there’s this, not to be outdone.

[1] That would be I-and-I, Dear Reader.

[2] Marjorie Taylor Greene has been stripped of her committee assignments, so in her case, the answer is no.