Harry Youtt, How to Read a Seamus Heaney Poem

Harry Youtt

You can’t just walk up
and slide one of them
into your pocket
when nobody else is looking.

It’s never as easy as
cracking a nut,
flicking away the pieces of shell,
and eating the meat.

You’ve got to use
only the tips of your fingers.
Unroll the poem gently,
layer by layer,
like a wet scroll
when the ink might run.

Smooth it onto a flat plate
beneath a bright bulb
that gives you plenty of light.

Whatever you do,
be sure to keep the poem
a little moist.
There isn’t a chance
it will ever turn to dust.

It’s just that you’ll
want things to
undulate a little,
into their own flexibility.
You’ll even begin to see
some bubbles beginning
to form at the edges.

And then in the silence,
first extract the lines that shine
like caught fish, wriggling,
each of them — glinting —
one line at a time.

Hold them steady in the light,
and after a while
when you come to feel
they almost belong to you,
release them back,
into the frothing
the stream of the poem alone
is beginning to make.

Its pulse will throb,
and you’ll feel it
begin to breathe easy
into itself, as it draws you there
to follow the glinting in,
down closer
to where the lines were born.

A Heaney poem lives and thrives
by tasting itself and then by forming
into fuller flavor.

Common words
from common roots.
Potato words,
but exotically seasoned.

Somewhere in that hover,
between what is
and what he shows you
there might really be,
is the place you’ll find
where the poet went
and where he wanted to meet you.


3 thoughts on “Harry Youtt, How to Read a Seamus Heaney Poem

  1. I went from reading this fine poem to “Death of a Naturalist”, opened it to “Follower” and read it twice. Thanks, Harry, for pointing the direction I needed to take today. Your take on Heaney’s work is spot on. “potato words”–perfect!

  2. Harry, I find two poems in your one magnetic poem: one ending, “…to where the lines were born.” and the other beginning: “A Heaney poem lives and thrives…” I have neglected reading Heaney, but now must read his work.

    • I like the way you said this, Maren: “two poems” — and I do see what you mean. The second one focuses directly upon a kind of analysis of Heaney’s style, and the first one being more abstract. I didn’t think of it originally, but it’s there. Thank you for seeing it.

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