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The Art of Seamus Heaney's Bibliography.

ONCE A STANDARD SCHOLARLY AID, printed bibliographies are rarer and rarer on the literary landscape, no doubt in part because of the rise of the Internet and its rapid-retrieval abilities. This is a shame because such bibliographies are still necessary, particularly in the case of prolific writers like Seamus Heaney, much of whose work outside his poetry and some essays remains fugitive, as Rand Brandes's and Michael J. Durkan's Seamus Heaney: A Bibliography, 1959-2003 attests. Durkan and Brandes published Seamus Heaney: A Reference Guide (G. K. Hall, 1996), a very helpful annotated bibliography of secondary works on Heaney, but unfortunately it is difficult to obtain fifteen years on and badly out of date (it only covers the period from 1965-1993). As Brandes observes in his introduction to this new bibliography covering Heaney's primary works, Durkan died in 1996 without seeing the reference guide published or completing his bibliography of the primary works; Brandes then took over this current project in 1997.




FABER, 2008, 50 [pounds sterling]

I should state at the outset that all current and future scholars working on Heaney are greatly in debt to Brandes and Durkan for not only their work on the earlier reference guide, but also and most especially for this bibliography, which is readable, highly useful, and if not comprehensive, nearly so. I have turned to it time and again in my own work on Heaney and it has already become an indispensable fixture for scores of Heaney scholars worldwide. Even for those of us who have spent years on Heaney's work, the bibliography reveals a rich series of sources that have been previously either largely unknown or unappreciated.

Brandes notes in his introduction, which is partly and understandably an apologia for the traditional, printed bibliography, "if one 'Googles' Seamus Heaney the odds are that one will be given over one million possible sites to visit. The 'virtual' Heaney will surely grow exponentially; tangentially, access to much of this material will complement our work.... With so much virtual Heaney available, it is crucial that the record of his publications be rooted in the non-virtual world of bibliography" (xii). This sentenee is somewhat puzzling since so many bibliographies themselves are now on-line: a search I did in the course of writing this review turned up some amazing online bibliographies, such as some excellent ones on Chaucer, the first literary figure to pop up in my search, which are hosted at various universities (the medievalists, interestingly enough, have been some of the leaders in putting together online bibliographies). Moreover, Oxford University Press has also recently launched a new series, "Oxford Bibliographies Online," which promises a selective, annotated list of online sources for given topics and themes, updated quarterly and revised periodically, with "Open-URL connectivity, allowing users to click through Oxford Bibliographies Online's thousands of citations to quickly access the full-text of essential, authoritative, sources" ( usa). Such a project is already revolutionizing the field of bibliographical studies and will continue to do so in the future. But the "OBO," as it is already being called, seems not likely to concentrate specifically on a given author anytime soon, and when and if it does, its selective focus and links to on-line sources will nevertheless sacrifice comprehensiveness for speed and easy retrieval, suitable for undergraduate students perhaps, but not for more specialized readers anal literary scholars. Hence the continued desirability for traditional bibliographies like this one, which allows us to trace the textual history of particular poems across periodical appearances and subsequent publication in individual volumes. Yet such bibliographies have their drawbacks, such as the inevitable problem of having to stop coverage at a certain point and of course, the inability to link electronically to particular works, which an on-line bibliography such as one in the OBO series would give. In this case, Heaney's work is covered through 2003, but not poetry volumes such as District and Circle (2006) and the magnificent Human Chain (2010); nor are the scores of other articles and interviews he has published since then. One hopes that an updated version of this bibliography or at least a supplement to it will be issued in the future.


To organize his entries, Brandes relies upon the Soho formula that Durkan used, which separates items by type of publication into sections, with each section organized internally by chronology. There are nine sections: A: Books and Pamphlets, AA: Broadsides and Cards, B: Contributions to Books, C: Contributions to Periodicals, D: Contributions to Exhibition Catalogues and Programmes, E: Translations of the Works of Seamus Heaney, F: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, G: Commercial Audio Recordings, H: Ephemera. There are two indices: a "Title Index" and a "General Index," both of which are invaluable for locating particular entries. Brandes explains that the "A" and "AA" divisions were set up to "maintain the prominence of the trade publications conventionally listed in 'A' sections, while acknowledging the unique importance of the privately printed 'AA' items in Heaney's publishing life" (xiii). Sections A, B, and C are under standably by far the largest sections, running to 392 pages of the 448 page bibliography proper.

Much of the pleasure in using this bibliography has come for this reader through simply picking a section and reading through it. Such use reveals that while Heaney's major volumes have been published by the large houses Faber in the UK and by Farrar, Straus, Giroux in the United States, be has consistently sought out publication in small presses, which is consistent with his artistic interest in local culture and his generosity. After Heaney gave the commencement speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May, 1996, for example, English professors Weldon Thornton and George Lensing published that speech with Stinehour Press in Vermont; the proceeds benefitted the UNC library system, which features the Henry Pearson Collection on Seamus Heaney.

Another one of the delights of this bibliography involves the occasional reproduction of an otherwise difficult-to-find quotation from Heaney about his own work, such as the one Brandes gives in entry "A51" for the "Squarings" sequence. There, we find Heaney's author's note that was originally printed with the first edition of this important ser of 48 poems by Hieroglyph Editions in Dublin during October, 1991 Heaney's note suggests how these poems share an interest in the ethereal he finds exemplified by the artist Felim Egam, who designed this edition. Repeatedly, the descriptions of Heaney's special editions show his lasting interest in collaborating with artists in other media like Egam. They demonstrate the truth of Brandes's argument he made in a 1999 essay published in New Hibernia Review 2.2 (Summer 1998): 28-47, "'Letter by Strange Letter': Yeats, Heaney, and the Aura of the Book,'" where he argues for a reading of the two poets based upon Benjamin's concept of aura in "The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and upon cultural historian Frances Yate's concept of the "art of memory."

Heaney's sense of the book as sacred object is highlighted throughout this rich bibliography replete with the sort of bookish details in which the poet delights. Its layout is attractive and helpfully simple. Thus, its combination of utility and pleasure makes Seamus Heaney: A Bibliography, 1959-2003, highly recommended.

--Baylor University
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Title Annotation:Seamus Heaney: A Bibliography, 1959-2003
Author:Russell, Richard Rankin
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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