Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 18 May 1998

"The Spirit Level" by Seamus Heaney (Faber and Faber, 1996)

For computer programmers, "graceful degradation" means that when something fails, a program doesn't crash. Heaney's poems have much grace, in this sense and others. Poems like "The Flight Path" and "A Sofa in the Forties" have an appealing appearance even if the weightier ramifications pass one by. Only the final 2 or 3 poems left me cold.

Some of his "slabbery, clabbery" sound effects have gone, and there are fewer poems about his family. The obituaries of friends are in general good - certainly unembarrassing. The "balance and measure" mentioned in the blurb is evident in the forms as well as content. The sestina is unobtrusive (with load, lode, lead, payload, explode, etc), and when there is rhyme, half-rhymes predominate.

"Mycenae Lookout" is a worthy poem to centre the collection around, displaying Heaney's various strengths - a good turn of phrase, control of tone, a poise that lets him zoom in on significant detail without losing momentum. "An Architect" shows his somewhat lighter side, but the same stylistic ingredients are evident.

My impression is that his worst poems are getting better and his best poems are getting longer. Overall, an even, occasionally inspiring collection.

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