A tribute to poet Seamus Heaney

Poet Seamus Heaney.
Poet Seamus Heaney.

A tribute to Seamus Heaney

Among those who mourned the death in August of poet Seamus Heaney (left) were the presidents of Ireland and Harvard. Born on a family farm in Northern Ireland in 1939, Heaney, a 1995 Nobel laureate, taught at Harvard for many years, beginning in the 1980s. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement that Heaney “epitomized the poet as a wellspring of humane insight and artful imagination, subtle wisdom and shining grace.”

Heaney was a dear friend to a number of local poets. Among them is Diana Der-Hovanessian, longtime president of the New England Poetry Club. The club sponsored Heaney’s first reading at Harvard, held at the Faculty Club. He attracted an overflow crowd, as she recalls, the club paying $2 a chair to bring in extra seating.

Der-Hovanessian invited him to join the club’s board, and he accepted. The first board meeting was a luncheon at her house in Cambridge, but he didn’t show up. The following day, Heaney appeared on her doorstep, bouquet of flowers in hand. “He came right in and stayed for lunch and longer with the family, joking with my mother and said it was the best board meeting he’d ever attended,” Der-Hovanessian wrote in an e-mail. Over the years, Heaney helped the club organize programs, including a well-attended Irish festival featuring poetry and music at venues in Boston and Cambridge.


On Saturday, a tribute to Heaney will be held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum from 2 to 3 p.m. Speakers include Heaney’s friend and fellow poet Rose Styron, poets Robert Pinsky and Charles Simic, and Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. Christopher Lydon, who interviewed Heaney on his old public TV show “The Ten O’Clock News,” will be the master of ceremonies. Register at

Maine Readers’ Choice Award

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In 2012, the Pulitzer Prize committee declined to award a fiction prize, a decision that stirred outrage in some quarters. Up in Maine, librarians, booksellers, publishers, authors, and readers took a different tack. They joined together to establish a new fiction prize: the Maine Readers’ Choice Award. Starting with a list of more than 40 selections from “best” book lists, they selected three finalists. A vote by readers online and at libraries and bookstores throughout the state has determined the winner: “A Land More Kind Than Home” (William Morrow) by Wiley Cash. His debut novel is a thriller and coming-of-age story about the mysterious death of a 13-year-old autistic boy in the mountains of North Carolina. Cash’s book triumphed over “The Yellow Birds” (Little, Brown) by Kevin Powers and “Gone, Girl” (Crown) by Gillian Flynn.

Spencer novel finished

Helen Brann, Robert B. Parker’s longtime literary agent, has completed the Christmas-themed Spenser novel he was working on the morning he died of a heart attack in 2010. “Silent Night” is being published by Putnam on Tuesday. A review in Publishers Weekly determined that Brann “does a seamless job of completing the unfinished manuscript,” predicting that “diehard Parker fans will be delighted.”

Coming out

 “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” by Scott Adams (Portfolio)

 “Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems”by Billy Collins (Random House)


 “Eminent Hipsters” by Donald Fagen (Viking)

Pick of the Week

Ellen Meeropol of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “We Are Water” by Wally Lamb (Harper): “Like so much of Lamb’s work, it explores race and class and violence. He masterfully weaves story and back story. His characters break free of their historical grief and secrets to find joy and to explore the redemptive powers of creative work.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner