By Larissa Campos
There were few empty seats in the audience of Jones Concert Hall Monday night as Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney read a compilation of his poetry including an exerpt from Beowulf. Heaney’s poetry reading was part of the 19th annual Beall Poetry Festival.
“It is my great honor to be at Baylor University, where there is such great respect and sponsorship for poetry,” Heaney said.
Dr. Richard Russell, professor of English and director of the Beall Poetry Festival, described the event as an exciting “prequel” to the rest of the festival happening in April.
Heaney was born in Northern Ireland on his family’s farm. He graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1961 and went on to earn a postgraduate teaching diploma from St. Joseph College in Belfast. Heaney taught English literature in Irish universities as well as the University of California, Berkeley. He then began publishing poetry in university magazines to mark the beginning of his poetry career. “He’s written a lot about the troubles in Northern Ireland and the people killed,” Russell said.
He said, however, that Heaney does not limit his poetry to only about Ireland. A longtime admirer of Heaney’s work, Russell said Eastern European and Russian poets have also inspired Heaney’s poetry.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Heaney is also a recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award, the E.M. Forster Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize and two Whitbread Prizes.
Russell said, prior to the poetry reading, in Britain, seven out of every 10 new poetry titles sold are Heaney’s books. Russell also told a story of a man in a bookstore looking to buy poetry for his wife. The man only knew two poets names: Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney.
Russell said this is Heaney’s first visit to Texas since 2006 and it will most likely be a long time before he returns. He said Baylor is very fortunate to have him take the time to participate in the festival.
Heaney was scheduled to come to Baylor in 2010 for the festival that year but suffered a stroke and had to cancel. Since then, his health has restricted his visits to the United States but Heaney said he still wanted to honor the commitment he made to come to Baylor.
Baylor is one of only four stops Heaney will make during his tour through the country.
The Beall Poetry Festival was established in 1994 by Virgina Ball. Events will continue April 3-6. The full festival schedule is available online http://www.baylor.edu/beall/index.php?id=2283.