Tag Archives: John McAuliffe

Unseen Forces: A Tribute to Seamus Heaney


Saturday 14th September, Martin Harris Centre, Manchester University

A night that should have included a recital by a great Irish poet sadly became a posthumous celebration of the greatest Irish poet to have ever lived, Seamus Heaney.

Upon opening the evening’s recital, Irish poet, Vona Groarke, said: “we have been left in the lea of Heaney,” heavy sentiments which were also echoed by renowned poets, Don Paterson and Paul Muldoon.

Irish poet, Paul Muldoon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007, was due to appear at the event alongside Heaney, but instead took to the lectern with the Scottish Forward Prize-winning poet, Don Paterson. The event was part of the 3rd British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference, held by The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester, in association with the Manchester Literature Festival, 2013.

In 2010, Heaney headlined the Manchester Literature Festival and spoke warmly of his links with the city as it was here that he had some of his earliest works published in a literary magazine set up by Harry Chambers. He also heaped praises on the university’s Centre for New Writing which he said has cultured some of the best Irish poets of recent years.

Paterson began the evening’s recitals acknowledging that, “we cannot disguise the sadness of the situation […] we’re on our own now.” Despite the melancholia surrounding the event, the night was a celebration and reassessment of Seamus Heaney’s work, the sadness and loss of which was reflected in both poets’ choice of poems. Each poet chose poems that tapped into Heaney’s psyche and borrowed from Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996. They traced Heaney’s upbringing on his parents’ farm at Mossbawn (‘Death of a Naturalist’, ‘Follower’, ‘The Harvest Bow’), Ireland and The Troubles (‘Two Lorries’, ‘A Lough Neagh Sequence’) and ending fittingly with poems associated with peace, such as ‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’ and ‘The Wishing Tree’.

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Sean O’Brien and John McAuliffe: Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Cladded in zinc like a huge roof tile, some might say that the Martin Harris Centre lacks the gravitas associated with other established poetry venues across the city such as St Anne’s Church, the Cathedral or Whitworth Hall. But once inside the 150-seat theatre, it’s easy to see, or rather hear why the venue has become a favourite place for the MLF to hold its poetry readings.

In 2009 the Irish poets Michael Longley and Tom French graced the Martin Harris Centre for an evening of poetry, and then at last year’s festival the poet émigré, Seamus Heaney, took to the lectern at Whitworth Hall. Can you spot the MLF theme that’s emerging here?

John McAuliffe is the latest Irish poet to showcase his works at an MLF event, when usually he’s the one introducing the Irish poets. Luckily for McAuliffe, Vona Groarke was on hand to introduce the poet from Kerry, and the other highly acclaimed poet of the evening, Sean O’Brien.

At first it might appear (and hear) like McAuliffe and O’Brien are an unlikely pairing, but what unites the poets in their latest collections is an interest for exploring what it is to be away from something you love, be this a person, place or thing. Continue reading

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