Sunday, November 09, 2008


Do you think poetry can play any practical or meaningful role in changing minds and hearts on environmental issues? In the past you have conceded that no poem is strong enough to stop a tank, so my question is: can a poem stop an SUV?

I think that one answers itself. What has happened, however, is that environmental issues have to a large extent changed the mind of poetry. Again, it's a question of the level of awareness, the horizon of consciousness within which poet and audience operate. There are those like Gary Snyder and Alice Oswald for whom these matters are an explicit concern, but at this stage nobody can have an uncomplicated Hopkinsian trust in the self-refreshing powers of nature. Yet if Philip Larkin were writing his poem on water nowadays, it would still be in order for him to end on a note of reverence, and "raise in the east / A glass of water / Where any-angled light / Would congregate endlessly". I suppose I'm saying that defiance is actually part of the lyric job.
-- Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O'Driscoll

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