Experiencing the Heaney Suite Student Readings.
As I made my way to Randolph on this uncharacteristically warm October Tuesday evening, it occurred to me that I had not visited the building in some time. Whether it is attributed to the hectic nature of midterm season or to the physical restrictions the strike has put on my comings and goings in Adams, I am sad to say that I have ventured from my usual path only for sustenance and caffeine of late. But the call of Seamus Heaney and an unfulfilled need for adventure drew me from my hermitage and led me to Randolph I-12.
Room I-12 in Randolph Hall of Adams House was the Harvard dwelling of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He called that room home during his time as visiting professor beginning in 1979, the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory (1984-1995), and as the Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence (until 2006). Heaney’s death in 2013 rocked not only his Harvard community of friends, students, and peers, but his admirers world wide as well. Therefore, the initiative to commemorate his living space as a room for study and growth was supported by all who wished to carry on his legacy.
All this I knew before my ascent on those creaky spiral stairs and entrance through the unbarred door. The print of “Digging” on the heavy dark wood door gave me a nostalgic pause as I recognized the words that first introduced me to the work of Heaney. I moved through the doorway and was greeted by the writing tutors of Adams, a couple of student readers, and a few other friends and listeners. What struck me at first was the openness of the room. It seems a Harvard dorm room uncluttered by adolescent paraphernalia can actually be quite elegant. The framed photos and prints of poems on the walls were complimented by the books that lay open and lined the shelves in more than one corner. As I perused them, though, I could not help but conclude that each one was chosen carefully for its relation to Heaney and his craft. A great deal of Yeats was rightfully present. The red couches, comfortably occupied, sat around the fireplace – this one was not blocked. I chose a chair from the door-like wooden table, and joined the circle.
The tutors had brought cookies and welcomed everyone to the reading session. The Adams Writing Team has approximately one of these Heaney Suite Readings a month. It was on House Master Sean Palfrey’s prompting to celebrate not only the work of Heaney but, more so, the kind of man he was – one open to teaching, reading and writing because he loved it. The series has so far been a great success – though it is understandably celebrated amongst more humanist communities in Adams. The readers introduced themselves and contextualized their work before beginning. The stories were dark and provocative – read aloud in soft voices in a quiet room where nothing stirred.
One reader had chosen an excerpt from the novel she is working towards completing. Another, though also reading an excerpt from a larger collection of stories, chose to discuss the academic exercise that was her writing process. The texts discussed had meaning beyond their creators and began to take on lives of their own as we explored their themes, visual details, and narrative agency. I could imagine the smiling face of Heaney giving life to the spoken words.
And so I found myself in the space of an hour free from deadlines, due dates, and graded writing. Though writing for the Indy is a transformative experience in itself, my papers and articles are constantly at risk of slipping into obligated tedium. Perhaps it is a weakness of mine, but I am constantly searching for inspiration to make what we do here at Harvard mean more than just grades and job offers. I left the Heaney suite satisfied in my quest for adventure and inspiration, returning to my room in search of more words. The evening left me with a wish to write more and live in a realm where Heaney’s legacy is unmitigated by stress and frenzy. I almost wish my Harvard years had fallen amidst those when Heaney lived and worked in I-12. I am moved to delight, however, because I can still find his soul haunting the walls of I-12 in this place where both frosts and tests are hard.
Caroline C. Cronin ([email protected]) recommends the reading of Irish poetry to combat the stress of the season.