Walt Whitman was the original Good Grey Poet, so-called because his countrymen responded so warmly to the heroic tone of optimism, exultation and empathy in Whitman’s poetry, qualities which inspired a nation. We have our own Good Grey Poet in Seamus Heaney and the public embrace extended to him here in Ireland is as wholehearted as the one Whitman enjoyed in the young American republic. Extending that embrace, we at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards were delighted to present the 2011 Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to Seamus Heaney at our gala dinner in the RDS on November 17th.
Booksellers warm to authors who, in the words of Gray’s Elegy, keep “the noiseless tenor of their way”, who fulfil the peripheral demands of public profile and trade interaction with good grace. It is those good friends of the book trade that our Lifetime Achievement Award is designed to honour and no writer has been a greater friend to Irish booksellers than Seamus Heaney. The work is the important thing but the personal connection between booksellers and author is perhaps equally so. The great body of work is there, monumental to behold, built to last, and sure to be read in a hundred years time. Congratulations Seamus.
There are writers who come along every hundred years. Joyce is one and Heaney is another. And we’re very lucky to be alive, to have him in our own time. His poetry is always pitch-perfect but there is something so humane about him and about his work, the way he sees humanity that speaks to all sorts of people. Christine Dwyer Hickey
I’ve revered him from afar and on the couple of occasions I’ve been in his company I’ve just felt like the luckiest man on earth. He’s a sort of exemplar of how to live, how to write, simply how to be on the earth. I had a small moment when I sent him a poem and he wrote me a beautiful letter back which was so important to a young writer, something you cherish, and I don’t think there’s ever been a person like that in Ireland who happened to be a great poet. He is that thing the Greeks call kalos andras which is a good man. Sebastian Barry