One of the most memorable experiences of my life took place in 2004 while attending Ohio Wesleyan University. As a founding member of Writer’s Club, we were lucky to attend a reading and meet-and-great with Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney. As young writers I think we were a little out of our depth when it came to understanding the impact of Heaney’s work, but we listened to him talk and munched away on melon slices and cheese cubes just the same. This evening was a far cry from our usual hijinks of attending local poetry slams, sticking out like sore thumbs, but participating all the same. The group photo that was taken that night with Seamus is an heirloom of mine, and contains my future wife as well.

Heaney needs no introduction. If you have studied 20th Century Poetry even a little, his legacy and profound impact on Irish identity and expression is evident. When he passed away in 2013, I dug out (sorry for the forthcoming pun) the signed page he inscribed to Writer’s Club that day. It is a quote from one of his most memorable works; “Digging”.

It reads:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

All the meaning that is packed into those lines resonated with us as developing writers and I will cherish this relic always.

Rather than chose that poem however, I decided to select another, one that feels a bit different. “Sloe Gin”, is written as a sort of toast written to the drink and the preparer. It is full of rich descriptive language, that while simple, perfectly encapsulates how the author is experiencing the sensations he is describing. It is sometimes easy to forget that beauty can be simple. Heaney never needed reminding of that, and this one, is for him.


Sloe Gin

The clear weather of juniper
darkened into winter.
She fed gin to sloes
and sealed the glass container.

When I unscrewed it
I smelled the disturbed
tart stillness of a bush
rising through the pantry.

When I poured it
it had a cutting edge
and flamed
like Betelgeuse.

I drink to you
in smoke-mirled, blue-
black sloes, bitter
and dependable.


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