Eat Your Good Lamb

SBHeaney Daniel Picker on Seamus Heaney, in The Oxonian Review:

This past August, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Justin Kaplan asked me, “What was it like to study with Seamus Heaney?” I fell silent for a bit, just as I often did around Heaney. Even now, it remains a difficult question to answer.

I first met Seamus Heaney in January in Warren House, the graduate English office at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was about 22 years old.

I recall hearing him speak to the gathered crowd of students with his distinctive Irish accent. “I will be teaching two poetry writing classes: RBR and SBR. If you are interested, you should submit a manuscript of poems.” I very clearly recall first hearing him say, “RBR and SBR” (the course identification codes). With his accent, those letters sounded sort of thick and rubbery. He probably specified how many poems we should submit, perhaps around five.

In a brief letter of introduction I included with my poems, I’m sure I mentioned that, “I met with William Alfred, and he had read my poems.” Alfred suggested I mention his name in my letter. I had told Alfred in one of our informal conversations in his parlor at his house on Athens Street, “My mother’s maiden name is Haney.”

Alfred said, “Put that in your letter to Heaney, too.”