Writers’ cities

In praise of Dublin’s — and Tampa Bay’s — finest.

click to enlarge Seamus Heaney (1939-2013). - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013).

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

—from “Digging” by Seamus Heaney (1966)

One evening when Seamus Heaney had given a poetry reading in Dublin, and attended the fine party afterward, he was speeding through the Irish countryside, wanting to get home and having had a wee bit too much to drink. Soon, a white car with the familiar roof-light and siren showed up behind him, so he pulled over and waited for the policeman, who gruffly asked to see his license. After reading the small print, the officer peered at Heaney closely.

“Heaney,” he said. “Do you be the poet?”

“I am, sir,” pronounced Heaney, with dignity.

The officer straightened up. “Pass, brother,” he said, and waved him on.

That sounds true. The history of Ireland may be mad and violent, but it has always loved its writers.

In a short walk through Dublin, where Heaney lived most of his life — dying there on Aug. 30 — you can’t go far before bumping into a statue of Oliver Goldsmith, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, or even some fictional characters, like Anna Livia Plurabelle, from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Submerged in water, Anna, popularly called “the Floozy in the Jacuzzi,” is the spirit of the River Liffey, which runs saucily through Dublin. (The statue of Joyce with his walking cane is known as “The Prick with a Stick”: fame in Ireland, like the language itself, is a two-edged sword.) I can only imagine what they’ll call Heaney (unfortunately pronounced HEEny) when they get around to his statue.

We were last in Dublin on a cold November day, and it took a lot of coins and kicking to get the little heater in our b&b to work, after which we headed out along the Liffey to the Writer’s Museum, to read about Nobel Laureate Heaney and a multitude of others. Beautifully displayed in a handsome Georgian mansion on Parnell Square, the Museum’s a treasure chest of quirky information about its writers. Who would have guessed that in their youth Oscar Wilde (boxing) and Samuel Beckett (cricket) were outstanding athletes?

Dublin’s called a City of Writers, which made me think of Tampa and St. Petersburg, where there’s already an organization called City of Writers, founded in 2009 to increase the support and profile of our inkslingers. We’ve more poets right here in Tampa Bay who’ve reached out beyond our borders than you might think.

The proper response to poetry is more poetry, so here, with apologies for many omissions — no space, no time! — I’ve made a little list of our poets, in the spirit of the great Irish poet we’ll miss and admire, Seamus Heaney.

Tampa Bay Poets

Hawkins Hopler Wallace Ward
Dawson Sellers Shomer Byrd
Not too hard to find a bard
in dens on Kennedy Boulevard
diving for the perfect word

Everyone here can bang the gong
Riegel and Sukrungruang
Martínez Tokley Russo Wilt
A reputation’s being built
Mathews Morrill Curbelo Carroll
sip from the Muse’s sherry barrel
Though Tampa Bay’s not Dublin yet
the bars are open appetites whet
the writers write we’re all in debt
Writing together from Bay to Sea:

Here’s to Seamus and Poetry

—by Peter Meinke, sure and whose sainted mother was Kathleen McDonald.