cover image 100 Poems

100 Poems

Seamus Heaney. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (174p) ISBN 978-0-374-90701-3

Five years after the death of the celebrated Irish poet, Heaney’s family has compiled 100 poems from his 12 books. This compilation opens with the classics, including “Digging,” a contemplative ode to the poet’s father, a potato farmer, that transports the reader to the County Derry of Heaney’s youth, with its “cold smell of potato mould” and “the squelch and slap/ Of soggy peat.” In “Mid-term Break,” Heaney offers an affecting meditation on the death of his younger brother, and a lasting reflection regarding societal expectations of male enactments of grief. Heaney’s musicality and admiration for human labor is evident in poems such as “At Banagher,” which narrates a visit to the tailor: “So more power to him on the job there, ill at ease/ Under my scrutiny in spite of years/ Of being inscrutable as he threaded needles.” A series of poems called “Singing School” explore Heaney’s Catholic school education with equal parts wonder and melancholia, sympathetic for the boy he once was: “On my first day, the leather strap/ Went epileptic in the Big Study,/ Its echoes plashing over our bowed heads.” Heaney’s wistful elegies for people, places, and things that have been lost are stirring and heartfelt. This book offers a perfect entrance into the Nobel laureate’s work for new readers and a potent assemblage of his best for ardent fans. (Aug.)