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Arion Remembers Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) 

As the world laments the death of its great poet Seamus Heaney, Arion Press remembers with gratitude the man we came to know in the course of publishing two of his books. How fortunate that his collection Stone from Delphi was completed last December. How grateful we are for the wonderful celebration we had with Seamus Heaney and his wife Marie and daughter Catherine this year. On May 17, a glorious spring evening in Rome, when he and his family joined a group of Arion’s friends for a few glasses of prosecco in the gallery of the American Academy in Rome, Seamus outdid our expectations, as usual. He retired to the sidelines for a moment, then launched into an impromptu reading from the book. He joked with Andrew Hoyem in the private language of publishers’ proof reading marks. “BANG,” Seamus proclaimed, (meaning !)  to commend Andrew’s reading “Actaeon” while pronouncing all the punctuation as if he were a proofreader.

Seamus Heaney with Wendy Artin and Andrew Hoyem  Seamus Heaney with Andrew Hoyem
Seamus Heaney at reception in Rome
Seamus Heaney with Wendy Artin, Andrew Hoyem, and Diana Ketcham in Rome, May 17, 2013.

In the dozen years of our dealings, he always went beyond the expected. At our first business lunch, at the South Park Café in San Francisco in 1999, he appeared bearing a hand written version of his translation of Pushkin’s poem “Arion”. In 2007, in the midst of an epic tour around the US, Seamus found time to dash out to the Press and give an unforgettable reading from the Arion Press edition of his Squarings.

Seamus Heaney with Blake Riley
Seamus Heaney with printer Blake Riley at Arion Press in 2007.

In his business correspondence, nothing he wrote was perfunctory. No note or email from Seamus was without a witticism, a compliment, a warm greeting, even when, as a besieged literary man, he was writing to say no.  His last email to us, on May 14, 2013, about missing a dinner party in order to spend the evening with family, is typical. Seamus signs off:

“As the barman in Dublin said philosophically, ‘This is it, this is the thing, this is what we're up against’.”

Seamus Heaney reading at Arion Press
Seamus Heaney reading at Arion Press in 2007.

 

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