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Inspiration: Seamus Heaney, poet

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

“I learned that my local County Derry [childhood] experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to the ‘modern world,’ was to be trusted.”

Seamus Heaney

For my birthday last fall, my husband Rob bought me a used volume of poetry by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.  I’d first heard of Heaney in high school when we both played roles in Dancing at Lughnasa, but I hadn’t spent much time with his work.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the book Rob had given me to find the recently deceased poet’s signature on a page of the title poem!  A used book purchased for a few dollars was suddenly worth $150 or more.

But this little story is beside the point — in some ways.  At the end of last year, the year in which Heaney died, I watched a short video honoring his life.  The video begins with the quote above, which I wanted to note here on the Huss Project blog because I think it describes the kind of community spirit we hope to foster in that space.  Many kids (and adults for that matter) can’t wait to get out of Three Rivers.  While I certainly understand and support the desire to gain experience and see the world, I also maintain that every place — even a small, rural city in southwest Michigan — is a world chock full of buried treasure … if you know where and how to look.

From what I’ve read so far, Heaney’s work seems like a collection of artifacts from that kind of search.  Not every artifact is as brilliant as a signed first edition — sometimes it’s a painful memory, or a seed of hope hidden far so far beneath the surface of a marginalized place that seeker can find it only at great personal risk.  But each artifact is infinitely valuable because it’s part of someone’s story.  How can we learn to see Three Rivers and all places with the eyes of a treasure-hunting poet?

In closing, here’s a bit of the poem we read for the toast after our Kennedy’s Kitchen fundraising concert last December, from Heaney’s play The Cure at Troy:

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Kirstin is a member of the *culture is not optional core community and is the Head Caretaker at GilChrist Retreat Center.