Richard Rankin Russell
Regional voices from England, Ireland, and Scotland inspired Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel prize-winner, to become a poet, and his home region of Northern Ireland provided the subject matter for much of his poetry. In his work, Heaney explored, recorded, and preserved both the disappearing agrarian life of his origins and the dramatic rise of sectarianism and the subsequent outbreak of the Northern Irish “Troubles” beginning in the late 1960s. At the same time, Heaney consistently imagined a new region of Northern Ireland where the conflicts that have long beset it and, by extension, the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom might be synthesized and resolved. Finally, there is a third region Heaney committed himself to explore and map—the spirit region, that world beyond our ken.
In Seamus Heaney’s Regions, Richard Rankin Russell argues that Heaney’s regions—the first, geographic, historical, political, cultural, linguistic; the second, a future where peace, even reconciliation, might one day flourish; the third, the life beyond this one—offer the best entrance into and a unified understanding of Heaney’s body of work in poetry, prose, translations, and drama. As Russell shows, Heaney believed in the power of ideas—and the texts representing them—to begin resolving historical divisions. For Russell, Heaney’s regionalist poetry contains a “Hegelian synthesis” view of history that imagines potential resolutions to the conflicts that have plagued Ireland and Northern Ireland for centuries. Drawing on extensive archival and primary material by the poet, Seamus Heaney’s Regions examines Heaney’s work from before his first published poetry volume, Death of a Naturalist in 1966, to his most recent volume, the elegiac Human Chain in 2010, to provide the most comprehensive treatment of the poet’s work to date.
“Richard Rankin Russell’s Seamus Heaney’s Regions is a major and original contribution; it is hard to think of another critical work on Heaney that is so complete in its coverage, from the earliest activities to Human Chain. Russell is extremely well-versed in Heaney’s writings, and extends his analysis beyond the usual concentration on the poetry to bring in the crucial prose and dramatic works, including the early, largely forgotten items. The breadth of his approach makes his book of interest to scholars in such neighboring fields as social geography, history, and theology as well as contemporary literature.” — Bernard O’Donoghue, Wadham College, University of Oxford
“Seamus Heaney’s Regions will be welcomed by the many students and scholars who study Heaney, but also by those interested in the turbulent post–World War II period in Northern Ireland. Since Heaney is one of the best known contemporary poets, Russell’s book should appeal to a wide audience. Russell gives readers an overview of Heaney’s career. Unlike some studies of Heaney, Russell’s Regions includes many insightful commentaries on his essays and translations." — Henry Hart, Mildred and J.B. Hickman Professor of English and Humanities, The College of William and Mary
“Seamus Heaney’s Regions radically transforms our understanding of the poet’s sense of place, his political consciousness, and his visionary art. Drawing on a wealth of knowledge and extensive archival research, Richard Rankin Russell offers us a superb account of Seamus Heaney as a global regionalist, a poet whose localities extend beyond the national to the spiritual. Thoughtfully attentive to the cultural contours of the writings and sensitively attuned to their formal and stylistic qualities, this is a book that will shape and inform our appreciation of Heaney’s poetic achievements for years to come." — Stephen Regan, Durham University
“In this study of Heaney’s Northern Irish regionalism, Baylor University English professor Russell (Poetry and Peace) neatly traces the impact of the author’s Ulster roots across his poetry, politics, culture, and spirituality. Russell delves into the political and cultural implications of a divided Ireland, noting that Heaney was an optimist—always imagining “a new region of Northern Ireland,” healed and undivided. . . . A substantial and magisterial work of literary criticism, Russell’s volume stands as a valuable companion to Heaney’s writing." — Publishers Weekly
“Richard Rankin Russell’s new study, Seamus Heaney’s Regions, is the first which is able to take account of the full run of Heaney’s oeuvre. While it was completed before August 2013, it is also, of course, the first study to appear since Heaney’s death last summer . . . . Russell’s work is deeply sensitive to the ethical dimension of Heaney’s writing, and he is concerned to emphasise and laud the beneficent conscience of the poet as it is manifest in his work throughout a writing career of nearly 50 years. . . . Another merit of the book, for first-time students of Heaney and longstanding readers and critics alike, is that Russell is scrupulous in dealing with and responding to a staggering number of the critical opinions which have emerged from that industrial load of scholarship.” — The Oxonian Review
“Richard Rankin Russell’s Seamus Heaney’s Regions is, by any standard, a major contribution to the field. Reading it, one becomes aware of how much Heaney commentary has matured over the last couple of decades. Russell’s study is liminal only in the sense that it presumes that the reader is familiar with the scholarship that has gone before; in itself, it represents the beginning of what is yet to come.” — New Hibernia Review
“Those of you in search of a book that will tell you what Seamus Heaney [was] all about need look no further. Bringing together studies over the past fifteen years, Russell embeds the poet who attained rock-star notoriety and the Nobel prize in the context of the conquered and economically suppressed Catholic population of Northern Ireland and Ulster in particular, who managed to ‘cross over’, attain a first-rate education at Queen’s University, Belfast, and with it an expertise in drama, poetry, and cultural studies that allowed him to socialize smoothly with the cream of the established and ‘entitled’ Anglo-Irish settler class. . . . Russell demonstrates that the most powerful wing in British poetry since the Romantics Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, etc. has been regionalism. . . . Russell discusses thoroughly Heaney’s engagement with each of his significant predecessors and contemporaries and gives extended commentaries on each of his works, retrieving early radio dramas, uncollected poems, and first drafts of important works.” — Heythrop Journal
“This book is a sustained, well-drawn and nuanced argument that takes the region as an alembic through which to look awry at Heaney’s work. This book is structured like a Prezi presentation, as there is a chronology at work, but what Russell does is to offer an overview and then zoom in on a specific area to illustrate his point . . . a significant addition to the Heaney critical canon.” — Irish Studies Review
“. . . Russell’s new book provides an extensive study of regionalism in Heaney’s poetry and prose. Russell provides a broad view of current perceptions of Heaney’s work and a history of regionalism in Northern Ireland . . . . Especially valuable for the close reading of Heaney’s oeuvre in support of the focus on sense of place, the book is a valuable resource for Irish studies.” — Choice
“. . . Seamus Heaney’s Regions is a welcome and vital contribution to what is now a very populated field, a field that can and should be called Heaney Studies. While at this stage no single critical volume can be transformative of how Heaney’s work is read and considered for years to come, in its exploration of the poet’s regionalism Russell’s astute, readable, and insightful book provides an important, clarifying vantage from which to view Seamus Heaney’s remarkable achievement.” — Irish Literary Supplement
“This is a scholarly and accessible exploration of regionalism in the writing of Seamus Heaney from one of the most insightful readers of his work . . . . Russell’s book is full of such information and is a significant and original addition to the critical work on Seamus Heaney.” — SHARP News
Winner of the Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism for 2014_Foreword Reviews_ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist in History