Legendary singer Paul Simon has led a New York tribute to the work of Irish poet Seamus Heaney in the East Village.
Simon was joined on stage by 20 American and Irish writers, including novelist Colm Tóibín and poet Paul Muldoon.
Over a thousand people gathered with family and friends of Heaney for the reading in honour of the Nobel laureate who died in August.
The Irish Times reports that Simon read one of his favourite poems – 'Casting and Gathering’ – from Heaney’s book 'Seeing Things' about fishermen on opposing banks casting their lines, like politicians on opposing sides.
The iconic singer revealed to the audience that he had heard Heaney read the poem on a visit to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1991. He also read a short haiku written by Heaney.
The report adds that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Muldoon, a close friend of Heaney’s, read 'Follower' one of the many poems Heaney wrote about his father and upbringing on a farm in Co Derry.
Two Glanmore Sonnets were read by Tóibín, including the couplet: 'Vowels ploughed into other, opened ground, Each verse returning like the plough turned ground.'
Pulitzer Prize winning African American poet Tracy K Smith, a former student of Heaney’s at Harvard University, Californian poet Atsuro Riley, and Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, also read at the event.
Stanford professor Eavan Boland read 'The Singer’s House' and described the poem as 'a remarkably, daringly written poem.'
Boland said: “There is a lot of rich, beautiful local and regional detail in his work but I think the reason people read it is for that strength of feeling that anybody can translate themselves into.”
Heaney’s wife Marie and daughter Catherine were guests of honor at the event, organized by US poetry groups including: the Academy of American Poets and the Poet Society of America along with Heaney’s American publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Alice Quinn, executive director of Poetry Society of America, told the Irish Times that each poet had been asked to select three of Heaney’s poems to avoid overlap.
She said: “When submitted, there was no overlap between their favorite poems, showing the wealth and breadth of his work.
“As a poet, he was loved because he was so scrupulously kind and generous. He was a connector and generator for other poets, and he was a beloved teacher.”
New York-based poet Tom Sleigh, a friend of Heaney’s for 30 years, told the paper: “He had a backbone of steel, and also had a ferocity and a brilliant analytical intelligence.
“All of that was tempered with the fact that he had the time of day for everybody. He could have been a very different man given his gifts and the demands on his time.”
Actor Gabriel Byrne, author Colum McCann and playwright Enda Walsh will be among the participants in a tribute hosted by the Irish Arts Centre and St Ann’s Warehouse on Friday in Brooklyn.
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