Yeats and Heaney As Examples: Without Contraries, No Progression

Kevin Boyle
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A student in my poetry writing class complained at the end of the term that I hadn’t really taught the students how to write poems. In an attempt to teach the unteachable, I resolved to come up with at least one good definition of a fully functioning poem. Through my reading of the two Irish poets W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, I arrived at the notion that many (certainly not all), but many great poems, like stories, contain within them elements of friction and tension, a kind of noisy dialogue between various elements. Perhaps I could use this model in my creative writing classes to instruct students how to write a poem. In my paper I will discuss the nearly infinite variety of conflicts possible within a poem, from the simple idea of dialoguing (and disagreeing) characters in Yeats’s poems, to a slight chafing caused by the use of an epigraph at odds with the content of a poem (Yeats’ “Politics”) to the form of the sonnet in Heaney’s hands where the octave and sestet are involved in a cold war (“The Nod”), or the yoking together, or braiding together of two separate deliveries in Heaney’s sestina “Two Lorries.” Whether the friction is caused by temporal elements (past and present collide), geography (I’m in London but I want to be in Sligo), conflicting emotions (I love you, but I hate what you do to me), or the old yin and yang of life and death, the poems under study all lead to the overwhelming consensus that (maybe) (at least in these cases) poems thrive on conflict as much as fiction does, and the dialogic element is present in poetry as much as in the novel.

Keywords: Yeats, Heaney, Creative Writing, Poetry
Stream: Books, Writing and Reading
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Kevin Boyle

Professor, English Department, Elon University
Elon, North Carolina, USA

Kevin Boyle got his MFA from Iowa's Writers' Workshop and PhD in English, also from the University of Iowa. He has been teaching at Elon University in North Carolina since 1992; he teaches poetry writing. His book of poems, A HOME FOR WAYWARD GIRLS, won the New Issues Poetry Prize in 2004, and his chapbook, THE LULLABY OF HISTORY, won the Mary Belle Campbell Poetry Book Publication Award in 2002. His poems have appeared in Greensboro Review, Virginia Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly, Poetry East, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Colorado Review and Antioch Review.

Ref: B07P0052