four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
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Poems

A-District and CircleIrish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney returns to some of the agrarian themes—the "age of bare hands/and cast iron"—of his first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966). That the title of this new collection refers to the London subway system hints at some of the more diverse themes here: contemplation of a sledge hammer and turnip-snedder; railroad ties (and railroads as vehicles to the concentration camps); homage to poets George Seferis and Czeslaw Milosz, among others; a first haircut; and a melting glacier ("grey-gristed earth-pelt, aeon-scruff"). In quatrains, sonnets, and prose poems, Heaney deconstructs the relationship of the past to the present and the rural to the urban, where "anything can happen."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 78 pages. $20. ISBN: 0374140928

Philadelphia Inquirer 5 of 5 Stars
"A poet of great gifts reaches a certain point, a certain patient accumulation of life experience and verbal cunning, and at that point the boundary between the human and the animal, between the natural and divine, all but disappears. … Seamus Heaney has reached this point in his new book of poems." Karl Kirchwey

Washington Post 5 of 5 Stars
"The result is a book as original, startling and aesthetically compelling as any since his magisterial 1984 sequence, Station Island." Anthony Cuda

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"If Death of a Naturalist shows Heaney pacing his local acreage, staking out his ground, District and Circle walks the same steps, now laden with 40 years. It is Heaney’s Songs of Experience to those early Songs of Innocence; as Blake did, Heaney revisits and recasts some of his early poems here." Dave Lucas

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Heaney carries his own inconvenient truths: that we are strong and violent and have always toiled to alter our environment. But Heaney never fails to remind the reader to toil with excellence." Benjamin Lytal

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Heaney battles assumption, and so should his readers. Far more than his other collections, these poems encourage wild opinion; they are fundamentally open." Jenna Krajeski

Critical Summary

Critics describe Heaney’s newest book of poetry as original, startling, authentic, even supernatural—and his strongest collection in two decades. Reminiscent of his earliest collections in its earth-and-labor-centered vision, this volume is all the wiser with hindsight. While displaying a similar sensitivity toward humans, the same lyricism (a subway strap is "a stubby black roof-wort"), and a familiar down-to-earth attitude, District and Circle also asks questions about our impact on Earth. Latin and Gaelic words, as well as references to Dante and Greek myth, may have some readers scrabbling for the dictionary—but even for them, reading Heaney’s poems is entirely worth the effort.