‘Just Another Twist in the Plot’: Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and the Final Institution
Seamus Heaney’s journey through the check points o f writing presents a readily identifiable parable o f the literary self-conscious: a parable that poetry from Northern Ireland has had recourse to many times. In ‘From the Frontier o f W riting’ , the journey from doubt, through confrontation, to a visionary state o f artistic confidence is one that offers a paradigm o f poetic development which Heaney has located in the work o f Patrick Kavanagh (Heaney 1988: 3-14) and which also, microcosmically, images Heaney’s own poetic career from North (1975), through Station Island (1984), and into the future tense with Seeing Things (1991). The final state o f achievement is one dependent on the ‘squawk o f clearance’ granted by literary criticism, an examination which leaves him ‘a little emptier’ (‘as always’) but to which he is equal. While such a reading may seem to portray Heaney’s poetic manoeuvres as
slightly pat, I would rather emphasise the liberation through cynicism that ‘From the Frontier o f W riting’ proffers simultaneously; an interpretation which allows the poem a prefigurative quality beyond the ineffable world o f the transcendent or prophetic. Central to this is the intersection o f the British military presence in Heaney’s known landscape and the preponderance o f literary critical terminology (not only the ‘Frontier o f W riting’ itself, but the ‘nilness round that space’ and the ‘pure interrogation’ o f the original encounter) that describes their operations within the parameters o f the poetic artefact.