Paul Muldoon on breathing new life into Heaney's 'Human Chain'

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet reveals how dance, genetics and horses all factor into a weekend exploring his one-time tutor's final collection

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, is to curate a special programme of events at Seamus Heaney HomePlace from September 8 - 10 to mark the first anniversary of the centre.  

Born in Portadown, now living in the USA, Muldoon studied under Heaney at Queen’s University. He spoke to Culture NI about the upcoming programme.

What does it mean to you personally, to be curating a programme on Heaney’s last collection, Human Chain?

'It’s very cool. In April 1968, I first met him. He was an important force in my life. He helped me get published. It is very meaningful to be curating this programme, he was a big influence and I want to give back and extend his memory.'

Seamus Heaney, Marie Heaney and Paul Muldoon

Seamus Heaney, Marie Heaney and Paul Muldoon

Did HomePlace approach you, or you them? Can you give us a taste of the programme?

'They approached me, the guys behind Arts Over Borders, Seán Doran and Liam Browne. For the past 12 months, the HomePlace Centre has devoted a month to each of Heaney’s 12 collections, Human Chain being the last. I was interested in responding to the idea of human change, in ways that would be a bit out of the ordinary. We have Jean Butler (dancer and co-choreographer on Riverdance, now working in contemporary dance), and I was interested in how dance includes human contact, however fleetingly. We have geneticist Profressor Dan Bradley speaking, on tracing the ‘human chain’ of DNA. It’s something you wouldn’t associate with arts, but which is central to who we are.'

HomePlace brings the work and life of Heaney into the public sphere in new ways. Have you been to the centre yet? What do you think of Bellaghy as the location as opposed to perhaps more obvious choices, of Belfast, Dublin or Derry? It’s interesting too, that the centre is on the site of an old RUC station, especially when you consider Heaney’s mentions of the RUC, in poems such as 'The Ministry of Fear'.

'I think it’s an indication of how we are moving on. We have a bit to go. I do think that Bellaghy is the obvious place for the centre. Poets are so often, poets of place, be it real or imagined. Bellaghy was Heaney’s. I visited it yes, recently. I think they’ve done a brilliant job.'

Meadh McGuickan once said something along the lines of, 'Heaney couldn’t write a poem without getting in a car' – cars feature heavily in his work. On September 9, you are doing a reading on another form of transport, it could be argued, that reoccurs in your own poems – horses. Why do horses fascinate you?

'The horses theme for the reading is kind of a joke, a bit of fun. The Moy, where I am from is, or was, a big horse town. Liam and Seán thought I should do something about my own work. So, it’s a fun, medley of poems and links with the Horslips well. But there is a serious aspect too. Central to the 'Lament for Art O’Leary', which I’m performing with the Horslips, is a horse. It’s quite a valuable horse, brought back from Europe. A Catholic in the 18th century, in Ireland, is not allowed to own a horse worth more than £5. Which he refuses to sell it for, for so low, which are the events, which eventually lead to his death.'

Jim Lockhart and Barry Devlin, Horslips

Jim Lockhart and Barry Devlin, Horslips

You’ve also collaborated with musicians in the past, such as Warren Zevon and Paul Brady. How natural do you find linking poetry to music, do you feel there is a strong musicality to poetry?

'I think the musicality of the words in poetry don’t need music, they speak for themselves. But, there is a tradition of poetry, beginning as song, among the Greek, English, Anglo-Saxon and Irish poetic traditions, among others. So, song is a division of poetry, most poetry started as song. The likes of Beowulf, would sound today, more like rap.'

Tickets for all events part of 'Paul Muldoon curates Seamus Heaney's Human Chain' from Friday September 8 to Sunday September 10 are now on sale at www.seamusheaneyhome.ticketsolve.com/shows. To read more about the current Seamus Heaney HomePlace programme go to www.seamusheaneyhome.com.