By Will Broaddus
---- — When Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney died on Friday, Aug. 30, Marblehead’s Claire Keyes emailed a poem she wrote this spring, “Seamus Heaney Bought Me a Beer,” to friends and colleagues.
The poem was eventually posted at the Mass Poetry website and recalls a visit Heaney made to Salem in 1984 to read in a poetry series that Keyes organized at Salem State.
Before driving Heaney to the reading, Keyes took him to Maddie’s Sail Loft in Marblehead, where students and faculty were waiting to meet the renowned poet.
“Here was a man who was approachable and met me and the others at Salem State as a fellow human being,” she said. “He wasn’t so full of himself and his literary reputation. He was able to connect with us.”
Keyes was an English professor at Salem State and now teaches poetry classes at Marblehead Public Library and in Salem State’s Explorer’s Institute for Learning in Retirement.
She included some poems by Heaney in an anthology she used at the Explorer’s Institute and shared memories of meeting the poet with her students, which led to writing the poem.
“I like it when a poem comes out of my memory bank and makes the past come into the present,” Keyes said.
SEAMUS HEANEY BOUGHT ME A BEER
Seamus Heaney bought me a beer once,
a Heineken in its cold green bottle.
What would you like? he asked
for I’d driven him from his rooms
in Harvard Square to Salem
where he’d give a reading that night.
I’d quizzed him in the car about Ted Hughes
and Sylvia Plath, all the time thinking
between that finger and that thumb
The squat pen rests. His eyes roamed
over the stretch of Lynn Beach we passed
on the way north. I pointed out Egg Rock
on the horizon where Plath’s swimmer was drawn
by the forgetful surf. He welcomed my story,
professed not to know that particular poem.
Hughes, he said, was a good friend and a kind man.
Who wouldn’t be kind to you, I thought,
with your easy openness, your generous acceptance
of our piddling stipend to read at our state college.
We’d chosen the pub in Marblehead,
thinking he’d prefer its down at the heel
Yankee raffishness to somewhere posh.
Besides, its fare was what we could afford.
And he understood, sized up the long bar,
the regulars at their stools and asked,
What would you like? Whatever you like,
Mr. Heaney, whatever you like.