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Heaney’s work to be included as part of ‘Big Jubilee Read’

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Poet: The late Seamus Heaney

Poet: The late Seamus Heaney

Poet: The late Seamus Heaney

A selection of work by Irish writer Seamus Heaney is set to be included in part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, despite the poet once protesting “no glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen”.

Heaney, who died in 2013, is included in BBC Arts’ list of Commonwealth writers who released masterpieces during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as she will celebrate 70 years as monarch in June.

The writer’s first collection of poems — ‘Death of a Naturalist’ — is listed as one of 70 titles by the broadcaster in collaboration with the Reading Agency charity as part of the ‘Big Jubilee Read’.

The BBC have said Heaney’s work was chosen “because of its significance for generations of readers in the UK, Ireland and beyond”.

The inclusion of Heaney, who is the only Irish writer featured, comes after last year’s controversy when an image of the Nobel Prize for Literature winner was used to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted at the time it was “deeply offensive” and Heaney’s image was later removed from the £3million campaign.

The BBC told The Sunday Times that the titles “were chosen by a panel independent of the organisation” and pointed out Heaney’s publisher was informed and supplied the image used in the leaflet.

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Journalist and writer Malachi O’Doherty said Heaney’s inclusion is technically right but can see why people might be offended given Heaney’s Irish identity.

“It’s literally true, [Heaney] was a Commonwealth writer at the time,” he said.

“He was living in the UK, writing for an English publisher when Death of a Naturalist was published. Would people not be offended if he was left off a list like this? It would be a conspicuous omission.”

In response to his work being included in ‘The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry’ in 1983, Seamus Heaney responded by saying: “Be advised, my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/To toast the Queen.”

In 1999, he turned down the offer to become the UK poet laureate, saying: “I’ve got nothing against the Queen personally. I had lunch at the palace one time.”

Death of a Naturalist features alongside other famous texts including ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Shuggie Bain’.

The list was devised by librarians, booksellers and literature specialists, including representation from Northern Ireland.

Listing the works from 1962 to 1971 — including Death of a Naturalist — the Big Jubilee Read wrote: “The 1960s marked a turning point in cultural and political history.

“For the Commonwealth, it signalled the start of the rapid acceleration of decolonisation across the Caribbean and Africa. The collapse of the federation of the West Indies led to countries in the region becoming independent.

“Over the next decade, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados all joined the Commonwealth as independent states, alongside other countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Singapore and Fiji.

“This decade also saw the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting convene where the Singapore Declaration was issued, laying out the core political values that would go on to define the Commonwealth.”

The full list of the Big Jubilee Read can be found at www.readinggroups.org/big-jubilee-read


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