How odd and "scaresome," to use a word in one of Seamus’s early poems, to think of him as mere memory, that I would never get to be in his company again. You were not "only you" but "you too" when you were with him. So many people would say the same in the media over the coming days and weeks. With him you became your best self.
The first time I met him was for a drink in the now-defunct Wursthaus in Harvard square after I, a young poet from Cork, rang him out of the blue with my first book. The nervousness I felt before meeting him quickly turned to ease in his company. As we finished up and he rushed off to catch a flight to a reading he asked where I was staying. Finding I hadn’t figured that out yet, he gave me, without pause, the keys to his apartment in Harvard, and said he wouldn’t be back for a week.
He came to give a reading, the first of two, at the college I teach in, Saint Michael’s College, and stayed with us both times. Before a meal we went for a short walk—he didn’t much like physical exercise— by Lake Champlain. In the book of photographs titled Likenesses by Judith Aronson, in which the subjects sometimes wrote about other subjects, I was delighted and honored to read Seamus’s memory of that visit and walk (none of the subjects knew who wrote about whom till after the book was ready for the publisher):
Burlington, Vermont. The early 1990s. Late winter afternoon, a few hours before I am due to give a poetry reading in St Michael’s College. I have come up from Harvard and my host is taking me for a walk along the shore of deep-frozen Lake Burlington, where the skaters swerve and skim "in games confederate", as Wordsworth once put it, "along the polished ice". But where Wordsworth’s skaters "hissed" along, these ones produced a deeper sound, a sort of steady chthonic murmur, as if the "url" in Burlington were being "rolled round in earth’s diurnal course". So we stopped and stood for a good long while, just listening, facing the old ice-music, and I knew even then that the moment would turn into one of those oddly abiding "spots of time"…
Greg Delanty is the friend I meet every time he comes back to Ireland, the one whose demotic idiom can never prevent high seriousness breaking in or out, the one who reminds you by his utter dedication to the art and his forthright, even furious enthusiasms and dismissals that a poetic vocation is being pursued in earnest. And this is also recognizably gregarious Gregory of Corkus, author of a merry work in progress, a pseudo-Greek Anthology, a cod literary game refracting strong convictions, among other things a coded “who’s who and what’s what in the poetry biz”.
But for all the good company we’ve enjoyed at pub counter and kitchen table, for all the bonding and banter, the poet in him and the one in me were closest when we stood recollected in tranquility that afternoon in wintertime Vermont.
“Rum do, this art”, the painter Turner is supposed to have said once. Ditto this poetry.
I will carry that little piece in my wallet for the rest of my life.