What was all this unfathomable stuff about potatoes and gardening and farming? Of course, I pretended I really got it, understood it, and regurgitated the interpretations they tell you to regurgitate. But I couldn't say I really felt it. And surely that's what poetry is all about? A sense of something almost tangible from just a few words on a page? Anyway, I got my A* or A or whatever, and that was that.
But today I realised that somewhere in my mind, despite my previously dulled senses, there remained one particular, persistent poem: Digging. Its been slumbering in some corner of my brain all along, which is quite strange really, for a poem that I didn't enjoy reading and wanted so badly to forget.
Rereading it today, it's no surprise it stuck. The strong, earthy image of Heaney's father, the quietly confident rhythm: 'Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests, snug as a gun'. The pen as a gun! Bloody hell! Why didn't I see how cool that was?
This poem is a wonderful study of the act of writing, an act which I've truly only just started learning about, despite knowing how to use a pen for a number of years now. It is about the effort involved in producing your own work, the satisfaction, the instinctive need, the conflict that what you're doing is somehow fruitless yet also imperative to your way of life. No wonder my classmates and I didn't appreciate it back then. School wouldn't allow us time to be writers. Indeed, it barely let us read freely.
So here's to you Mr Heaney, for giving me so much more than just an A. Though you're gone, because of you, I'm still digging.