The Facebook page titled “You Know You’re From Lowell If…” has thousands of members, and sometimes the group “does” history in a crowd-sourcing fashion. For example, somebody will pose a question, and people will jump in with facts and recollections. I tried that recently because I knew poet Seamus Heaney had given a reading at UMass Lowell around 1980, and I wanted to make note of it on this blog. I don’t know why, but I did not go to the reading. I missed him again more recently when he read in Lawrence at the Frost Festival of the Robert Frost Foundation.
Nobody from YKYFLI could find a reference in online issues of the Lowell Sun. Tony Sampas, librarian at UMass Lowell, attended the reading in early 1981 and added that poet Joe Donahue and other members of the Donahue family were there in the auditorium of O’Leary Library (also called Room 222) on the South Campus (the school was called the University of Lowell at the time). Tony wrote: “We were all quite taken by Heaney.” He had started teaching at Harvard University for part of each year in 1979, so he was in the area.
In a separate e-mail, Jeannie Judge of the UMass Lowell Dept. of English told me that she attended the reading and remembered that Lowellian Jim Droney was in the audience. She said her colleague Mary Kramer also attended. Jeannie did not think it was in O’Leary, but rather a smaller room. She speculated that the reading may have been community-sponsored.
Donna Reynolds Savory, who is the conductor of the history-orchestra over at YKYFLI, searched her sources and could not find anything. Tony explained that the Access Newspaper resource does not extend to 1981. A couple of people pointed toward the Sun on microfilm at the Pollard Memorial Library—the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History would be another place to check film.
In a separate Facebook post, artist Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord shared a Heaney poem, “The Seed Cutters,” that she had done in calligraphy after being inspired by him at the reading. I will ask Susan what else she remembers. In those days, she lived in Billerica and was president of the artists co-op called Art Alive!, which was based in a vacant shop on Merrimack Street where Enterprise Bank has a parking lot today. Susan is a well known maker of artist books and teacher, but in 1981 was best known as a calligrapher. We have been friends and creative collaborators for about 35 years.
( Artwork by Susan K. Gaylord, reprinted with permission.)
The news of Seamus Heaney’s death brought a vast outpouring of words around the world, especially the English-speaking nations. Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe wrote a wonderful piece about Heaney. It seems that every article quoted Robert Lowell’s praise for Heaney: The most important Irish poet since Yeats. In the late 1970s, I had ordered his hard-to-find collections of poetry from Prince’s Bookstore on Merrimack Street—in particular the Faber and Faber edition of “North.” I was enamored of his use of words, the language palpable at times, all hard consonants and blocky mono-syllables, and the odd Irish term or saying that made the sentence his. He was small and big on the same page, which I liked a lot. Like Frost, it seemed that you “got” the poem on first reading most times, even while knowing there were layers more to unwrap.