Editor's Blog

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

Seamus Heaney, Rest in Peace with Your Father and His Fathers

August 30, 2013

One of the great Irish singers died today. Seamus Heaney passed away today in Dublin at the age of 74.

Heaney was one of the world’s great poets, of course, and a winner of the Nobel Prize in 1995. He often has been considered as important an Irish poet as Yeats. “Death of a Naturalist” is his first volume, and later collections include “Station Island,” “The Spirit Level,” “District and Circle” and “Human Chain.” But I call Heaney a singer because of my memory of the only occasion when I heard him read.

In the mid-1990s, Heaney was invited by poet Robert Mezey to read his work at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Mezey, now retired, taught poetry at Pomona. The reading took place in a lovely, long, warmly lit drawing room, filled with books and high-back chairs. Heaney read at a fragile podium, with one small lamp clamped to its top. The light lit his book and left his face in shadow.

I can’t recall Heaney reading any of his own poems that evening. That embarrasses me. I feel as if I’ve allowed a few treasures to be misplaced forever. Despite that, his reading was unforgettable. It changed my experience of poetry. Before reading his own work, Heaney said he wanted to read W.B. Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” I don’t remember what he said about it. (There’s another gem that rolled into a mouse hole somewhere in my mind.) I’d taken in that poem from the page a few times over the years, but never before had I heard it. That night, I heard the music in poetry for the first time in my life. Heaney’s reading of the poem was, very much, like a beautiful song, an exquisite melody that could make one cry.

Today I came across Heaney’s poem “Digging.” It’s a tribute to Heaney’s father and the laboring work he did. If Heaney’s death is the loss of a great Irish singer, then this poem shows us we’ve lost one of Ireland’s great workers as well.

A few hours after learning the news of Heaney’s death, I emailed John Menaghan, a poet and professor of English at LMU as well as director of the Irish Studies Program. I wanted to ask him what he thought of Heaney and his work. Menaghan sent me this:

“Heaney Alone”

“One summer 10 years or so ago I found myself in Mulligan’s, a pub near the Trinity College campus that has a reputation for attracting writers and journalists. It was a quiet night, and I sat alone at one end of the bar, waiting for my pint of Guinness to settle before taking a sip. While waiting, I cast my eyes around the room, only to discover, sitting at the opposite end of the bar, the great Seamus Heaney. To my further surprise, he was also alone. Two opposite impulses arose in me. One was the obvious one, that I should seize this chance to slide down the bar and have a chat with him. The other was to leave him alone, because it occurred to me that there must be very few times in recent years when he’d been able to have a quiet pint in a pub, without being besieged by people wanting to be able to say they’d had a personal encounter with Seamus Heaney. And no one else in the pub was bothering him, so why should I? In the end, I left him alone, and a part of me always regretted it. Because although over the years I saw him read numerous times and even at one reading went up to introduce myself and thank him for a great reading, I felt I had missed my chance to get to know him in the more relaxed setting of the pub, and perhaps even become friends. Yet another part of me still thinks I might have done the right thing to leave him alone that night and let him enjoy his own company. And today, when I heard he was gone, it was seeing him alone at the end of the bar in Mulligan’s, rather than giving a reading in any number of venues large and small, that came back to me most powerfully, and made me feel a wordless connection with this great master of language who was, in that time and place, just another Irishman sitting in a pub, enjoying his quiet pint.”

The D.C.-Lincoln Heights Connection

May 16, 2013
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Our next issue of LMU Magazine, arriving in a few weeks, will feature a piece we’ve dreamed about for almost three years: a photo essay and feature story on the murals of Los Angeles. L.A.’s murals are inspiring and beautiful, and they’re just about everywhere. They are why the city has been called the “Mural Capital of the World.” But to get the shots we’d need, we feared Jon Rou, the university photographer, would be faced with multiple, time-consuming photo shoots all over Los Angeles.

As we began planning the upcoming issue, we could resist no longer. Fortunately, we discovered the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), organizations that document murals and fight for their preservation. The Mural Conservancy, in particular, posts an extensive database with images of L.A. murals that is searchable by location, title, artist and topic. That allowed us to plan the murals we’d shoot, rather than wander L.A.’s streets for weeks. Members of the conservancy can also take custom tours of murals, led by Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams, and I joined one that featured some 10 murals within walking distance of Olvera St. in downtown Los Angeles.

The second step was to identify members of the LMU community who work on or study murals. I knew Karen Mary Davalos, professor and chair of the Department of Chicano/a Studies, would be an invaluable resource, because she teaches courses on Chicano art and culture in the region. She wrote an essay we’ve posted on the magazine’s website. She also directed me to Christopher Torres ’09, her former student who studied murals in New York, Paris and Los Angeles. He now works as a designer at Rios Clementi Hale Studios, architecture firm in Los Angeles. Then I rummaged through the roster of the Department of Art and Art History and discovered that Professor Damon Willick specializes in the history of L.A. art. Plus, he grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where he visited the “Great Wall of Los Angeles” as a child. Finally, Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, professor in the Department of Theological Studies, explores art and religion in her research, and she has loved murals for years. They’re all part of the feature story you’ll soon see.

But my most exciting “find” came very late in our editorial process when I discovered Man One (Alejandro Poli ’93), an L.A.-based painter and artist — an alumnus who is a muralist. I say discovered facetiously. Man One’s work can be seen in Los Angeles, Mexico and elsewhere. He’s been featured in a KCET documentary and honored by the Los Angeles City Council for his dedication to the HeArt Project, an art workshop for L.A. youth. His work has been commissioned by MTV, ESPN and Adidas and others. Man One has a been an important L.A. artist for much longer than when I first began dreaming about murals.

Our staff was thrilled to have experts — professors and designers — featured in our story, but finding an alumnus who is a muralist felt almost like finding gold nuggets in a nearby stream. We had to get his work into the magazine. So I spent an afternoon in Man One’s Lincoln Heights studio hearing about his work and the inspiration he took from murals as a child when he began to experiment with graffiti art.

In the course of our conversation, I mentioned a legendary Washington, D.C., street artist who went by the name Cool “Disco” Dan. Man One knew his work. A few days later, I emailed poet Joseph Ross ’80, who lives in D.C., and who once wrote a piece about imagination for LMU Magazine. Joe, who has a Cool “Disco” Dan poster, and I have become friends, and I told him about my meeting with an LMU alumnus in Los Angeles, a muralist, who knew the work of Cool “Disco” Dan. Within a few weeks, I saw a post on Man One’s blog about a poem Joe had written about a Man One mural in Los Angeles.

That story borders on being convoluted, I know. But what thrilled me was that a creative idea that lay dormant for three years began to pull in members of the LMU community in Los Angeles as it came to fruition in LMU Magazine and then somehow managed to create a bridge between two very different artists, a poet and a muralist both LMU alumni, on opposite coasts of the country. I like to imagine that LMU Magazine draws us together, but I never imagined that it could happen quite like this. Like a spark that jumps a freeway, a creative idea can become explosive.

Above, a detail of “They Claim I’m a Criminal,” a mural by Man One (Alejandro Poli ’93) located at 6120 S. Vermont Ave., in Los Angeles, photographed by Jon Rou).