About the SHCDA

School of English, Queen’s University BelfastSeamus HeaneySeamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University Belfast

The Seamus Heaney Centre Digital Archive (SHCDA) records, collates and preserves recordings of public poetry performances. It was created to contribute to the Seamus Heaney Centre’s research facilities. The Centre is part of the School of English at Queen’s University Belfast.

The SHCDA is an educational and research tool for the students and faculty of Queen’s University Belfast and approved researchers. It is administered by the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast and the Special Collections department of Queen’s University Belfast Library. The SHCDA website is designed by the IT team attached to Special Collections.

Ciaran Carson
Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre

The archive is an educational and research tool. The recordings stored in the SHCDA are not intended for public or commercial use and downloading recordings from the site is prohibited. This arrangement honours understandings with writers and publishers and it is hoped that the archive’s users will also honour these agreements. If there are breaches of copyrights, performer’s rights and recording rights attached to the recordings housed by the archive, the administrators of the archive will take appropriate action.

Queen’s University Quadrangle

The SHCDA produces original recordings of public poetry performances and accepts donations of the same. Each event is divided into tracks and these tracks form the basis of the archive. The tracks include the poetry that is performed and also the introductions, thank-yous, and any music and prose that is a part of the event. Each track has a unique Track File code and the tracks are available to listen to online, once the user has signed in and accepted the terms and conditions of entry. Once entry is granted, you can begin to Browse and Search for recordings.

In addition to searching and browsing for individual tracks, there are Event listings pages, which detail such information as all the participants in an event, who performed what, and the running order of the event. The Event File pages are also annotated, supplying information about significant occurrences at performances.

The SHCDA does not provide transcriptions of the works performed. The practical reasons for this are centred on copyright restrictions and the sheer size of the task. But the critical reasoning behind the decision is driven by a desire to maintain an emphasis on the oral properties of poetry and its performance. Indeed, it has been argued that an oral performance of a work should be considered independently of any print-text versions of the composition. If this is accepted, the integrity of the oral performance does not need to be upheld by comparison to a print-text version of the performed work, and the appreciation of performance will require its own set of analytic tools. It is for these reasons that the Primary Bibliography of the SHCDA will consist of the performances stored within the archive.

Sinead Morrissey: Creative Writing Lecturer, Poetry, Seamus Heaney Centre
However, it remains that the oral and the print versions of performed works are intimately related. It is for this reason that the SHCDA provides information regarding sources for those performed pieces that are published in a single-author publication. These publications will form the Secondary Bibliography of the SHCDA. Secondary bibliographic information for each performed work will be found on the Track File page for that piece. If uncollected in a single-author collection, the designation UTR (uncollected at time of recording) will appear alongside the work.

UTR allows comparison of the pre-collected and the published versions of performed work. It also allows us to examine the performance practice of writers. Do they perform uncollected works, or only those already collected. Do they use readings as a test bed for new work? In the case of ‘emerging poets’, working towards a new collection, which poems do they keep, which do they discard, and why?

Queen’s Writers’ Group (2005),
in the Seamus Heaney Centre Garden

But not every work recorded for the SHCDA is intended for publication. And the SHCDA is not interested solely in those writers who are published. There are many poets in the archive who are at the very beginning of their literary careers, working towards a single-author collection. And there are those for whom the reading they give will be their first, and possibly last. The SHCDA is a repository for all types of readings and all have value.

Paul Maddern
The SHCDA started life as part of a PhD project devised by Paul Maddern at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast. To date, he has undertaken the majority of recordings; supplied the metadata needed for the creation of the archive’s various search and browse capabilities; provided information on the publication histories of the performed works; created the file codes; designed the Track File pages; annotated the events; and supplied the various ‘blurbs’, digital images, links, a few essays and the recommended reading list. Any mistakes and inadequacies are his (my) responsibility.

In all of this he has been assisted and guided by Deirdre Wildy and Diarmuid Kennedy from Special Collections at Queen’s University Belfast Library, and Dr Sinead Morrissey from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. Their help has been invaluable. Thanks are also due to Seamus Heaney for allowing his name to be associated with the archive, and for his encouragement.

But the archive would not have been possible without the efforts of Richard Rankin and his team from QUB Research Support, Gavin Mitchell, Andrew Wright and Michael Goodall. They have created the website and allowed the sets of metadata to ‘speak’ to each other. They have allowed it, in other words, to perform. The mechanics of this feat are so completely beyond this particular writer that they have the fascination of magic.

Below are a few more of the individuals who have helped to make the Seamus Heaney Centre a remarkable cocoon in which to develop ideas. Hopefully the SHCDA will be able to expand and develop beyond the limits of a PhD project. Much, as always, depends on funding. But the four years it has taken to reach this point has been a wonderful opportunity to attend readings, meet writers and publishers, be baffled by computer technologies, and to experience memorable performances. So, the final thanks must go to those who have facilitated the recordings and, above all, to those writers who have allowed their performances to be a part of the archive.

Dr Padraig MacAoidh:
Former Research Fellow

Dr Ian Sansom: former BBC Writer in Residence at the Seamus Heaney Centre, now Lecturer in Creative Writing

Professor Michael Longley,
Ireland Chair of Poetry 2008-2010

Professor Edna Longley, Professor Emerita at the Seamus Heaney Centre

Professor John Thompson
Head of School (School of English, QUB)

Dr Padraigin Ni Uallachain, Traditional Singer in Residence with the Seamus Heaney Centre

Dr Fran Brearton, Assistant Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre

Dr Miriam Gamble
Tutor in Creative Writing

L-R: Professor Ed Larrissy (Research Director), Dr Medbh McGuckian (Lecturer in Creative Writing, Poetry), Jocelyn Ferguson (Creative writing Tutor)

Dr Leontia Flynn, Research Fellow

Glenn Patterson, Lecturer in Creative Writing, Prose