Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

Remembering Seamus Heaney and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish

Remembering Seamus Heaney and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish

Photograph via

Remembering Seamus Heaney

My first time teaching poetry, I was required to devote the initial class to Ars Poetica, poetry about the act of writing poetry. Of the five or six poems I used to teach this genre, I only recall Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” and how this one poem made my students engage in discussion well beyond what I could have expected of novice undergrads. They raised questions about what is at stake when writing poetry, the kinds of violent potential or power it holds, and many keen points of craft analysis relating to Heaney’s musicality and diction. Rather than gushing over my admiration for Heaney’s poetry or the effect his work has had on me as a reader, writer, and scholar, I’d rather marvel at the influence Heaney had on burgeoning writers, igniting a profound understanding of what poetry is capable of and reviving an often lost appreciation for form and lyricism.

To say that Seamus Heaney’s death is a great loss to the world of contemporary poetry can’t even begin to capture the void left by the Nobel Prize-winning poet. The eulogy delivered at Heaney’s funeral remembered “his beauty . . . [and that] It was Seamus Heaney’s unparalleled capacity to sweep all of us up in his arms that we’re honoring today.” While many articles have arisen in response and mourning of the poet’s death, I was most deeply moved by Henri Cole’s account of “Dinner with Seamus Heaney: A Remembrance,” and how tenderly Cole disclosed Heaney’s role as a lifelong teacher, not only of craft, but the wisdom to believe in one’s own poetic vision.

I am certain that we will continue to read and teach Heaney’s life’s work for years to come. Perhaps, another generation of “first” poetry classes will also become inspired to delve deeply into the act of poetic composition, to bravely take “the squat pen” and “dig with it.”

—Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Poetry Editor

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish is Grizzly Man but with orcas and without Werner Herzog. Okay, compared to Grizzly Man this is a documentary that doesn’t take that many risks—but this critique could be leveraged against just about every documentary when juxtaposed with any of Herzog’s zillion films (trivia: Herzog has made 25 feature-length and eight short-film documentaries). But like Herzog’s Grizzly Man, I was fascinated by how this documentary—which investigates the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau—does and doesn’t show the attack. It details the attack (or, really, attacks—turns out there is more of a history of attacks than just one isolated incident) through reading off the autopsy and hearing firsthand accounts; it shows some live footage, but for those squirmy people, who like me saw Jaws at an impressionable age, you can relax—just a little—in your seat. Though you will definitely register the power and strength of these 3,000-to-12,000-pound creatures, you will not have to watch them brutally kill anyone. Besides, your emotions will be more spent by rage than by fear or terror: rage against the evil corporation SeaWorld; rage against man’s conscious, semi-conscious, and unconscious cruelty toward animals. This documentary tapped other emotions as well: dismay, with a dash of sympathy, for the naivety of the trainers and the public; awe for these amazing animals and for the trainer Ken Peters who survives his “attack.” After watching this powerful documentary, I went for a hike the next day near the Three Sisters in central Oregon and, when the clouds were just right, saw orcas coming up for air in the snow-covered mountains.

—Nicola Fucigna, Fiction Editor