In this postcard from our archive, Seamus Heaney humorously rejects a request to be a judge for one of the Academy’s poetry competitions. With his tongue placed firmly in his check, Heaney bemoans the difficult task of judging poetry competitions with no lack of poetic exaggeration. “Since Purgatory has disappeared as a concept—‘a place or state of temporal punishment …,’ mankind has been attempting to replace it, and judging poetry competitions comes high on the list of substitutions,” he writes on the postcard.
Though Heaney may not have been the biggest fan of judging competitions at the time he wrote this postcard, he was certainly on the receiving end of many competitions, with very favorable returns. A decade after he wrote this letter, Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the prize committee described in its citation as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” He was also awarded the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, and the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence, among many others.