Northern Irish writers Seamus Heaney and Anna Burns both explore the suffocation and trauma of living in civil conflict as informed by their time spent living in Belfast during the Troubles. In her 2018 novel Milkman, Burns depicts a beleaguered community that has succumbed to hypervigilance and learned helplessness. Burns’s characters try desperately to establish normality by twisting memory and refusing to witness the present, resulting in an inability to imagine a future unmarred by violence. In his poetry collections North and Field Work, Heaney wrestles with the responsibility of an artist to such a community, to his art, and to himself. Burns’s characters and Heaney’s poems reveal that creative expression can provide the imaginative space necessary to respond to sustained violence in honest witness to both beauty and pain.
Davis, Sarah, "The End of Art is Peace: Memory, Witness, and Restorative Imagination in Anna Burns’s Milkman and the Poetry of Seamus Heaney" (2020). English Department: Student Scholarship. 12.