Curated by David Cameron
As someone who was not only a poet and novelist but also a man of science (latterly a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist) as well as a family man, Seán touched many people’s lives. He was truly many-sided. This can be seen in these tributes from those who knew him in various capacities and for different periods of time. The impact he made on all is clear…
Imanol Gómez Martín, writer, poet and translator, and teacher of Philosophy, Maliaño, Spain.
Imet Seán through David Cameron on Tuesday, 24 January 2019. A very short introductory email was the trigger for a relationship that helped me to grow not only as a writer but, more importantly, as a person. My correspondence with Seán, started at that very moment, became a volume of long letters on voyages (featuring the languages of the countries named, the different kinds of food, the history, art, architecture, etc.); gardening (his expertise on types of plants and trees was extraordinary – he told me about species I´d never heard of before, linked to Robert Graves’s The White Goddess); and on music. He explained the difference, when writing a poem, between using the concrete English words of Anglo-Saxon origin and the abstract words that come from Latin via French, which took us on to explanations of other words related to old Irish Gaelic. I usually started in Spanish and then he would answer in Italian or Portuguese, in emails full of anecdotes about an aunt he had in Italy or what had happened to him when in Portugal… We started some exchanges with both of us writing in German – his better than mine, of course.
In a very short time he became a special friend to me. He was a kind of uncle figure, giving me plenty of advice. We talked about our families: he was profoundly proud of his family, his wife Ghislaine, his three daughters, grandchildren, the places where they lived, where he lived, where he was born… and he sent me lots of photos. When he finally sent me his autobiography, he asked me to take my time and read it slowly. We talked several times about his book Time/No Time. Philosophy lived between us.
When speaking about poetry he was extremely thorough. Each of my translations of his poems was dissected by him. And he was always right. He had a special flair for languages.
He invited me several times to visit him, but it never happened. Now I miss him.
Our friendship was more than coincidence.
Niall Haldane, retired librarian and teacher, Ballycarry, Northern Ireland – excerpt from his eulogy at the memorial service.
When I think of Seán, a talented and charismatic man, I am intrigued by two enigmatic aspects of his character: his identity and his place in time.
As an Irishman, I am obsessed with my Irish identity, but Seán seemed to be able to flourish as a man of Scots, Irish, Belgian, German and English origin, whilst living at various times in Ireland, Italy, Canada and of course England. Seán meticulously and with sceptical humour investigated his roots: writing genealogical memos for his brothers and family. Deep down, however, Seán was English: born during the war at Bank House in East Hoathly, whilst his father was in North Africa. Christened in the parish church, proud of his Yorkshire-born grandfather, and educated at Oxford. Most importantly, however, his English identity was developed by his love for, and scholarship of, the English language and literature, in particular poetry. He was hugely influenced by Robert Graves.
Seán was very much a man of his time: the 1940s to the 2020s. A rather strange upbringing in wartime England with his mother Joan, Granny Riley and cousin Fiona. A decade in the rather dreary, grey Belfast of the 50s (which he remembered fondly, finding himself as a talented singer and flautist). Flourishing at Oxford, travelling in the 60s and 70s, building a life of families and children. He developed multiple careers as a writer of poems and novels, as an academic, a psychologist and, in his later years, a publisher! I cannot think of any other period of time being able to accommodate such versatility and enthusiasm!
David Jaeger C.M., composer, music producer, broadcaster and author on musical topics, Toronto, Canada – excerpt from his eulogy at the funeral service.
I met Seán through one of his daughters, the soprano Christina Raphaëlle Haldane. When I learned from Christina that Seán was, among many things, a published poet, I researched his work and discovered that his poetry was innately musical. It was poetry filled with vivid imagery, lucid language describing an entire emotional spectrum. I offered to make a sample setting of one of the short poems I had discovered online: Weltschmertz. This was in the fall of 2016, and by early December I had the sample ready: an unaccompanied solo setting of Weltschmertz. I sent it off to both Seán and Christina, and in a few days I heard back from them both: please do more!
Soon we had a set of six solo settings of Seán’s poetry for Christina to bring into the world: the Echo Cycle. Seán was often in Toronto those days to visit family. We met often and our friendship deepened. It was during one of those meetings that he pointed out that, in his view, all of his poems were love poems. I came to realise that he was a man who truly understood love as one of the essentials of life. Love was at the core of his existence.
And Seán was always generous – he would bring me books, and I would offer him CDs in return. Then, on that memorable day, he brought me a copy of The Bright Tethers, a collection of the poems of David Cameron, recently published by Seán’s Rún Press. Seán said he thought I might find some inspiration in that book. His instincts were bang on – I immediately found five Cameron poems that begged to be set to music.
The one thing I need to say is that Seán Haldane changed my life, and for the better. And I know I’m not alone in this view. He opened my eyes and ears, and most important – my mind.
Dr Kate Mahony, clinical neuropsychologist and clinical psychologist, Victoria, Australia.
Iworked with Seán in the East London NHS Trust as his deputy from 2006 until 2010. My abiding sense of him is the sharpness of his attention, as though you could hear a sound when he was listening, as well as his love of hearing and telling stories.
It isn’t easy to set up an NHS service that combines two trusts, but with Dr Kris Warren, Seán did. We neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrist and social worker, hurtled into Newham Hospital every Friday afternoon, often on the wave of one of his stories that had spanned the journey. He and I argued about the merit of novels – he was generally disparaging of them and their authors. I’d reason, ‘But Seán! Life is full of stories!’ Eventually he said, ‘Well I suppose I think I could write a better one.’ He did, and won a Crime Writers of Canada award. The very best action for frustration.
Seán wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in working harder than anyone else but he was quite a brilliant overseer. He used to say that every person who worked with us influenced and improved the service. It was such a generous-spirited and adaptive way of thinking about a system you have invented.
Seán’s love of Ghislaine and his daughters made him utterly safe for me to love as a boss and friend. And also safe to disagree and argue with, at times. He delighted in his family and loved who and what they loved. I’ve become a parent to three children in Australia since leaving that job and I hope I do that too. I think I do.
Rest in peace, Seán; you lived your life well and I feel lucky to have known you.
Lisa Pike, poet, novelist and translator, Windsor, Canada.
Together with my late husband, Canadian poet Len Gasparini, I met Seán in the spring of 2018. Len had started a correspondence with Seán about Bertram Warr, the early twentieth-century Canadian poet who had moved to England and was killed in action aboard an RAF Halifax bomber in 1943. Len had curated a collection of Warr’s poems and written a critical introduction for them with Ryerson Press in 1970; Seán had written an essay on Canadian anthologies in which he criticised the absence of Warr’s poems. From there a friendship began. Seán and Len corresponded shortly up until Len’s passing in October of 2022, exchanging ideas, reflections on poetry, and sending one another their latest work and books. In the spring of 2018, Seán was visiting his daughter in Toronto. Len and I resided in Windsor so we decided to meet for the afternoon at the half-way point between Toronto and Windsor: London, Ontario. What I remember most about that afternoon as we walked through the downtown, stopping to browse in a few used bookstores before having lunch, is Seán ‘s gentle, easy way – it was as if we three were old friends, even though we were meeting in person for the very first time. Discussing how book reviews were currently being reduced to mere marketing tools, but also a more personal exchange too. Learning more about his life in London, England, upcoming plans with his wife and daughters, his love of archery, his garden of which he later sent us photos. Talking with Seán was all very natural, spontaneous, and above all, genuine. A dear friend who is already greatly missed.
Dr Kris Warren, consultant geriatrician, London, England – excerpt from her eulogy at the memorial service.
Although psychology was very much Seán’s second career, his impact on memory clinic services, and the working lives of many colleagues, should not be underestimated.
Whilst on a Leadership Development programme, I was asked to think of a highly successful team. Others in my group offered a Formula 1 pitstop team, an America’s Cup sailing team, Manchester United’s football team, and the like. Coming last, I somewhat sheepishly gave the Newham Diagnostic Memory Team. My choice was based on its truly multidisciplinary status, with a triad of neuropsychology, old age psychiatry and geriatric medicine, each having an equal contribution to clinical assessment and a strong voice in operational and strategic development. Together, we had created a service that we considered to be innovative and something we were proud of, whilst also bringing friendship and enjoyment.
Seán had such a pivotal role in achieving this team dynamic. This notion of equality that I have is completely based on Seán’s generosity. He was the lead and expert amongst us. However, he was always keen to emphasise what he was learning from us – although I know that his learning curve was a lot flatter than mine. He always made everyone feel important, with valued opinions. He never let us feel like the junior consultants or registrars that many of us were at the time.
His generosity as a leader was a quality I much admired, and made working with him such a rewarding experience. I was fortunate to have 10 years working alongside Seán, leaving me with so many fond memories.
David Cameron, Scottish poet and novelist living near Belfast, Northern Ireland – based on his eulogy at the memorial service.
Ihad been looking out for Seán’s poetry ever since, in my mid-teens, I read that one of my literary heroes, Robert Graves, liked it – and I knew that Graves’s standards were sky-high. But I didn’t encounter any of Seán’s poems until my early 30s, when our mutual friend Robert Nye brought us together as correspondents. And when I read Seán’s poems ‘Fritillaries’ and ‘Black Hill’ I understood Stephen Spender’s reaction to reading Tony Harrison’s work – these were ‘poems written in a style which I feel I have all my life been waiting for’.
We first met in person a year or two later, after I had moved from Scotland to The Netherlands. I recall some Trappist beers in a Belgian bar and long walks beside Amsterdam’s canals, with the conversation ranging from poetry to quantum mechanics to the phenomenon of more-than-coincidence (Seán disliked Jung’s term for this, ‘synchronicity’) to the Dutch language (he was tickled to see the word ‘uitstekend’, meaning ‘excellent’, recalling that in the Belfast of his youth there was a similar phrase of praise, ‘stickin’ out’).
He would always take great interest in news of my family life. He and his wife Ghislaine visited us in Ireland when out first child was born. And when we had the gift of our third child on Christmas Day 2010, he wrote to me, movingly: ‘You will love having a daughter… it is a certain inimitable kind of love.’
I sympathised with him through the bruising experience of running for the Oxford Professor of Poetry post. Characteristically, he remarked: ‘I was brought up to be a gentleman and not let such things show. So now I do.’
We both had a go at writing poetry-related crime novels, but whereas my one attempt sank without trace on publication, his first effort won the Crime Writers of Canada Award. He wasn’t there to receive it, but instead was introducing me at the launch of my own poetry book in Edinburgh (his and Ghislaine’s Rune Press published two collections of mine). Another generous act was to introduce my work to the composer David Jaeger, thereby initiating a true friendship and ongoing literary-musical collaboration.
In reviewing one of Seán’s books, Robert Nye wrote that he ‘can be sure of his place among the English poets’. And so you can, Seán.