Hemorrhoids, Seamus Heaney and Generic Writing


So you’ve got a problem. You’re irritable. You’re sitting on a rubber ring. And your body has decided to turn your posterior into a vineyard of sorts. Yes, you are suffering from the scourge of the 21st century: hemorrhoids.

But how do you treat them? You have a number of options. Many will, of course, reach for “Preparation H” – imbued, is its name suggests, with the careful consideration of a skilled chemist, preparing his preparations. Or, indeed, you may simply not care about the chemist and want something that promises exactly what you want. In this case, the brand “Hemorrhoidal Ointment” will be your choice – a brand that dispenses with the frills and gets you to your destination like a Ryanair plane. But what if you don’t have the patience to let an ointment do its thing? What if you need relief now. What if today is the day the grapes have ripened and become wrathful? Well then – you need “Hemorid” – a brand name that, it seems, will ‘rid’ you of your problem.

The thing is – all of these products contain the same medication – phenylephrine – yet the three of them try to tell different stories to appeal to different people.

Sometimes people will get used to a brand name for a drug and, when a cheaper, generic version comes on the market, they may not buy it – even though it does exactly the same thing. In many cases, the only difference is the colour of the box.

Have you ever heard of sildenafil? It is the actual name of the active medicine in Viagra. Clearly, the marketing people over at Pfizer came up with a brand name to tell a story by mashing words like Vitality, Angry, Virile … and so on. The other drug that uses sildenafil as its active ingredient is Revatio – which, despite doing the same thing, is trying to appeal to those who have more of a paternal relationship with, well, themselves.

And so it dawned on me: is there a space for this generic alternative within the world of writing?

The idea is simple – take a known piece of writing that conveys something definite – and then try to use vaguely similar words and concepts to change the story a little – but still sell the basic underlying ‘active’.

For no other reason than I happen to like the poem, I have decided to look at Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging’ to see if there is a generic alternative that one could use to deliver the same message – without, of course, the essence of Heaney himself.

For the uninitiated, here is the first few lines of the Heaney Poem:


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pin rest; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:water

My father, digging.

What is the essence of this poem? To me, the message is about someone pondering their place in the world – recognising that there is a talent or an interest that is perhaps not in keeping with what tradition might have expected – but one that the writer clearly wants to identify with. When trying to think of a vehicle for this – I thought about ‘vehicles’ themselves. There is nothing more masculine than washing a car – and so – that will be the theme for my generic Heaney poem.

Heaney uses ‘digging’ as a device of both tradition and masculinity. Thus, we need to find the same.

We will also need to find a title. Some recommend, when naming a generic drug, that virile letters such as ‘B’, ‘X’ or ‘Z’ are used. It is also a good idea to find a word associated with the message – perhaps a Latin word that already suggests what we are looking for.

The Latin for ‘washing’ is ‘ablutio’ – a robust-sounding word that we can almost certainly incorporate into our title. The Roman’s weren’t too big on cars – but they did have chariots. Currus is a triumphal chariot – which is particularly apt given that triumphs were all about symbols of masculinity – including – literally – large fake penises on display beneath the chariot. Seems pretty apt for what we want.

My generic poem is a far cry from something Heaney would have penned. The final piece is to come up with a pen name for the type of person who might have written such a poem. There are a lot of ‘name generators’ going around – find out your ‘superhero’ name, or your ‘vampire’ name, etc. I tried to come up with something similar and, after a few false starts (name of your first pet + favourite soup ended up being Friskey Tomato, for example), I’ve decided on the perfect author name generator: First name of the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for your birthyear + the first word in your favourite dessert.

And so – I reveal to you my first attempt at Generic Writing:


by Isaac Sweetpotato

…And there on my lap

My tablet – resting – cast as a resting rifle.

Outside my window, a swashy bubbling

As the sponge sinks slowly into the soapy water:

My father – washing the car.