I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Friends and Elegies

Friends and Elegies

Florence Impens
The Stairwell, by Michael Longley, Jonathan Cape, 125 pp, £15, ISBN: 978-1904634904 On the occasion of his seventieth birthday five years ago, David Cabot, one of his long-standing friends, described Michael Longley as “the resplendent, uncrowned poet laureate of Ireland”. Those words of encomium echoed the sentiment of no less than sixty other fellow writers and artists who had also accepted to participate in a festschrift celebrating his career, Love Poet, Carpenter: Michael Longley at Seventy. With poems, anecdotes and short essays, they all paid homage to a man who had for nearly forty years been a remarkable presence in the Irish cultural landscape, whether it be as assistant director to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland or as an accomplished poet in his own right. The diversity of contributors, including respected artists from his generation, among whom Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Brendan Kennelly and John Montague, as well as younger ones such as Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson and new emerging talents such as Leontia Flynn and Sinéad Morrissey, is testament to the importance of Longley’s work for Irish poetry in the second half of the twentieth century. Longley has often been praised for his love poems, and for his attention to syntax and poetic form. Over the years, critics have also commended his observations of nature and the quality of his work as a “poet-translator”, notably of the classics. Asked some twenty years ago what were the central aspects of his work, he answered: If I was going to be remembered by anything, I would hope it would be by a few love poems. It seems to me the hub of what I do, and if I may pursue the wheel image, out from the hub branch the spokes of other concerns, but they’re related to the love poetry: children, landscape, places I love, my friends, and so on. There has long been a form of continuity in Michael Longley’s work, in his choice of images and subjects, especially since he resumed publishing poems in the early 1990s after a ten-year silence, and The Stairwell, his tenth collection to date, released by Jonathan Cape this summer, is in that respect no exception. The “(grand)children, landscape, places [he] love[s], [his] friends” are all present in the volume, as are other themes that have become recurrent in his poetry, notably the Great War as filtered through the experience of his father,…

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