Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College Dublin where he read Classics. He has published nine collections of poetry including Gorse Fires (1991) which won the Whitbread Poetry Award, and The Weather in Japan (2000) which won the Hawthornden Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Irish Times Poetry Prize. His Collected Poems was published in 2006. In 2001 he received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and in 2003 the Wilfred Owen Award. He was awarded a CBE in 2010. He was Ireland Professor of Poetry, 2007-2010. He and his wife, the critic Edna Longley, live and work in Belfast.
Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize 2014. In The Stairwell, his tenth collection, Michael Longley's themes and forms reach a new intensity. The second part of the book is a powerful sequence of elegies for his twin brother, Peter, and the dominant mood elsewhere is elegiac. The title poem begins: 'I have been thinking about the music for my funeral ...' The two parts are also linked by Homer. Longley is well-known for his Homeric versions, and the Iliad is a presiding presence - both in poems about the Great War and in the range of imagery that gives his twin's death a mythic dimension. Yet funeral music can be life-affirming. Longley has built this collection on intricate doublings, not only when he explores the tensions of twinship. The psychologically suggestive word 'stairwell' is itself an ambiguous compound. These poems encompass birth as well as death, childhood and age, nature and art, the animal and human worlds, tenderness and violence, battlefield and 'homeland'.
'One of the most perfect poets alive. There is something in his work both ancient and modern. I read him as I might check the sky for stars.' Sebastian Barry Michael Longley's new collection takes its title from Dylan Thomas - 'for the sake of the souls of the slain birds sailing'. The Slain Birds encompasses souls, slayings and many birds, both dead and alive. The first poem laments a tawny owl killed by a car. That owl reappears later in 'Totem', which represents the book itself as 'a star-surrounded totem pole/ With carvings of all the creatures'. 'Slain birds' exemplify our impact on the creatures and the planet. But, in this book's cosmic ecological scheme, birds are predators too, and coronavirus is 'the merlin we cannot see'. Longley's soul-landscape seems increasingly haunted by death, as he revisits the Great War, the Holocaust and Homeric bloodshed, with their implied counterparts today. Yet his microcosmic Carrigskeewaun remains a precarious 'home' for the human family. It engenders 'Otter-sightings, elvers, leverets, poetry'. Among Longley's images for poetry are crafts that conserve or recycle natural materials: carving, silversmithing, woodturning, embroidery. This suggests the versatility with which he remakes his own art. Two granddaughters 'weave a web from coloured strings' and hang it up 'to trap a big idea'. The interlacing lyrics of The Slain Birds are such a web.
*AN IRISH TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR* 'I can't bear the thought of a world without Michael Longley, yet his poetry keeps hurtling towards that fact more and more urgently as it stretches in an unflinching way beyond comfort or certainty.' So wrote Maria Johnston, reviewing Longley's previous book Angel Hill. Yet The Candlelight Master does not only face into shadows. The title poem sums up the chiaroscuro of this collection, named after a mysterious Baroque painter. Other poems about painters - Matisse, Bonnard - imply that age makes the quest for artistic perfection all the more vital. A poem addressed to the eighth-century Japanese poet, Otomo Yakamochi, says: 'We gaze on our soul-landscapes / More intensely with every year.' The soul-landscape of The Candlelight Master is often a landscape of memory. But if Longley looks back over formative experiences, and over the forms he has given them, he channels memory into freshly fluid structures. His new poems about war and the Holocaust speak to our own dark times. Translation brings dead poets up to date too. The bawdy of Catullus becomes Scots 'Hochmagandy'. Yakamochi and the lyric poets of Ancient Greece find themselves at home in Longley's Carrigskeewaun.
Michael Longley's prose centres on poetry. This is so, even when he is writing autobiographically, or reflecting on war and memory, or enthusing about music and painting. Since Longley writes relatively little criticism, readers of his poetry have lacked access to his aesthetic thinking. Sidelines fills the gap by assembling prose that ranges from his (often-combative) youthful poetry reviews, to the lectures he gave as Ireland Professor of Poetry. Among the poets Longley discusses are Homer, Propertius, Louis MacNeice, Robert Graves, James Wright, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ruth Stone. Sidelines, which includes interviews with Longley, not only illuminates his own work. Longley's perspectives on modern poetry are both distinctive and important. He is also uniquely qualified to interpret the phenomenon of poetry from Northern Ireland. Cover Image: My Father in the Cottage, Sarah Longley
A Guardian / Herald Scotland Book of the Year Winner of the 2017 PEN Pinter prize Shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize A remote townland in County Mayo, Carrigskeewaun has been for nearly fifty years Michael Longley's home-from-home, his soul-landscape. Its lakes and mountains, wild animals and flowers, its moody seas and skies have for decades lit up his poetry. Now they overflow into Angel Hill, his exuberant new collection. In addition, Longley has been exploring Lochalsh in the Western Highlands where his daughter the painter Sarah Longley now lives with her family. She has opened up for him her own soul-landscape with its peculiar shapes and intense colours. In Angel Hill the imaginations of poet and painter intermingle and two exacting wildernesses productively overlap. Love poems and elegies and heart-rending reflections on the Great War and the Northern Irish Troubles add further weight to Michael Longley's outstanding eleventh collection. Angel Hill will undoubtedly delight this great poet's many admirers.
Michael Longley has remarkable powers of reinvention. Certain themes remain constant - the natural world, war, violence, love, friendship, art, death - but they also keep changing because the forms and genres of his poetry never stand still. In A Hundred Doors a sinuous short line complements his variations on pentameter and hexameter. And Longley's interlacing of individual lyrics, so that a diverse collection seems a single poem, intensifies in the shadow of mortality. A sequence about his grandchildren's births is counterpointed by elegies, including Longley's continuing elegy for the Great War dead. The Mayo townland, Carrigskeewaun, with its cast of leverets, otters, swans, wrens, lesser twayblade and bird's-foot trefoil, also takes on fresh guises. Longley is among Europe's foremost 'ecological' poets. Yet Carrigskeewaun is ultimately symbolic, a microcosm, a 'soul-arena'. A Hundred Doors roams in time and space. The title-poem evokes the oldest Byzantine church in Greece: Our Lady of a Hundred Doors on the island of Paros. The remains of a Greek temple 'ache' beneath its floor. Wild orchids, which crop up in Greece and the Italian Garfagnana as well as Ireland, are among the collection's multiple 'doors'. Others are music and paintings, 'cloudberry jam from Lapland', a Shetland pony. This is work of power, precision and delicacy: poems that 'bend and magnify the daylight', poems by a master craftsman.
Emerging, as it did, after over a decade of silence, Gorse Fires had an immediate and resounding impact - revealing a poetry that seemed renewed and re-energised - and winning the Whitbread Prize for Poetry in 1991. It is now regarded as the pivotal book in Michael Longley's distinguished career. If Ireland remains Longley's starting-point or implied focus, it is often sighted through disturbing perspectives that derive from foreign cultures, from Homer's Odyssey, from the Second World War, and from the Holocaust. Even his beautifully precise poems about the West of Ireland are shadowed by the many destructive forces ranged against the creative act. Longley's versions of Odysseus' return to Ithaca and 'Ghetto' (based on the Polish ghettoes) epitomise his concern with the meaning of home and family. He sees these archetypes of Western civilisation as vulnerable, problematic, violated by power. Odysseus' homecoming involves murder and vengeance as well as reunions - a connection with the ambiguities of life in Northern Ireland. Gorse Fires is an unusual artistic blend: darkly austere, yet abundant in images, catalogues and syntactical virtuosity. The formal links between poems gives the whole collection the air of a richly varied sequence; it is a work of the highest order. Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Poetry.
Michael Longley has been called 'one of the finest lyric poets of our time'. In assembling the work of forty years, his Collected Poems displays a brilliantly sustained achievement whose depth, beauty and wit can now be fully appreciated. Longley's poetry combines intense concentration with remarkable variety. The formal and thematic range laid down in No Continuing City (1969) has undergone a series of rich metamorphoses up to Snow Water (2004), and the two poems included here as an epilogue. Longley's genres span love poetry, war poetry, nature poetry, elegies, satires, verse epistles, poems that reflect on art and the art of poetry. He has extended the capacity of the lyric to absorb dark matter: the Great War, the Holocaust, the Northern Irish 'Troubles'. His poetic landscape intermingles Belfast (where he lives), western Ireland, Italy, Japan and Homeric Greece. Longley's superb translations from classical poets (such as 'Ceasefire', which greets the IRA ceasefire in terms of the Iliad) speak to contemporary issues while activating the deepest sources of European poetry.
In this series, a contemporary poet selects and introduces a poet of the past. By their selection of verses and by the personal and critical reactions they express in their introductions, the selectors offer a passionate and accessible introduction to some of the greatest poets in history. Louis MacNeice was born in Belfast in 1907 and educated at Marlborough and Merton College, Oxford. For most of his working life he was a writer and producer for BBC radio. His death in 1963 was sudden and unexpected.
In the space of two collections, Gorse Fires (1991) and The Ghost Orchid (1995), Michael Longley broke a long poetic slience and re-drew the map of poetry at the end of the millenium. The Weather in Japan consolidates and expands the vision of those volumes, leading the reader through the various hells we have made this century. Preferring to see the horrors of political violence through the filter of the domestic, pointing up the fragility of the order we create, he takes us from the fields of Flanders, through Terezin and Auschwitz to the troubled north of Ireland. And, in images drawn from the west of Ireland, Italy, America and Japan, he explores the fundamentals of 'home' and 'civilisation'. Longley's grave humanity, Zen-like connective imagination and ecological eye give the most delicate compelx, beautiful things - a spring gentian, a lapwing or a snowflake - the nutritious light that allows them to grow greater than the crass brutality that surrounds them.
Celebrated for his lyrical intensity, his metaphysical wit, his thematic and formal range, Michael Longley is widely regarded as one of the finest poets in these islands. His life in Northern Ireland has contributed to the complexity of a poetic universe in which love, friendship and aesthetics contend with war, death and violance. There are no hard boundaries between Longley's love poetry, his nature poetry, his war poetry and his elegies. Longley looks to the poets of Greece and Rome, particularly Homer and Ovid, and to the poets of the two world wars. His great ability, perhaps, has been to distil the large and difficult themes into highly concentrated forms. This is Michael Longley's own selection from thirty years of writing; it reveals the strength and coherence of an extraordinary body of work.