About Michael Longley

Michael Longley (b.1939, Belfast) is a central figure in contemporary Irish poetry. A forceful figure within the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, where he founded the literary programme, he is one of the 200 distinguished artists who are members of Aosdána. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a recipient of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and the Wilfred Owen Award. In addition, he has won the Whitbread Prize, the T S Eliot Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for Poetry and the Librex Montale Prize. He was made a C.B.E. in the Queen's Birthday honours 2010.

Having been a Classics scholar at Trinity College seems to have infused Longley with the cadences of classical metres and with the stories and characters from Greek and Roman mythology. However, even when the poems make a direct reference to incidents from Homer, they bear witness to the contemporary moment: for example, the retrieval of Hector's body in 'Ceasefire', which was published just days after a ceasefire was called in Northern Ireland. Longley is also an expert at presenting the small pure moments of peace that are the opposite of violence, sometimes alone, as in 'Snow Water', sometimes in parallel, as in 'The Ice-cream Man'. Even when paralleled, his links are oblique and lightfooted; the murder of 'The Ice-cream Man' is surrounded by the attentive litany of flavours and flowers that demonstrate respect for each individual thing, but the difference is not remarked upon.

His respect and his eye for nature provide a group of beautiful nature poems, often set in West of Ireland, such as 'Remembering Carrigskeewaun'. And a last theme is love; Longley is married to Edna Longley, an excellent and seemingly strict critic - "if it wasn't for her, my oeuvre would be three times the size it is now" - who can be found in a (still oblique) love poem such as 'The Pattern'.

Longley's reading style, when he is using rhyme, does not allow its ring to overpower the sense; his metrical effects are delivered equally subtly in his gently inflected voice. The priority is, appropriately, always given to the clear presentation of what he has described as "those moments when language itself takes over the enterprise, and insight races ahead of knowledge."

His recording was made on 25 March 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Wavelengths, Enitharmon 2009

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A Jovial Hullabaloo, Enitharmon 2008

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John Hewitt: Selected Poems (editor with Frank Ormsby),...

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Collected Poems, Cape 2006

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The Rope-Makers: Fifty-Six Love Poems, Enitharmon Press...

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Cenotaph of Snow: Sixty Poems about War Enitharmon Press...

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Ten Poems, Festival Publications 1965 - out of print

Room to Rhyme, (with Seamus Heaney and David Hammond),...

Secret Marriages: Nine Short Poems, Phoenix Pamphlets...

Recordings

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1In Memoriam

2Leaving Inishmore

3Caravan

4Swans Mating

5Wounds

6In Memory of Gerard Dillon

7The West

8Skara Brae

9Man Lying on a Wall

10The Linen Workers

11Frozen Rain

12Thaw

13Self-Heal

14The Linen Industry

15Between Hovers

16Detour

17Gorse Fires

18Remembering Carrigskeewaun

19An Amish Rug

20Laertes

21Ghetto

22The Butchers

23The Ice-cream Man

24Autumn Lady's Tresses

25A Flowering

26Ceasefire

27The White Garden

28The Ghost Orchid

29The War Graves

30The Horses

31The Rabbit

33The Beech Tree

34Snow Water

35The Pattern

36Above Dooaghtry

32Etruria

Books by Michael Longley