Longley, Michael

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LONGLEY, Michael

Nationality: Irish. Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 27 July 1939. Education: Malone Primary School, 1946–51; Royal Belfast Academical Institution, 1951–58; Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. (honors) in classics 1963. Family: Married Edna Broderick in 1964; two daughters and one son. Career: Assistant master, Avoca School, Blackrock, 1962–63, Belfast High School and Erith Secondary School, 1963–64, and Royal Belfast Academical Institution, 1964–69. Director for literature and the traditional arts, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast, 1970–91. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1965; Commonwealth Poetry prize, 1985; Whitbread prize for poetry, 1991; Cholmondeley award, 1992; Ireland Funds of America literary award, 1996. Address: 32 Osborne Gardens, Malone, Belfast 9, Northern Ireland.



Ten Poems. Belfast, Festival, 1965.

Room to Rhyme, with Seamus Heaney and David Hammond. Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1968.

Secret Marriages: Nine Short Poems. Manchester, Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, 1968.

Three Regional Voices, with Barry Tebb and Iain Crichton Smith. London, Poet and Printer, 1968.

No Continuing City: Poems 1963–1968. London, Macmillan, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1969.

Lares. London, Poet and Printer, 1972.

An Exploded View: Poems 1968–1972. London, Gollancz, 1973.

Fishing in the Sky: Love Poems. London, Poet and Printer, 1975.

Penguin Modern Poets 26, with Dannie Abse and D.J. Enright. London, Penguin, 1975.

Man Lying on a Wall: Poems 1972–1975. London, Gollancz, 1976.

The Echo Gate: Poems 1975–1978. London, Secker and Warburg, 1979.

Selected Poems 1963–1980. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1980.

Patchwork. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1981.

Poems 1963–1983. Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1985.

Gorse Fires. London, Secker and Warburg, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1991.

Baucis & Philemon. London, Poet and Printer, 1993.

Birds & Flowers. Edinburgh, Morning Star, 1994.

The Ghost Orchid. London, Cape, 1995.

Broken Dishes. Newry, Abbey Press, 1998.

Selected Poems. London, Cape, 1998.

Out of the Cold. Newry, Abbey Press, 1998.

The Weather in Japan. London, Cape, 2000.


Tupenny Stung: Autobiographical Chapters. Belfast, Lagan Press, 1994.

Editor, Causeway: The Arts in Ulster. Belfast, Arts Council ofNorthern Ireland, and Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1971.

Editor, Under the Moon, Over the Stars: Young People's Writing from Ulster. Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1971.

Editor, Selected Poems, by Louis MacNeice. London, Faber, 1988.

Editor, Poems by W.R. Rodgers. Oldcastle, Gallery Press, 1993.


Critical Studies: "Options: The Poetry of Michael Longley" by Michael Allen, in Eire-Ireland (St. Paul, Minnesota), 10(4), 1975; "A Question of Balance" by John Mole, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 8, Feb 1980; "'Singing the Darkness into the Light': Reflections on Recent Irish Poetry" by Harry Marten, in New England Review (Hanover, New Hampshire), 3, 1980; "Semantic Scruples: A Rhetoric for Politics in the North" by D.E.S. Maxwell, in Literature and the Changing Ireland, edited by Peter Connelly, Corrards Cross, England, Colin Smythe, and Totowa, New Jersey, Barnes and Noble, 1982; "Three Irish Voices" by Charles O'Neill, in Spirit (South Orange, New Jersey), fall-winter 1989; "Poetry Imagery As Political Fetishism: The Example of Michael Longley" by Brian McIlroy, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (Saskatoon, Canada), 16(1), July 1990; "Michael Longley's Homes" by Peter McDonald, in The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, edited by Neil Corcoran, Bridgend, Ireland, Seren, 1992; "Michael Longley's List" by John Lyon, in English (Leicester, England), 45(183), autumn 1996.

*  *  *

Michael Longley is one of several interesting Irish poets who made their debut during the 1960s. His first collection, No Continuing City, was already quite mature, although a number of the poems it contained dated from Longley's undergraduate years. His second collection, An Exploded View, showed that he had acquired greater technical assurance and had further humanized and extended his thematic range. Subsequent collections have consolidated his position as a poet of considerable importance.

Longley has consistently maintained a careful and disciplined attitude toward his craft, whether writing free verse or using rhyme and meter. He has successfully accommodated contemporary idiom within a wide variety of traditional forms, ranging from terza rima and the sonnet to octosyllabic eight-line stanzas. This skill owes much to a profound study of the metaphysical poets. Without having assimilated John Donne, Longley could hardly have written as he has of moths ("Epithalamion"):

   Who hazard all to be
   Where we, the only two it seems,
   Inhabit so delightfully
   A room it bursts its seams
   And spills onto the lawn in beams …

In these early poems Longley demonstrated how effectively he could use various resonant words, such as "brainstorm," "histories," and "anthem," although he tended to overexploit them. Greater maturity has brought a more finely honed technique, enabling him to discard such props. At the same time his ability to suggest the mysteries that underlie the appearances of life has been retained and developed. "Casualty," a poem about a decaying sheep, exhibits this kind of awareness, although the earlier poeticisms have disappeared:

   For the ribs began to scatter
   The wool to move outward
   As though hunger still worked there
   As though something that had followed
   Fox and crow was desperate for
   A last morsel and was
   Other than the wind or rain.

A deep sympathy with the animal world is very apparent in Longley's output. The variety of creatures in his poems is so large that there is a feeling at times of having wandered into a nature reserve. Longley looks on animals with an essentially kindly eye, with something of a city dweller's view perhaps. Sometimes they suggest the working of elemental forces; thus, the badger "manages the earth with his paws." But the red in tooth and claw has at most no more than an implied presence in this poet's vision of nature; his animals are not offered as images of cruelty or menace.

To draw attention to Longley's interest in the animal world is not to imply that his creative scope is narrow. On the contrary, his imagination finds stimulus in areas as diverse as jazz, Ireland's prehistory, or the ancient literatures of Greece and Rome, in which he was immersed as a student, and of China. Thus, one encounters lines on a Sheela-na-gig (an ancient Irish female fertility figure) rubbing shoulders with glosses on passages from Ovid and from the Odyssey and the Iliad, as well as a poem on a water lily that celebrates the flower in lines as delicate and luminous as those of a Chinese lyric:

   As if Venus and Betelgeuse had wings
   And instead of mountainside or tree-top
   Had found the right place for falling stars
   And glided to a standstill on the lake …

Many poems, among them some of Longley's most compassionate, confront the horrors of the world wars, the Nazi concentration camps, and the troubles in Northern Ireland, where he lives. One of these links the delayed effects on his father of wounds sustained in World War I with the murders in Belfast of three British soldiers and a bus conductor. Despite living in an environment of such conflict, Longley has not rejected the fractured and psychically scarred society to which he is heir, as many Irish writers have done. In fact, he has made a point of claiming Ireland as his country, "though today /Timor mortis conturbat me. " Longley's sense of attachment to his Irish identity is indeed, like the standing stone of which he writes, firmly set to help him

To record the distances
Between islands of sunlight
And, as hub of the breezes,
To administer the scene …

—Rivers Carew