Michael Longley: Quotations



‘If I knew where poems come from, I’d go there.’ (in The Observer, 24 March 1991.)

Michael Longley reads his poems ...
... in Poetry Archive - online.

‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’

—from “Ceasefire” (Ghost Orchid, p.39.)

Cf.: ‘Come then, Achilles, master your great passion. You should not have a heart that does not forgive.’ (The Iliad, trans. by Martin Hammond, London: Penguin 1987, p.145; quoted in Vivien Steele, UU Diss., UUC 2011 [on Toni Morrison and Garca Gabriel Marquez].)

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‘I hope by the time I die, my work will look like four really long poems. A very long love poem; a very long meditation on war and death; a very long nature poem and a playful poem on the art of poetry.’ (Quoted in Peggy Hughes, review of A Hundred Doors, in The Scotsman, 22 Feb. 2011.) [n.ref.; actually in Robert McCrum, “As English as Irish Can Be.” [Interview with Longley], in The Observer, Review Sect., 28 October 2006, p.22.]

Note: the above quotation has been traced to its origins in the McCrum interview by Ronan Crowley (Buffalo U., 07.09.2012).

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  Irish Poetry
 
Impasto or washes as a rule: Tuberous clottings, a muddy Accumulation, internal rhyme - Fuchsia’s droop towards the ground, The potato and its flower: Or a continuing drizzle, Specialisations of light, Bog-water stretched over sand In small waves, elisions - The dialects of silence: Or, sometimes, in combination Outlining the bent spines, The angular limbs of creatures - Lost minerals colouring The initial letter, the stance.

—From An Exploded View, (1973), p.66; posted on Clare Newcastle’s “Poetry and Plants” blogspot (13 Jan. 2015) - online; also on Peter Quinn’s Facebook page at 23.01.2015.]


Poetry

The Linen Workers” (in “Wreathes” from The Echo Gate; Poems 1975-79): ‘Christ’s teeth ascended with him into heaven: / Through a cavity in one of his molars / The wind whistles: he is fastened forever / By his exposed canines to a winter sky. [...] There well on the road beside them spectables, / Wallets, small change, and a set of dentures: Blood, food particles, the bread the wine.’ (Selected Poems, p.61, 62.)

The Civil Servant”: ‘He was preparing an Ulster fry for breakfast / When someone walked into the kitchen and shot him: / A bullet entered his mouth and pierced his skull. / The books he had read, the music he could play. / He lay in his dressing gown and pyjamas / While they dusted the dresser for fingerprints / And then shuffled backwards across the garden / With notebooks, cameras and measuring tapes. / They rolled him up like a red carpet and left / Only a bullet hole in the cutlery drawer; / Later his widow took a hammer and chisel / And removed the black keys from the piano.’ ( “Wreathes” from The Echo Gate; rep. in Poems 1975-79, and Poems, 1963-1983, p.148.)

Wounds”: ‘Here are two pictures from my father’s head / I have kept them like secrets until now: / First, the Ulster Division at the Somme / Going over the top with “Fuck the Pope!” / “No Surrender!”: a boy about to die, Screaming “Give ’em one for the Shankill!” / “Wilder than Gurkhas” were my father’s words / Of admiration and bewilderment. / Next comes the London-Scottish padre / Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick, / With a stylish backhand and a prayer. / Over a landscape of dead buttocks / My father followed him for fifty years. / At last, a belated casualty, / He said - lead traces flaring till they hurt / “I am dying for King and Country, slowly.” / I touched his hand, his thin head I touched. // Now, with military honours of a kind, / With his badges, his medals like rainbows, / His spinning compass, I bury beside him / Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of / Bullets and In’sh beer, their flies undone. / A packet of Woodbines I throw in, / A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus / Paralysed as heavy guns put out / The night-light in a nursery for ever; / Also a bus-conductor’s uniform - / He collapsed beside his carpet-slippers / Without a murmur, shot through the head / By a shivering boy who wandered in / Before they could turn the television down / Or tidy away the supper dishes. / To the children, to a bewildered wife, / I think “Sorry Missus” was what he said.’ (Selected Poems, 1998, p.36; quoted in part in Tim Kendall, review of same, in Times Literary Supplement, 8 January 1999.)

Wounds

Here are two pictures from my father’s head —
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’
‘Wilder than Gurkhas’ were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said — lead traces flaring till they hurt —
‘I am dying for King and Country, slowly.’
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.

Now, with military honours of a kind,
With his badges, his medals like rainbows,
His spinning compass, I bury beside him
Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone.
A packet of Woodbines I throw in,
A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Paralysed as heavy guns put out
The night-light in a nursery for ever;
Also a bus-conductor’s uniform —
He collapsed beside his carpet-slippers
Without a murmur, shot through the head
By a shivering boy who wandered in
Before they could turn the television down
Or tidy away the supper dishes.
To the children, to a bewildered wife,
I think ‘Sorry Missus’ was what he said.

From An Exploded View (1973); given on Poems By Heart - online [accessed 24.02.2017]

The Kilt”: ‘I waken you out of your nightmare as I wakened / My father when he was stabbing a tubby German / Who pleaded and wriggled in the back bedroom. // He had killed him in real life and in real life had killed / Lice by sliding along the pleats a sizzling bayonet / So that his kilt unravelled when he was advancing // You pick up the stitches and with needle and thread / Accompany him out of the grave and into battle / Your arms full of material and his nakedness.’ (Quoted in Michael Parker, review of The Ghost Orchid, in Irish Studies Review, Spring 1996, pp.50-52.)

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Ceasefire”:

I
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

II
Taking Hector's corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king's sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

III
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other's beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

IV
'I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son.'

Selected Poems, London: Jonathan Cape 1998, p.118)

Ceasefire”: ‘I: Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears / Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king / Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and / Wept with him until their sadness filled the building. II: Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles / Made sure it was washed and, for the old King’s sake, / Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry / Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak. III: When they had eaten together, it pleased them both / To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might, / Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still / And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed: IV: “I get down on my knees and do what must be done / And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.”’ (First printed in The Irish Times, 3 Sept. 1994 - when an IRA ceasefire was deeemed to be imminent; rep. in Ghost Orchid, 1995, p.38; based on Iliad, XXIV; quoted [without ref.] in Keith Sidwell (Chair of Latin & Greek, UCC/NUI), Arts Fac., Conferring Address, 20 July 1999 [supra].)

Note - Longley has somewhere written: When I published my poem “Ceasefire” in the Irish Times I got a letter from the father of Paul Maxwell, the sixteen-year-old boy who had been blown up with Lord Mountbatten. Those letters matter more to me than any amount of criticism I might receive in literary journals or attention in the public world.

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In Memory of Gerard Dillon” (from An Exploded View): ‘You are a room full of self-portraits, / A Face that follows us everywhere; / An ear to the ground listening for / Dead brothers in layers; an eye / Taking in the beautiful predators - / Cats on the windowsill, birds of prey / And, between the diminutive fields, / A dragonfly, wings full of light / Where the road narrows to the last farm.’ (from An Exploded View.) Cites James MacIntyre, Three Men on an Island (Blackstaff 1996), giving account of his time on Inishlacken with Dillon and George Campbell.

Bloody heroes”: ‘When shiny Hector reached out for his son, the wean / Squirmed and buried his head between his nurse’s breasts / And howled, terrorised by his father, by flashing bronze / And the nightmarish nodding of the horse-hair crest. // his daddy laughed, his mammy laughed, and his daddy / Took off the helmet and laid it on the ground to gleam, / Then kissed the babbie and dandled him in his arms and / Prayed that his son might grow up bloodier than him.’ [cited in part in Maurice Harmon, ‘The Centre Holds’, ABEI Newsletter, No. 10, Jan. 1996, p.14.]

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The Butchers” (being a translation-excerpt from the Nostos of Homer’s Odyssey).

When he had made sure there were no survivors in his house
And that all the suitors were dead, heaped in blood and dust
Like fish that fishermen with fine-meshed nets have hauled
Up gasping for salt water, evaporating in the sunshine,
Odysseus, spattered with muck and like a lion dripping blood
From his chest and cheeks after devouring a farmer’s bullock,
Ordered the disloyal housemaids to sponge down the armchairs
And tables, while Telemachos, the oxherd and the swineherd
Scraped the floor with shovels, and then between the portico
And the roundhouse stretched a hawser and hanged the women
So none touched the ground with her toes, like long-winged thrushes
Or doves trapped in a mist-net across the thicket where they roost,
Their heads bobbing in a row, their feet twitching but not for long,
And when they had dragged Melanthio’s corpse into the haggard
And cut off his nose and ears and cock and balls, a dog’s dinner,
Odysseus, seeing the need for whitewash and disinfectant,
Fumigated the house and the outhouses, so that Hermes
Like a clergyman might wave the supernatural baton
With which he resurrects or hypnotises those he chooses,
And waken and round up the suitors’ souls, and the housemaids’,
Like bats gibbering in the nooks of their mysterious cave
When out of the clusters that dangle from the rocky ceiling
One of them drops and squeaks, so their souls were bat-squeaks
As they flittered after Hermes, their deliverer, who led them
Along the clammy sheughs, then past the oceanic streams
And the white rock, the sun’s gatepost in that dreamy region,
Until they came to a bog-meadow full of bog-asphodels
Where the residents are ghosts or images of the dead.

 

Selected Poems, p.101; Quoted in Richard Rankin Russell, ‘Inscribing Cultural Corridors: Michael Longley's Contribution to Reconciliation in Northern Ireland’, in Colby Quarterly, 39, 3, Sept. 2003, p.221-40 [available online; accessed 24.03.2017.]

The poem was read by Longley in his W. G. Sebald Annual Lecture; 20 Feb. 2017 [available on internet].

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Anticleia”: ‘And if, having given her blood to drink and talked about home, / You lunge forward three times to hug her and three times / Like a shadow or idea she vanishes through your arms / And you ask her why she keeps avoiding your touch and weep / Because here is your mother and even here in Hades / You could comfort each other in a shuddering embrace, / Will she explain that the sinews no longer bind her flesh / And bones, that the irresistible fire has demolished these, / That the soul takes flight like a dream and flutters in the sky, / That this is what happens to human beings when they die?’ (quoted in Tim Kendall, review of Selected Poems, Cape 1998, in Times Literary Supplement, 8 January 1999, [q.p.])

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Peregrine”: ‘I had been waiting for the peregrine falcon / As a way of coming to terms with the silence, / As a way of getting closer to you - an idea / Above the duach, downy whirlwinds, the wind’s / Mother-of-pearl for instance, an eddy of bones. // Did the peregrine falcon when I was cycling / To meet you, swoop from the corner of my eye / And in and out of the culvert and out of sight / As though to avoid colliding with me - wings / Under the road, a blur of spokes and feathers?’ (Quoted in Catriona O’Reilly, review of Collected Poems, in Times Literary Supplement, 16 March 2007, p.10.)

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Form”: ‘Trying to tell it all to you and cover everything / Is like awakening from its grassy form the hare: / In that make-shift shelter your hand, then my hand, / Mislays the hare and the warmth it leaves behind.’ (Quoted in Gerald Dawe, ‘Bring it all back home’, review of Selected Poems and Broken Dishes [along with Denis Sampson’s biography of Brian Moore], in Fortnight, Jan. 1999, pp.128-29, et al. loc.).

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Remembering Carrigskeewaun”: ‘A wintry night, the hearth inhales / And the chimney becomes a windpipe / Fluffy with soot and thistledown, / A voice-box recalling animals: / The leveret come of age, snipe / At an angle, then the porpoises’ / Demonstration of meaningless smiles. / Home is a hollow between the waves, / A clump of nettles, feathery winds, / And memory no longer than a day / When the animals come back to me / From the townland of Carrickskeewaun, / From a page lit by the Milky Way.’ (Gorse Fires, Faber 1991, p.21; quoted in Adrienne Janus, ‘Mnemosyne and the Mislaid Pen: The Poetics of Memory in Heaney, Longley and McGuckian’, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes, Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001, p.58; Selected Poems, Cape 1998 [q.p.].) [Also given in PoetryArchive [with audio-track of author reading] - online.)

The Leveret [for my grandson, Benjamin]”
   

 

“This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun. The Owennadornaun is so full of rain You arrived in Paddy Morrison’s tractor, A bumpy approach in your father’s arms To the cottage where, all of one year ago, You were conceived, a fire-seed in the hearth. [...] I have picked wild-flowers for you, scabious And centaury in a jam-jar of water. That will bend and magnify the daylight. This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun.”

—in Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1], ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra (Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.33-34.]

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The Rabbit” [for Ciaran Carson]: ‘I closed my eyes on a white horse pulling a plough / in Poland, on a haystack built around a pole, / And opened them when the young girl and her lover / Took out of a perforated cardboard shoe-box / A grey rabbit, an agreeable shitty smell, / Turds like a broken rosary, the slow train / Rocking this dainty manger scene, so that I / With a priestly forefinger tried to tickle / The narrow brain-space behind dewdrop eyes / And it bounced from her lap and from her shoulder / Kept mouthing “prunes and prisms” as if to warn / That even with so little to say for itself / A silly rabbit could pick up like s scent trail / My gynaecological concept of the warrn / With its entrances and innermost chamber, / Or the heroic survival in Warsaw’s sewers / Of just one bunny saved as a pet or meal, / Or its afterlife as Hasenpfeffer with cloves / And bay leaves, onions - enough! - and so / It would make its getaway when next I dozed / Crossing the Oder, somewhere here in Silesia (Silesian lettuce, h’m), never to meet again, / Or so I thought, until in Lodz in the small hours / A fat hilarious prostitute let that rabbit bop / Across her shoulders without tousling her hair-do / And burrow under her chin and nuzzle her ear / As though it were crooning “The Groves of Blarney” Or “She Walked Unaware” then in her cleavage / It crouched as in a ploughed furrow, ears laid flat, / pretending to be a stone, safe from stoat or fox.’ (In The Irish Times, 26 Feb. 2000.)

The Horses” [poem], in Times Literary Supplement (21 Jan. 2000): ‘For all of the horses butchered on the battlefield, / Shell-shocked, tripping over their own intestines’ / Drowning in the mud, the best war memorial / Is in Homer: two horses that refuse to budge / Despite threats and sweet-talk and the whistling whip, / Immovable as a tombstone, their heads drooping / In front of the streamlined motionless chariot, / Hot tears spilling from their eyelids onto the ground / Because they are in mourning for Patroclus / Their charioteer, their shiny manes bedraggled / Under the yoke pads on either side of the yoke.’ ( p.20.)

Heron” (in memory of Kenneth Koch): ‘You died the day I was driving in Carrigskeewaun / (A remote townland in Co. Mayo, I explain, / Meaning, so far as I know, The Rock of the Wall Fern) / and althought it was the wettest Irish year I got the car / Across the river and through the tide with groceries // And laundry for my fortnight among the waterbirds. / If I’d known you were dying, Kenneth, I’d have packed / into cardboard boxes all your plays and poems as well / And added to curlew and lapwing anxiety-calls / The lyric intensity of your New York Jewish laughter. / You would have loved the sandy drive over the duach / (“the What?”), the drive / over the machair (“the what?”), the drive / Through the white gate-posts and the galvanized gate / Tied with red string, the starlings’ sleeping quarters, / The drive towards turf-fired hilarity and disbelief, / “Where are all those otters, Longley, and and those hares? / I see only sparrows here and house sparrows at that!” You are so tall and skinny I shall conscript a heron / To watch over you on hang-glider wings, / Old soldier, An ashy heron, ardea cinerea, I remind you / (A pedant neither smallminded nor halfhearted): / “And cinerarius?”: a slave who heats the iron tongs / In hot ashes for the hair-dresser, a hair-curler / Who will look after every hair on your curly head. / That afternoon was your night-season. I didn’t know. / I didn’t know that you were “poured out like water / And all your bones were out of joint”. I didn’t know. / Tuck your head in like a heron and trail behind you / Your long legs, take to the air above a townland / That encloses Carrigskeewaun and Central Park.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 29 Nov. 2002, p. 13.)

The Strangford Stone”: ‘I: After the first fishy campsite / We people the drumlins of Lecale, / Building under the constellations / Stone circles to measure time, / Leaving behind us standing stones, / And from this side of the Narrows / We fathom the Violent Fjord / And listen to watery winds, / To oystercatcher and golden / Plover crying over our graves. // II: Again we begin with a big stone / And gather around Mourne granite’s / Continuous present tense / To talk about ourselves and plan / How to cradle from the quarry / The column, the millennium, / How to plant the tonnage in the sky, / For we are a thousand and one / Who can together build heaven’s / Gateway in our neighbourhood. // III: We put it up with our bare hands / In this smallholding, a home-made / Megalith, hope’s big immovable / Standing stone, landmark for the lost, / Windbreak for the destitute, for / The unremembered and disappeared / A headstone, and for all the people / Who pause beneath and lift their eyes / A signpost pointing to the past / And another way, to paradise.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 26 July 2002, p.14.)

“The Front”: ‘I dreamed I was marching up the Front to die. / There were thousands of us who were going to die. / From the opposite direction, out of step, breathless, / The dead and wounded came, all younger than my son, / Among them my father who might have been my son. / “What’s it like?” I shouted after the family face. / “It’s cushy, mate! Cushy!” my father-son replied.’ (Quoted in Peter McDonald, review of Snow Water, in The Guardian (22 May 2004; also in The Irish Times, 13 Nov. 2004 [Weekend]).

Citation”: ‘It is like a poem. It is better than a poem, / The citation for my father’s Military Cross / Dividing itself up into lines like this: / “For Conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty / In leading the waves of his company in a raid / And being the first to enter both objectives / In spite of a severe shrapnel wound in the thigh. / After killing several of the enemy himself, / He directed the fire of his Lewis gunners / And rifle bombers -on to a working party / Of over 100 of the enemy, and controlled / The mopping-up of the enemy dug-outs.” / Kept alive by his war-cry and momentum, / I shiver behind him on the fire-step.’ (“Two Poems”, in Times Literary Supplement, 1 April 2005, p.12.)

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Old Soldiers”: ‘We are both old soldiers now, my father and I. / Socrates stalking the battlefield at Delion / Held his ground. Idomeneus in the Iliad / Could still hurl his lethal spear and retrieve it, // But only just. King Priam who loved his dogs / As my father his red setters and spaniels, / Dreaded them chewing at his pathetic corpse’s / White head and white beard and bleeding genitals.’ (“Two Poems”, in Times Literary Supplement, 1 April 2005, p.12.)

Mars”: ‘Mars was as close as this so long ago / It reminded us of the Neanderthals. / We were stargazing under a beech tree / That could have sheltered United Irishmen. / We were squinting at Mars through binoculars. / ‘The tree is getting closer to the house.’ / ‘I hope it touches the house before it dies.’ / I hope it touches the house before we die.’ (The Irish Times, 28 Jan. 2005, Weekend, p.3; first publ. in TCD Tsunami relief anthology ed. Cyril J. Smith.)

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Second Lieutenant Tooke: ‘I should have commemorated before now / Second Lieutenant Tooke who helped my dad / Rescue Nurse Moussett of the French Red Cross / At Paris Plage in June nineteen-seventeen. // He was swept away by currents and drowned. / My life-saving dad just made it to the shore. / Not once did he mention the unlucky Tooke. / This was a breather before Passchendaele.’ (Published - with “Ronald Colman” - in The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 2012, Weekend, p.11 [“Michael Longley / Remembrance Day”

A Hundred Doors”: ‘God! I’m lighting candles again, still / The sentimental atheist, family / Names a kind of prayer or poem, my muse / Our Lady of a Hundred Doors.’ ].)

The Wheelchair

Pushing you in your wheelchair to the sea I look down at your yellowy bald patch And recall your double-crown’s tufty hair.

You were the naughtier twin, were you not? It was I who wept when you were chastised. Where am I pushing you, dear brother, where?


Letter to Seamus Heaney
  So let it be the lapwing’s cry That lodges in the throat as I Raise its alarum from the mud, Seeking for your sake to conclude Ulster Poet our Union Title And prolong this sad recital By leaving careful footprints round A wind-encircled burial mound.
Exploded View, p.35.

Room to Rhyme” - in memory of Seamus Heaney

 

I I blew a kiss across the stage to you When we read our poems in Lisdoonvarna Two weeks before you died. Arrayed in staw The Armagh Rhymers turned up at the end.

II In the middle of a field in Mourne country Standing side by side, looking straight ahead We peed against a fragment of stone wall, St Patrick’s windbreak, the rain’s urinal.

  [...]  

See full version under Heaney, Commentary - as attached.

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The Ice-Cream Man

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady's bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

Gorse Fires, 1991, p.49; rep. in The Observer, 29 Oct. 2006.

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The Barnacle Geese

My friend the ornithologist
Fits barnacle geese with trackers
(Powered by the sun) fastening them
Between the wings with old-fashioned
Knicker-elastic that ties goose
To satellite - and to memories
Of handstands in the playground - June,
Helen, Mina (in spectacles) - skirts
Tucked into bulging bloomers -
Fr this Greenlnd odyssey
Until, alarmedby ash and steam
From Eyjafjallajökull,
Way up in the sky they hesitate.
From what Hebridean island
Do they scrutinise the plume,
Barnacle geese with girls’ names,
Girls who kick up their sunny heels?

In Poetry Review (Autumn 2015; given on iPad account, 31.03.2017).

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Sea Asters

I have got to know the fawn’s
Salt-marsh skeleton, abstract
Vertebrae and white ribs In a puddle jellyfish fill
At spring tide, ghost-circles Close to the sea asters’
Purple golden-hearted
Scruffy loveliness.

—From Sea-Asters (2015) - postedat Krista Tippett, “On Being” [blog] - online; accessed 05.08.2017;
contains link to an interview with Longley.

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Kindertotenlieder” (1972)

There can be no songs for dead children
Near the crazy circle of explosions,
The splintering tangent of the ricochet,

No songs for the children who have become
My unrestricted tenants, fingerprints
Everywhere, teethmarks on this and that.

—Posted on Facebook by Fran Brearton (24.05.2017 - following the Manchester Bombing of 22 May 2017).

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The Portraits

In the Falls Road’s Gerard Dillon Gallery / Jeffrey Morgan’s passion of fifty years / Adorns the long wall, forty portraits, / The love of his life, Patricia Craig. / Considering A Shed in Blackheath Village / I launch these words in that paper boat, / Inconsequential, yet emblematic / Like the kites, sky-squiggles in another. / A beauty dressed in polka dots or stripes, / Arms folded, feathers in her hat, seated / In Night and Day, she gazes into our eyes / Out of the privacy of her single room./ On the far side of the Falls Road / Conflict Resolution Services and / Suicide Awareness & Support Group, and here / One of the loveliest rooms in the world.

—From The Stairwell (2014), rep. in The Irish Times (13 Dec. 2014).

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Hawthorn

Unsuperstitiously I snapped a hawthorn sprig / And kept it alive in a mug of tap water, / For it reminded me of one of his sentences, / Bud clusters, the makings of snow in May, / October sunshine, and a blaze of hardhearted / Haws on the original Aughawillan hedge.

—Posted on Facebook by Eunice Yeates [12.02.2016]

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All of The People

Who was it who suggested that the opposite of war
Is not so much peace as civilization? He knew
Our assassinated Catholic greengrocer who died
At Christmas in the arms of our Methodist minister, 
And our ice-cream man whose continuing requiem
Is the twenty-one flavours children have by heart.
Our cobbler mends shoes for everyone; our butcher
Blends into his best sausages leeks, garlic, honey;
Our cornershop sells everything from bread to kindling. 
Who can bring peace to people who are not civilized?
All of these people, alive or dead, are civilized.

 
At Pol Salach” - Easter Sunday, 1998

While I was looking for Easter snow on the hills
You showed me, like a concentration of violets
Or a fragment from some future unimagined sky
A single spring gentian shivering at our feet.

—Two poems posted on Facebook by Peter Quinn (26.09.2017).

Prose

Pale battalions”, [Remembrance Day, 2004], in The Irish Times (13 Nov. 2004) [Weekend]): ‘On Remembrance Sunday, I remember my father as accurately as I can. On September 3rd, 1914, at Buckingham Palace Road, he enlisted with the London Scottish Regiment. He was 18, a truant from school. By his early 20s he had won the Military Cross and was a captain in charge of a company of boy-soldiers, most of whom were not yet regular shavers (some weren’t shavers at all). They were known as “Longley’s Babies”. Although, like many survivors, he preferred to keep quiet about the nightmare, he would answer questions from my twin, Peter, and me straightforwardly enough. He showed us the purple shine left on his shin by shrapnel, the smudgy stain burned into his shoulder by mustard gas. We half understood when he told us we were miracle babies: at the Battle of High Wood he’d been wounded in his genitals. Tedium balanced by terror, endless rain, men and horses drowning in mud, trench foot, lice and rats, disgusting rations (he had lost all his teeth by the end of the war): his small sons could scarcely believe what they were hearing. / When I first read the war poets as a young man, I wondered if my father had ever shared a Woodbine with Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon. The war poets have become an obsession. I have visited the battlefields and cemeteries of northern France twice in search of them. I shall keep returning there. [...]’

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English connection: ‘Because of my English connection I am slightly ill at ease in Ireland, and the same applies in England because I come from Ireland. In this community which I am still exploring and trying to understand I still feel a bit of an outsider’; ‘Because of his Irish and English and Ulster viewpoints, MacNeice was able to respond with flexibility and objectivity to the complexities of Ireland, her “jumbles and opposites”, her “intricacies of gloom and glint”.’ (The Neolithic Night: A Note on the Irishness of Louis MacNeice, in Doughlas Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing, 1972, p.104; cited in (Neil Johnston, Interview with Michael Longley, Belfast Telegraph, Tues. 30 Jan. 1996; cited in Anthony McKeown, ‘Conflict and Violence in Michael Longley’s Poetry’, MADip. UUC 1997.)

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Artist’s duty: ‘Wilfred Owen states [that] it is the artist’s duty to warn, to be tuned in before anyone else to the implications of the situation [and not to be] some sort of super-journalist … I would insist that poetry is a normal human activity, its proper concern all of the things that happen to people. He would be inhuman if he did not respond to the tragic events in his own community.’ (Tuppenny Stung, Belfast: Lagan Press 1994, p73; here p.2.)

Contra Fiacc - ‘Letter to the Editor’, in Hibernia (10 Dec. 1974)
Dear Sir,
I write to protest against Padraic Fiacc’s sloppily written and presumptuous article “Violence and the Ulster Poet” (Hibernia, 6 Dec. 74). Fiacc claims that I fought him about including a poem of mine on the assassination of my ‘grocer and friend.’ This is a personal matter which Fiacc has no right to report. The grocer was not my friend: I rather liked him, that’s all. The poem seemed to me to be bad, or at least inadequate, and I asked that it should not be included in Fiacc’s Encyclopedia of Tormented Ulster Poets. Imagine my surprise when, as our hero admits, he re-arranged it for me. Since Fiacc can scarcely write a coherent sentence, his re-arrangement did not amount to an improvement. Fiacc then presumes to read my thoughts on the subject [...]. Fiacc ends in grand style by referring to ‘the Ulster poet’s tragic anguish.’ Selfregarding nonsense like this makes me feel ashamed of the journalistic tag ‘Ulster poet.’ (I am normally just errlbarrassed or irritated). I wish to dissociate myself and my poetry from Fiacc’s pathetic meanderings. He buzzes around the Ulster tragedy like a dazed bluebottle around an open wound.

Quoted in Richard Rankin Russell, ‘Inscribing Cultural Corridors: Michael Longley's Contribution to Reconciliation in Northern Ireland’, in Colby Quarterly, 39, 3, Sept. 2003, p.221-40 [available online; accessed 24.03.2017.]

 

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Future work: ‘Their [Irish poets] future work will interpret an Ireland which has been changing with bewildering speed. Out and about at the beginning of the twenty-first century we see few of the haystacks and thatched roofs which belong to earlier Irish poetic landscapes. Contaminated lakes, fish-kills, ruthless overgrazing, “bungaloo blitz”, the relentless degradation of a beautiful island - all this awaits its laureates.’ (Introduction to 20th-century Irish Poems, Faber 2002; quoted in Stephen Knight, review of Selina Guinness, ed., The New Irish Poets, Bloodaxe 2005, in Times Literary Supplement, 21 Jan. 2005.)

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Musarum Sacerdos: An Interview With Michael Longley’, in The Poetry Review, ed. Fiona Sampson (Winter 2006/2007): ‘[...] The main problem is how to be private in public. I try to lose myself by giving voice to the poems as straightforwardly as possible. (My favourite poet-reader is Wallace Stevens.) Self-awareness or, worse, self-importance would be fatal for any reading and for my long-term artistic health. Tears and laughter are natural responses to art. So I was pleased to learn that my listeners had been moved. I must forget about that possibility before my next performance, and let the poems speak for themselves. Yes, the poet is musarum sacerdos, priest of the muses, or he is nothing. With its deepest roots in ceremony, poetry is sacerdotal: it commemorates and celebrates. [...] Even my earliest landscape poems sound anxious. Now my so-called nature poems are prompted by despair as much as by delight.We are making such a mess of everything. In Ireland we are methodically turning beauty spots into eyesores. I memorialise lovely places as they disappear. Poetry gives things a second chance, perhaps now their only second chance. John Clare says, “Poets love nature and themselves are love.” [...] I have been going with my wife and children (and now grandchildren) to Carrigskeewaun for more than thirty years. It opens my eyes and keeps me [62] alert, I hope, to the nuances of locality. I view all other places through the Mayo lens. I couldn’t have written about Tuscany without years of trying to read the landscape around Carrigskeewaun. In one of my Mayo poems I say: “Home is a hollow between the waves, / A clump of nettles, feathery winds [...]”. The Famine-haunted fields remind me how provisional habitation is. And they help me to respond sensitively, I hope, to the desolation and abandonment of Terezin and Buchenwald.’ [For full-text version, see attached.]

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