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Michael Longley, The Candlelight Master – review

One of the pleasures of this book is the way it gives us more of what Longley has been giving for so long: more orchids and otters, splinter-moments of Homeric epic, addresses to fellow artists, old friends and family members. For readers familiar with his work, any of Longley’s books, almost, indeed, any of his poems, will seem to reach out into many others. He’s a poet of individually mostly short, sometimes tiny pieces, but the way one leads into another gives his writing a paradoxical amplitude and reach. And however much he revisits the same preoccupations, he’s never simply … Continue Reading

Review – Michael Longley’s Angel Hill

Michael Longley, Angel Hill, 80 pp, £10.00, Jonathan Cape, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd, London SW1V 2SA

From the first words of Angel Hill you know you’re in the hands of a master. Joyfully rehearsing old themes and landscapes, Longley brings an ever-finer touch to their expression. The opening poem, addressed to Fleur Adcock, is typical: yet another celebration of an old friendship, yet another celebration of an artist, yet another poem about wild flowers and birds, it’s also completely fresh and alive in itself. Like all these poems, it’s humane and profoundly civilised, remarkable for its ability to hold in balance … Continue Reading

Radiant transparency – the style of Longley’s Angel Hill

You can only feel wonder at the quietly but profoundly startling first lines of Angel Hill:

…….for Fleur Adcock at 80


You gave me a gilded magnifying glass
For scrutinizing the hearts of wild flowers
(Which I did, kneeling in water meadows).

Their movement is  grave, measured and relaxed, like the tread of a sure-footed walker over a tussocky field. To say there’s not a hint of dramatic emphasis in the poem’s voice wouldn’t be putting the matter strongly enough though. There’s a positive avoidance of emphasis when it threatens to … Continue Reading

Michael Longley, The Stairwell – review

My feeling is that overall the imaginative pressure of The Stairwell isn’t quite as high as that of earlier books by Longley, including his last, A Hundred Doors. It’s still a remarkable collection that rewards close and repeated attention. The poems grow in the mind both by their own internal resonances and by the way they resonate with the rest of Longley’s work. Immaculate timing and perfect attunement of language make the best of them extraordinarily sensitive registers and transmitters of imaginative experience. Take the start of “Ashes”:

The first creature I meet when I arrive
Is a stoat slipping … Continue Reading

Quietness and Penetrative Power – Michael Longley’s A Hundred Doors

A Hundred Doors by Michael Longley. Jonathan Cape. 64 pp; £10.00

Michael Longley’s poetic voice must be one of the most instantly recognizable in English poetry. And yet the tone of his writing, especially in this new volume, is extraordinarily modest. Sometimes, as in “Call”, he barely seems to impose his own will on poems which appear almost to assemble themselves as he notices things around him, people or animals cross his path and thoughts surface. The frequent use of questions is a part of this tentativeness. They are rhetorical in that they aren’t part of an ongoing process of enquiry, … Continue Reading

Love in Age: Michael Longley’s “Twayblade”

You can find the six line text of “Twayblade” by following this link to Clive James’s review of A Hundred Doors: http://www.clivejames.com/essays/articlessince/longley
It’s a delicate and subtle little poem and it would help you to keep it open in front of you as you read.

For all his passages of heavy-handed facetiousness, Clive James makes some perceptive and sympathetic observations. However, readers who follow the link will find him using the metaphor of “wrestling” to express a curiously literal-minded response to “Twayblade”. He suggests first that he found himself actually struggling to decide whether the description of the twayblade plant was … Continue Reading

A Hundred Doors – Michael Longley’s new book

There’s something almost miraculous about the combination of quietness and penetrative power in A Hundred Doors, Michael Longley’s new book from Jonathan Cape. I’m looking forward to reviewing it but it will be a daunting task. Each poem is assembled with such extreme reticence and delicacy and at the same time packs such an enormous punch that the attempt to paraphrase and explain will seem even more out of keeping with the original than writing about poetry usually does. Meanwhile I’d just like to recommend all lovers of Longley’s work to buy it.

Homer’s Iliad 2: Book 6 and Michael Longley’s “The Helmet”

Looking for a link to Longley’s “The Helmet” I found this site with a wonderful little anthology of contemporary poems and passages inspired by Homer:


This seems to be a subsection of a larger site with links to all the poems in an anthology I hadn’t come across – Nina Kossman’s Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths.

The specific link to “The Helmet” is http://nauplion.net/HELMET.HTM

I wanted it because “The Helmet” is such a beautiful spinoff from Book 6 of the Iliad. Longley’s poems inspired by Homer are fine in remarkably different ways. This one is like a sharp … Continue Reading

Michael Longley, “The Miner”

I hadn’t meant to write about  Longley again so soon but I was put in mind of his  poem “The Miner” by a piece in Cynthia Fuller’s Background Music. It’s in his 2004 volume, Snow Water. Generally, I suppose, I find the imaginative pressure of this collection just a little lower than that of Gorse Fires, but “The Miner” is one of those poems that seizes you by the throat and pushes tears into your eyes by the sheer force of the ideas it brings together so delicately and simply, without rhetoric or straining after effect or seeming to have … Continue Reading

Michael Longley, “Northern Lights”

How many poets are responsible for as many perfectly formed poems as Michael Longley? Of all of them, one of my very favourites is “Northern Lights”, an extraordinary combination of lightness of touch, harmony and grace with vastness and imaginative depth, all in a mere six lines.

In this poem, Longley remembers how when someone (“you”) woke him to show him the shimmering of the aurora through the window,

the northern lights became our own magnetic field –
your hand on my shoulder, your tobacco-y breath
and the solar wind that ruffled your thinning hair.

It isn’t stated but seems obvious that the … Continue Reading