Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Michael Longley

Last night on BBC Northern Ireland Fergal Keane interviewed the poet Michael Longley, whose poems often feature on the Leaving Certificate course (next in 2009, and so we will be studying the works before long with our V form). Referring to his own experiences as a war correspondent, particularly in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Keane said :

For me Longley’s poetry rescued the dead from the land of statistics. It was his voice that caught me first - generous and tolerant.

During the programme, several of the poems on our course were referred to, including 'Last Requests', in which the poet remembers the death of his father. He said that as he gets older 'I miss him more and more' and that his poems about him are a way of 'saying to him that I love and respect him'. Longley discussed the devastating experience of World War I on his father, who was 17 when he signed up, and 20 when he was made a captain. He was one of the few soldiers who fought through from 1914 to 1918 and survived, and Michael said this 'burnt him out'. One of 'the sadnesses of my life' was not talking to him properly before he died before the poet was 21.

Keane also asked questions about the Troubles in Belfast, and Longley's experience of Mayo, both of which are reflected in the Leaving Cert selection.

He also discussed his fine poem 'Ceasefire', which 'caused quite a stir' when it was published as the IRA were declaring their 1994 cessation. He revealed for the first time that the face he was thinking of when writing about the King of Troy, Priam, visiting the tent of his son's killer (Achilles) was that of the late Gordon Wilson, whose acts and words of forgiveness following the murder of his daughter Marie in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing 21 years ago struck so many (Wilson's words can be heard here, on the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust website).

Part of the interview took place in Mayo, Longley's 'home from home', and featured the poem 'Carrigskeewaun'. The programme can be seen again using BBC's new iplayer for the next six days (only available in UK)

Several of the links here are to the Teachnet resource on Longley also with a link in our sidebar, recommended for all our V form to look at when studying the poet.

1 comment:

Fenian said...

Michael Longley's recent award of a Festchrift is a fitting tribute to one of the great Irish literary figures of our generation! He is one of the triumvirate of important Northern Irish poets (with Heaney and Mahon) who emerged in the 1960s to collectively bring a new 'renaissance' in Irish writing.