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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts on Poetry, by Michael Longley in India

Michael Longley is the current Ireland Professor of Poetry, which entails residencies at universities including, Queen’s.
During a trip to India, promoting the univeristy, he sat for an interview. Some of his answers follow. I don't necessarikly agree with them but I find him interesting.

He calls himself old-fashioned. “I believe in the Muse, in waiting for poetry to come.” That is why despite the stimulus of being in “strange places”, he is unsure if his next poem will be on India.

“Chattiness destroys poetry. Poetry can’t exist without compression,” says the poet who regularly prunes his lines. He has an imagery to describe his belief. Prose, he says, is a river. Poetry a fountain. “A fountain is shapely yet free-flowing. In free verse, you miss the shape.”


“But the poet is not like a journalist. It takes time for things to settle to an imaginative depth. There is a notion in Ireland that civic unrest is good for poetry. I think that is a repulsive idea as is the idea that art must provide solace to people. Poetry cannot set out to be relevant.” Most of the poetry that came out of Vietnam, he feels, is rubbish.‘Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however big, is certain to’.


“I live for the next poem,” he says. Longley’s wife Edna, accompanying him on the tour, is a critic (“the best,” he mutters, grudging and gloating). “Had it not been for her, my oeuvre would have been three times in volume.” His most acclaimed poetry — including the award-winning Gorse Fires (1991) and The Weather in Japan (2000) — came after eight years of silence. “Middle age is not good for poetry,” he feels.

So, be warned, you middle-aged poets with social conscience: perhaps a retreat of some years may be best practice!

Complete interview at


genevieve said...

Ooh that sounds like a great interview Andrew, thank you! It's a long time since I read Longley, but good to hear about him. Must borrow him from the library sometime.

genevieve said...

... he's probably right about potatoes too.