Michael Longley, The Slain Birds
(Jonathan Cape, 2022)
‘the dark is where you can see what you’re thinking’
The poems in Michael Longley’s luminous new collection root deeper into the places and concerns familiar to us from his earlier work. This thirteenth full collection follows his award of the prestigious Feltrinelli International Poetry Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in 2022. This prize and the new book further garland an already astonishing body of work and a life’s commitment to lyric poetry.
Following The Candlelight Master
in 2020, most of this new volume was written in the early stages of the pandemic, arriving as ‘a cascade of poems’. ‘Am I repeating myself?’ Longley asks here in ‘Seahorses’ as the collection contains another wash of poems from his ‘soul landscape’ of Carrigskeewaun and further writing towards the Classics, the Great War, and the Holocaust. These new poems ring with even greater depth and clarity. This is in no small part down to their deft handling of writing to the moment in that strange malaise of the shrinking and expansion of the world and time since the early part of the pandemic. The collection focuses in and outwards, seen in ‘Isolation’, where Longley records how ‘Old age and the virus Keep me from driving west…’ (to Carrigskeewaun of course), but the poems show how our places and all their constituent species are kept and kindled within, yielding poems of real, remembered, or imagined encounter. As well as County Mayo, they range to the Scottish Highlands or they are at home in ...
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