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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.


From the start, Michael Longley's poetry has been so unlike anyone else's that - critically speaking - it has been particularly hard to place. As a poet apparently influenced by offbeat introverts (Edwin Muir, Edward Thomas), his work is oddly communal. As a writer implicated in the Irish political situation, his poems have obstinately refused to offer the usual answers.

Recent critical overviews of his career have argued that Longley only came into his full powers as a poet in his fifties and sixties, publishing three, and now four, strong collections in succession. For a loyal cadre of Longley critics, however, Longley is a poet whose recognition has been long overdue. In either event, critical evaluation of his work is only beginning to catch up with his accomplishment.

Many have admired Longley's exacting eye and impeccable ear, while finding his early work occasionally mannered or marred by a reductive and self-deprecating tone. But a look at an early volume reveals, in the poem 'Caravan' (An Exploded View, 1973), extraordinary visual effects: a poet moving around inside a poem as if walking around in a museum. The poet is never in the expected place in the poem, and because he isn't, there is a disturbing and exciting rearrangement of perspective. In the opening stanzas he is an observer who 'suggest[s]' rather than describes a domestic interior that he cannot see. As the poem develops, a skilfully managed split perspective separates poet from speaker: ...

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