Michael Longley at Laurel Villa

The final event I was to enjoy at the On Home Ground Poetry Festival was a reading by the esteemed Belfast-born poet, Michael Longley, another close friend of Heaney’s, who paid his own special tribute to the writer. Having visited Seamus’ grave in Bellaghy the afternoon before he came to the festival, Longley said – “I do feel lonely.

Michael Longley, poet

Michael Longley, poet

“Last week in Dublin, at the ceremony declaring who the next Professor of Poetry was going to be, I was asked to read a poem and I read my favourite Heaney poem – The Harvest Bow. It’s a poem about poetry and about art and the fragility of everything.

“Before I read it I quoted Plato on the death of Socrates‘The sun went down and his friends went on talking.’

“That’s what we’re doing – we’re going on talking.”

Heaney himself once described Longley as ‘a keeper of the artistic estate, a custodian of griefs and wonders’ and what followed was a very relaxed reading by Longley of his own work, including pieces such as ‘Between Hovers’, The Lifeboat’, ‘Paintings’ and ‘Boat’ – a poem written for Heaney after Longley misplaced the Greek word for ‘boat’ when his friend once asked him for it…

The Harbour, Portstewart, oil on canvas by Michael McGuinness

The Harbour, Portstewart, oil on canvas by Michael McGuinness

What’s the Greek for boat,
You ask, old friend,
Fellow voyager Approaching Ithaca –
Oh, flatulent sails,
Wave-winnowing oars,
Shingle-scrunching keel –
But, so close to home,
There’s a danger always
Of amnesiac storms,
Waterlogged words.

Longley added: “I think there’s very little difference between good prose and good poetry,” proceeding to read ‘Constellations’ and ‘Lost’, as well as a trio of love poems entitled ‘The Linen Industry’, ‘The Pattern’ and ‘Cloudberries’. With a new collection due for publication in 2014, the poet also treated the Poetry Tent crowd to a piece inspired by his little granddaughter Amelia called, ‘The Leveret’, which will appear in next year’s book.

Main: View over Ballinrees and Portstewart; Red Pillars Saloon

Main: View over Ballinrees and Portstewart; Red Pillars Saloon

Longley is also reportedly working on his memoir and given the impressive body of work he has compiled over the years, the experiences he has had and the people he has worked with, I would imagine it will make for very compelling reading indeed. Like Heaney, this is an Irish poet humble in his work and only too willing to share it and was yet another coup for the On Home Ground Poetry Festival, I think, to have him along for the weekend.

[Footnote: I include more paintings in this post from the Limavady-born and now London-based artist Michael McGuinness- another incredibly talented Michael, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing prior to the festival!]


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