In The Stairwell, his tenth collection, Michael Longley s themes and forms reach a new intensity. The second part of the book is a powerful sequence of elegies for his twin brother, Peter, and the dominant mood elsewhere is elegiac. The title poem begins: I have been thinking about the music for my funeral. . . The two parts are also linked by Homer. Longley is well-kwn for his Homeric versions, and the Iliad is a presiding presenceboth in poems about the Great War and in the range of imagery that gives his twin s death a mythic dimension. Yet funeral music can be life-affirming. Longley has built this collection on intricate doublings, t only when he explores the tensions of twinship. The psychologically suggestive word stairwell is itself an ambiguous compound. These poems encompass birth as well as death, childhood and age, nature and art, the animal and human worlds, tenderness and violence, battlefield and homeland. The Stairwell is a richly textured, immensely moving work. Michael Longley has the rare ability to fuse emotional depth with complicated artistry: to make them, somehow, the same thing.
Michael Longley was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1939. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and studied Classics at Trinity College. Strongly influenced by the classics, he has alluded to his love of Homer in many of his poems. Early in his career, Longley worked as a schoolteacher in Dublin, London, and Belfast. He founded the literary program in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and in 1970 he became the assistant director of that organization. In 2010, he was honored with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of Aosdana, an affiliation for Irish artists. He is married to the critic Edna Longley and has three children. Michael Longley has written nine collections of poetry. Holding honorary doctorates from both Trinity College, Dublin, and Queen s University, Belfast, Longley was awarded the prestigious Queen s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001. He has received numerous other awards for his work, including the American Irish Foundation Award, the T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize, the Whitbread Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, the International Griffin Poetry Prize, and the Ulster Tatler Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. He served as the Ireland Professor of Poetry from 20072010.