Michael Longley on ‘We’

Jody Allen Randolph:
One of the things that really strikes me about your generation of Irish poets is the strong ‘we’, even though you were a very diverse group of poets from different backgrounds. I have heard American poets speak of their poetic communities as primarily vertical, but your generation had a very strong horizontal dynamic. How important was that to your developing sense of yourself as a poet?

Michael Longley:
Belfast has been called ‘the armpit of Europe’, ‘a cultural Siberia’: not somewhere you would expect to produce a flurry of poetry. Perhaps ‘we’ registers the relief of embattled aesthetes who have come through. ‘We’ also implies that imagination and creativity dissolve what is called here ‘the sectarian divide’ […] ‘We’ in my book now includes the astonishing next generation of Muldoon, Carson, McGuckian, Ormsby and brilliant younger poets such as Sinead Morrissey and Leontia Fynn.

Jody Allen Randolph, ‘Michael Longley in Conversation with Jody Allen Randolph’, The Poetry Ireland Review, 79 (2004), pp. 78-89


The generational hierarchy is nowhere so clearly defined as in Northern Ireland, probably due to the sheer number of poets in that 1960s generation who all started publishing within a few years of each other. The coherence of shared backgrounds can be illusory though – the departures from ‘we’ are more interesting to me than the parallels.

One thought on “Michael Longley on ‘We’

  1. The departures are more interesting than the parallels to me, also Alex.

    I think in Belfast particularly though, what Longley is saying does have a lot of truth. The whole ‘literary scene’ in Belfast I guess, is so small and interlinked. That whole “armpit of Europe” saying which I’m sure you’ve heard yourself, being from here – it does serve as a driving force for writers who hang around Bookfinders cafe and QUB and have found a nice niche there to conversely dispel and revel in that saying. Muldoon, Ormsby, Carson, Flynn and Morrissey all fit that general grouping. I think it’s easy for Longley to become wrapped in propelling Belfast and N.I. forward in some shape or form and feel like a collective front is emerging because he’s part of that little group; but little it is! And outside of that niche, Longley may be suprised to find that Irish/N.Irish/Ulster Scots people may not feel as strongly about the “we” as he does. Indeed, people who live ouside the 7-mile radius of QUB may sincerely disagree as well!! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: