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The vitality of poetry

By October 26, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

Micheal Longely, who has the distinction of publishing over 20 books of poetry, explains the transcendental value of poems


“One of the marvellous things about poetry is that it’s useless. ‘What use is poetry?’ people occasionally ask. The answer is no use, but it doesn’t mean to say that it’s without value. It is valuable.” This beautiful assertion comes from Micheal Longely.

And here is the story of one simple poem he wrote, “This was an ice cream man called Seymour,” says Micheal Longely, “and he was murdered on the Lisburn Road. I had been botanizing in the beautiful part of County Mayo, looking for wild orchids. I came back, and my younger daughter, who was a regular customer and knew all the ice cream flavours by heart – she told me the news and that she had used her pocket money to buy a bunch of carnations to lay on the pavement outside….I almost sleep-walked into this poem. I made a kind of pattern of the flower names and made a kind of a metaphorical wreath… And the poem’s addressed to Sarah, my daughter.”

Then he got a letter which he treasures, “Dear Mr. Longley, My daughter bought your book Gorse Fires… for me after hearing you on the radio. Your voice on ‘The Ice-Cream Man’ was clear to us who you were writing about. But I do appreciate very much that someone outside our family circle remembered my son, John. The fact that there were 21 flavours of ice cream in the shop and you wrote 21 flowers was coincidental. I do bless you for your kind thoughts and may God bless you. Sincerely, the Ice-Cream Man’s mother, Rosetta Larmour.” Well, I’m very proud of that letter,” says Longely.

War survivor

Longley has published over 20 books of poetry. Raised as an agnostic in the midst of Ireland’s religion-centric divides, Longely joined up as a boy soldier in 1914, and he survived to the end of the war, where the survivor rate was about three weeks at certain times. “So that’s a mystery to me that that I’m here. I do believe in the transcendental. I believe that poetry and art without a transcendental element doesn’t really exist for me…a poet is not like some super reporter, that the raw material of experience has to settle to a new depth, an imaginative depth where it can then come out as true art.”

Between making profound points like the opposite of war is not peace but civilization, Longely tells us, “I know nothing more exciting than writing a poem. I wrote nothing for ten years. And I did try, but they were all fakes. And then, all of a sudden, I write three poems in a day, also true. So you see— I don’t really know where it comes from.”

Longely says, “For me, no experience is complete until I’ve written about it. And that’s extraordinary…it’s a way of having more than one life…I have actually been in intelligent conversation with people, and they don’t realize that in the back of my head, I’m finishing a poem…”

A poet is not like some super reporter, that the raw material of experience has to settle to a new depth, an imaginative depth where it can then come out as true art

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