Winner of the 2015 International Griffin Poetry Prize
A masterly realization of the light touch he brings to serious subjects, as if sentences were his way of breathing. -Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Judges’ Citation
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-known for his Homeric versions, and the Iliad is a presiding presence–both 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, not 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.
The intuition that beyond the call and echo there is still more to be said and known is this book’s governing hope: that in the midst of death, the question of what lasts is still worth raising.
-Jordan Smith, The Antioch Review, Summer 2015