FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
MICHAEL LONGLEY: When I was 16 I first tried seriously to write a poem — in order to impress a girlfriend. It was called ‘Song of a Nightwatchman’. A few years later as an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin I was drawn to what Yeats calls ‘the fascination of what’s difficult’. I was hooked for good.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
ML: Poetry takes advantage of all of the things that words do. Over the years I have continued to explore language’s attributes — metrical and stanzaic patterns, for instance, rhyme and other musical effects. There’s no end to these explorations. I think my work has become simpler as I have grown older.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
ML: We all respond to stimuli. Being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes is most certainly stimulating. It is exciting to be noticed and praised.
FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
ML: I never have much of an idea where I am heading. Writing a poem is a journey into the unknown. If you look after the words, the poem should look after itself. If you look after the poems, the book should eventually materialise. It is an intuitive process. Poetry is a mystery.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
ML: My two Desert Island books would be Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems and the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Both are masters, profound and virtuosic. In their hands poetry becomes the most exciting thing in the world.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
ML: Just now I am putting together for Enitharmon Press my critical pieces — Sidelines: Selected Prose 1962-2015; and I am working on a memoir. Most importantly, I continue to look out for the next poem.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
ML: For a young poet I would offer advice I myself live by: ‘Anything, however small, may make a poem. Nothing, however great, is certain to.’ (Edward Thomas). And: ‘If you write poetry, it’s your own fault.’ (John Hewitt).