Gorse Fires

Gorse Fires

Summary

Emerging, as it did, after over a decade of silence, Gorse Fires had an immediate and resounding impact - revealing a poetry that seemed renewed and re-energised - and winning the Whitbread Prize for Poetry in 1991. It is now regarded as the pivotal book in Michael Longley's distinguished career.

If Ireland remains Longley's starting-point or implied focus, it is often sighted through disturbing perspectives that derive from foreign cultures, from Homer's Odyssey, from the Second World War, and from the Holocaust. Even his beautifully precise poems about the West of Ireland are shadowed by the many destructive forces ranged against the creative act.

Longley's versions of Odysseus' return to Ithaca and 'Ghetto' (based on the Polish ghettoes) epitomise his concern with the meaning of home and family. He sees these archetypes of Western civilisation as vulnerable, problematic, violated by power. Odysseus' homecoming involves murder and vengeance as well as reunions - a connection with the ambiguities of life in Northern Ireland.

Gorse Fires is an unusual artistic blend: darkly austere, yet abundant in images, catalogues and syntactical virtuosity. The formal links between poems gives the whole collection the air of a richly varied sequence; it is a work of the highest order.

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Poetry.

Reviews

  • Longley’s skilfulness and experience are evident in poems where, in the choice of a single word, the focus of the description shifts… For all its looking back, however, the book feels curiously timeless… In his poems of the natural world, Longley is still a master of miniatures: there is an astonished, almost shortsighted intensity to the way he looks at what lies around him, in his familiar Carrigskeewaun habitat as well as in the Scottish locales this collection also visits.
    John McAuliffe, The Irish Times

About the author

Michael Longley

Michael Longley has received many awards, among them the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Hawthornden Prize and the Griffin International Prize. His Collected Poems was published in 2006, and Sidelines: Selected Prose in 2017. In 2001 he received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and in 2003 the Wilfred Owen Award. He was appointed CBE in 2010, and from 2007 to 2010 was Ireland Professor of Poetry. In 2017 he received the PEN Pinter Prize, and in 2018 the inaugural Yakamochi Medal. In 2015 he was made a Freeman of the City of Belfast, where he and his wife the critic Edna Longley live and work. In 2022 he was awarded the prestigious Feltrinelli International Poetry Prize for a lifetime's achievement.
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