The City Conversations have begun. On Sunday evening, 3rd March, award winning poet, Michael Longley, spoke about the full breadth of his work with BBC Arts presenter, Marie-Louise Muir, in the intimate setting of the Naughton Studio at the Lyric Theatre.
Longley was relaxed and entertaining throughout what was a largely anecdotal interview. He talked engagingly about his sense of connection with Belfast which, despite his English parentage, has always felt like home. He told his audience charming stories of childhood and adolescence as well as taking time to reflect on the darker days of the troubles and the poetic response that followed them.
At Muir’s request Longley read some of his most moving poems, including ‘Ceasefire’ and 'The Ice-Cream Man’. Stories and poems transported the audience through the streets and landmarks of Belfast as well as to Dublin and London’s Buckingham Palace, where Longley received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001.
Despite his travels and opportunities elsewhere, Longley spoke of being creatively indebted to Belfast, which has always been at the heart of his poetry. He also read new work from a collection which will not be published until next year, a real treat for his listeners. From discussion of the brokenness of the troubles, Longley brought our eyes forwards towards positivity, highlighting the prestigious place Belfast holds in the arts world. His work is a testament to this.
The well-attended evening, provided a rare insight into the relationship between poet and city. Overall, it was a celebration of Belfast, and a wonderful start to a series which promises more of the same, to mark 400 years since the founding of our city.
Review by Rachel Chivers