WATCH: Belfast poet Michael Longley – who has just won a £215k arts prize – on being the only middle class kid in his working class schoolroom

An array of writers have offered their congratulations to Belfast-born writer Michael Longley, after he was handed a six-figure arts prize.

By Adam Kula
Monday, 4th July 2022, 3:39 pm
Updated Monday, 4th July 2022, 6:56 pm

According to his agents at The Soho Agency in London, the Feltrinelli International Prize for Poetry is worth 250,000 Euro (roughly £215,000).

The Accademia dei Lincei, which administers the award, was quoted in various media as saying that the prize recognised “the extraordinary relevance of his themes and their cultural implications, as well as the very high stylistic quality of his oeuvre”.

It said: “Longley is an extraordinary poet of landscape, particularly of the Irish West, which he observes with the delicate and passionate attention of an ecologist, and a tragic singer of Ireland and its dramatic history.

Michael Longley with his cat Sam in 2000

“But with his poetry he has also addressed the seduction, conquest, and fascination of love, as well as the shock of war in all ages, the tragedy of the Holocaust and of the gulags, and the themes of loss, grief and pity.”

Mr Longley was born in 1939, and published his first book of poems (called simply ‘Ten Poems’) in 1965.

He went to a public elementary school in the Lisburn Road area, before going on to grammar school at Inst (RBAI) in central Belfast, read classics at Trinity College, Dublin, and taught in schools in Belfast, Dublin and London.

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours and in 2015 was given the Freedom of Belfast.

He had previously won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2001 (and was then nominated for it another two times).

He also wrote a memoir called ‘Tuppenny Stung’, an extract of which is in this video.

Among the many people hailing the news was writer Dr Alison Garden, who dubbed it “absolutely brilliant news”, BBC journalist Fergal Keane who dubbed it a “truly wonderful” win for “my friend”, and the publisher Fine Press Poetry declared: “Publishing Michael’s work (with illustrations by his daughter Sarah) has been the best thing I’ve ever done.”

His poems focus on the First World War, the Troubles, and nature.

One of them inspired the title of the book ‘They Killed the Ice Cream Man’ about the murder of John Larmour in a Belfast shop in 1988. It read:

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:

You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before,

They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road

And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.

I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren I had seen in one day:

Thyme, valerian, loosestrife, meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica, herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch, mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort, yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.