Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Longley at the NGI : Birth, Death & Botany

Just back from a very enjoyable lunchtime reading by Michael Longley at the National Gallery. Introduced by Joe Woods of Poetry Ireland, Longley read some new poems from his upcoming collection One Hundred Doors (?), dedicated to his first grandson and another to the latest arrival, a granddaughter. Both very much welcoming the newborns to the family homestead. The second containing a spooky image of the cottage ‘folded’ - cloistered - by sheep. He also read a couple never performed before, as well as a Longley favourite of mine, ‘The Lifeboat’. In this poem, the poet wryly envisions his own death at the counter of Charlie Gaffneys bar in Mayo, having earlier received the ‘pluperfect pint’.
‘He doesn’t notice that I am dead until closing time / And he sweeps around my feet.’
The poem turns on the revelation that it is Charlie who has died, bringing poignancy to the snug descriptions of that fabled hostelry.

He finished with a slightly longer poem (four stanzas of eleven lines each), which recalled his deceased friend, the painter and botanist Raymond Piper. The verse is strewn with reminiscence from their friendship and specific encounters with native flowers, including a hilarious image of poet and painter taking turns extending their coat-tails as windbreaks – like ‘Antique Flashers’ - while attempting to photograph a rare Dropwort on a gusty coastline. Charming and deceptively well-crafted.

I’ve been to a few of these readings in the Lecture Theatre at the National Gallery now and one thing that bugs me is the sound system. Considering the purpose and status of this space, it’s weird that the PA tends towards distortion, even given the relatively restrained volume of a speaker like Longley. Not particularly a distraction today, but I’m surprised this is allowed to persist.