Michael Longley The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Michael Longley's new collection of poems [An Exploded View] includes pieces dedicated to Seamus Heaney and James Simmons; and although it seems unjust to define such a distinctive and accomplished poet as Mr Longley by way of comparison, it could be said that An Exploded View combines something of the rhythmic deftness and pinpointing verbal exactness of the later Heaney with the more distancing, drily ironic technique of James Simmons. Mr Longley hasn't the sensuousness of a Heaney, but he does share with him a preference for pared (but not purist) verbal structures which elicit an isolated gesture or moment…. The imaginative tact of this is a consistent strength in the book, and both senses of "tact" are relevant: in his most impressive work Mr Longley is able to re-create the feel of the world within a poetry which remains discreetly restrained, emotionally impersonal but not clinical….

Mr Longley has the knack of inserting single latinate terms ("designations", "dispositions", "supervised") which fend off the immediate action of a poem and open a wider perspective on to it, while reminding us at the same time, firmly but unobtrusively, of the poet's vigilant presence and his ironic control of his subject-matter. One of the few disappointments in this excellent volume is that the subject-matter is perhaps rather slight; there is not with Mr Longley's work much sense, as yet, of a hinterland of complex, consistent preoccupations which might supply it with more substance.

"Keeping in Touch," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3726, August 3, 1973, p. 894.∗