Michael Longley wins Feltrinelli Poetry Prize

Michael Longley
Poet Michael Longley

The Belfast-born poet Michael Longley has been awarded a €250,000 (£216,000) European arts award. Longley will accept the Feltrinelli International Prize for Poetry at a ceremony in November.

Previous winners of the prize include WH Auden, Eugenio Montale and John Ashbery.

Longley was born in 1939 and published his first collection of poetry, No Continuing City, when he was 30 years old. He held the post of professor of poetry for Ireland from 2007 to 2010.

The prize is awarded, both nationally and internationally, once every five years in each field by Italy’s Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

The Accademia dei Lincei said Mr Longley had won for “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.

“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.”

Michael Longley photographed in his Belfast home in March 2000

The Belfast native is the son of an English soldier who fought in World War One – both of his parents were Londoners who moved to Northern Ireland before his birth. He and his twin brother were born in Lower Crescent, just off University Road in Belfast, on 27 July 1939, weeks before the start of World War Two.

Longley was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution – known as Inst – and later studied classics at Trinity College in Dublin, and both institutions influenced his career. His writing career began in his early teens when he “fell in love very deeply” with a girl from a nearby school, Methodist College.

“I tried to write poems to impress her but she wasn’t terribly impressed because she gave me the heave-ho,” he laughed. The critics were kinder in his later life, however, and Longley has become one of the most successful poets Northern Ireland has ever produced.

His trophy cabinet includes the Whitbread Poetry Award, the TS Eliot Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. In 2001 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and in 2003 the Wilfred Owen Award. He was appointed CBE in 2010.

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