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20 February 2015
Poetry - Study Ireland

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Michael Longley says:

'...It was a friend of mine who was murdered by paramilitaries and I didn't want to identify him, so I gave him the title The Civil Servant.'

'...when somebody walks into a home where there is a smell of cooking and where BBC Radio is playing music and takes out a gun...they are offending the gods really...they are desecrating civilisation. They are disrupting far more than they probably thought about'.

'...I do believe that poetry is about all of those things that happened to people and war is one of the most huge and one of the most horrible things that happens to millions of people.'

The Civil Servant from Wreaths

He was preparing an Ulster fry for breakfast
When someone walked into the kitchen and shot him:
A bullet entered his mouth and pierced his skull,
The books he had read, the music he could play.

He lay in his dressing gown and pyjamas
While they dusted the dresser for fingerprints
And then shuffled backwards across the garden
With notebooks, cameras and measuring tapes.

They rolled him up like a red carpet and left
Only a bullet hole in the cutlery drawer:
Later his widow took a hammer and chisel
And removed the black keys from his piano.

Michael Longley

Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 and has lived there for most of his life. For many years he worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland where he was Combined Arts Director. Previous collections include Poems 1963-83, Gorse Fires, The Ghost Orchid and Broken Dishes. Selected Poems was published in October 1998. He won the TS Eliot Prize and the Irish Literature Prize for Poetry in 2001 for his collection The Weather in Japan. He won the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001. The Longley poems in this selection are Carrigskeewaun and The Civil Servant.

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