Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Michael Longley and identity
It is a rare and noteworthy event when BBC Northern Ireland produces a regional programme for which it is worth disrupting the national schedules. Often the sole purpose of local programming appears to be displacing Match of the Day or Question Time (I do appreciate that an easy solution is acquiring a digibox).
Last night the Corporation broadcast just such a rarity in the form of Fergal Keane’s documentary about Belfast poet Michael Longley. The programme lingered on the relationship of place and poetry in Longley’s work and in particular the manner in which Northern Ireland’s troubles shaped the poet’s output.
Although the form of Longley’s poetry owes more to English and classical traditions, its content and themes are grounded in the natural beauty of Ireland and on the troubled history of Northern Ireland. As a correspondent who covered the Troubles in Belfast it was the latter which dominated the interviews which Keane conducted.
I was perhaps most interested in Longley’s thoughts on identity. He rejects the notion that being comfortable with both Irish and British aspects to one’s identity corresponds with “confusion”. Clearly the poet is perfectly happy to identify both these aspects in his own make-up. He dismissed the notion that unionists might be confused in their identity saying that people from that background know full well who they are and in particular “who they are not”.
The programme is available currently on BBC I Player.