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The Stairwell review Michael Longley's shortcuts to the heart

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Birth and death are never far apart in the Irish poet's cherishable new collection

One of the most moving things about Michael Longley's tenth collection is the way in which he considers death, giving it no special treatment, not dressing it up or flattering it. It was Wittgenstein who said "death is not an event in life". But Longley would seem to disagree. It's an ordinary event, in his hands, and he goes straight in with the line: "I have been thinking about the music for my funeral."

In this collection, lullabies are for the end of life as well as for the beginning, and birth and death are never far apart. In Deathbed, he imagines his deathbed as a sort of nest in which a couple of robins come and go, one more leggy than the other, feeding from a cheese dish and a saucer of water it's a poem of consoling eccentricity. In the beautiful Birthbed that follows pages later, he writes: "I waken in the bed where you were born," and remembers waiting to cradle a new child. These are poems that get under the skin. With the mastery of years of writing, Longley (b.1939) knows the shortcuts to the heart.

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