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The perfect poetic tribute to legend Seamus Heaney

by michael conaghan

The death of Seamus Heaney has cast a huge shadow over the On Home Ground poetry festival he was scheduled to launch.

It was left to old friend Michael Longley to acknowledge his passing and reaffirm the consoling power of art.

He did this with a beautifully constructed reading on Saturday at the Laurel Villa's tented venue in Magherafelt.

He opened with two of Heaney's own works – Harvest Bow and Sunlight, the latter Heaney's in memoriam to his mother "a sunlit absence". This set the tone for a series of poems where Longley conjured up other ghosts from his past, the painter Gerard Dillon, and winningly, pub owner and philosopher Charlie Gaffney in Lifeboat where the poet imagines for himself "the perfect death" swept up with the shavings at closing time.

But though he finished with life affirming works dedicated to his grandchildren, the theme of mortality echoed powerfully in new poems about his late twin brother Peter.

Longley is adept at using Homer as source material, as in the poem Apparition where the ghost of Patroclus appears to Achilles and whose last lines "My brother, my twin" brought a gasp of sympathy from the rapt audience.

The standing ovation was richly deserved.

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