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Book Review :: The Slain Birds by Michael Longley

The Slain Birds, poetry by Michael Longley published by Wake Forest University Press book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

The late Seamus Heaney titled his first collection of poems Death of a Naturalist. Michael Longley, his friend and fellow poet from Northern Ireland, has devoted decades to just the opposite principle: celebrating the flora and (mostly avian) fauna of Carrigskeewaun, in County Mayo of the Republic. In The Slain Birds, Longley continues this project, his imagination sparked by bog asphodel and snowdrop, white helleborine and sneezewort, some of the flowers, like some of the townlands (Carricksnashinnagh, Barnabaun, Kinnakillew) sounding made up, invented—and yet, what names are not? Flowers, he declares, seem the “Secret of the cosmos,” some house martins “God-spark . . .dream birds.” But Longley’s practice is less an Adamic naming than an honoring, an affirming of love, family lore, and local custom even as he draws parallels from Homer, modern war, and recent pandemic. Whether his eye falls on lupine and catkin or follows the flight of plovers and godwits, whether his ear is attuned to the ”cheer-up-cheer-up” of nightingale or the “wind’s / Vocal cords,” Longley pays tribute. From the elegiac to the exuberant, the poems brought together here form a lyrical, joyous extension of a sparkling poetic career.

The Slain Birds by Michael Longley. Wake Forest University Press, 2022.

Reviewer bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry as well as dozens of reviews, essays, and articles on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

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