In a conversation with Catherine Graham, Michael Longley reveals the poignant backstory behind a poem in his new collection that repurposes several discarded lines written when he was in his teens:
CG: When you were a student at Trinity your first poem “Marsh Marigolds” was published in a literary magazine called Icarus:
She gave him marigolds
Colour of autumn
To keep in his cold room
And the late light of autumn killed all their moments.
The first three lines are weaved into “Marigolds, 1960” uniting the young poet you were with the experienced poet you became. It’s one of my favourites in The Stairwell. Can you tell us more about this poem and/or the process behind it?
ML: The poem was published in the Trinity College literary magazine Icarus at Easter 1960. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my father was dying. He discovered the poem and told me it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. He was right of course, but he shouldn’t have said that. In ‘Marigolds 1960’ I forgive him his frankness, but much more importantly I grieve for him and suggest that at the end we were drawing closer together. It pleases me that my juvenile verse helped me in my seventies to frame an elegy for my father.
(Portrait by Colin Davidson)