Yesterday I listened to the On Being podcast, which is surely one of the jewels of our culture, in which Krista Tippet interviewed, in the way of the times in front of a live audience, the Irish poet, who before yesterday I had never heard of, Michael Longley.
It was an inspiring chat, from a charming man, who believes all good arts requires some insouciance, and the full video, transcript and related materials can be found here.
I drew some inspiration from this talk. Here is short extract where Longley speaks in a slightly mocking way of not suborning poetry to schedule, but always keeping that element of surprise and mystery, the glimmer of the transcendent.
MR. LONGLEY: And the thing about it was — meeting the young people, I really loved that and having students. And they used to ask me about my schedule. What do you call it, schedule or schedule? Schedule.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Schedule, yes.
MR. LONGLEY: Yeah. And I used to say, “Well, I don’t write anything for ten years, true. And then, all of a sudden, I write three poems in a day, also true.” So that’s it, you see. I mean, I can’t — I don’t really know where it comes from. And wasn’t it Jesus who said, “If your left hand knows what your right hand does…?”
MS. TIPPETT: I think something like that.
MR. LONGLEY: It might be the other way around, right and left. Sorry, Jesus.
MR. LONGLEY: The — “cut it off.” And I think that’s very good. And I think one can be too self-conscious. I think art and poetry require a certain insouciance. Otherwise, you’d get knotted. And I think it’s very important. You can take your poems seriously, but you mustn’t take yourself seriously. I’m certain of that. And that self-importance engraves its own headstone.
And then I was also surprised to find the association I had made between the poet and the shaman surface:
MS. TIPPETT: All right. Yes, we can. So your — I’ll refer to this one more time — your “Letter to a Young Poet.” You said your two favorite definitions of “poet” are the Scot’s word macher, or maker, and Horace’s phrase, “priest of the muses.” And you said that — you’re talking about this, this magic, this mystery that made poets shamans in other cultures.
MR. LONGLEY: Yes, that’s right.
MS. TIPPETT: That you’re aware of that.
MR. LONGLEY: I agree with that, yes.
That is all today. Domestic duties summon me away. But I remain in touch with the night journeys.