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Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939. He has published nine collections of poetry including Gorse Fires (1991) which won the Whitbread Poetry Award, and The Weather in Japan (2000) which won the Hawthornden Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Irish Times Poetry Prize. In 2001 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 2003 the Wilfred Owen Award. He was awarded a CBE in 2010 and was Ireland Professor of Poetry, 2007-2010.

The Stairwell

Penguin Random House/Jonathan Cape
2015 Winner
United Kingdom

Judges’ Citation

Part of the excitement and pleasure of Michael Longley’s The Stairwell comes from the quiet unpredictability of what his language does.

Part of the excitement and pleasure of Michael Longley’s The Stairwell comes from the quiet unpredictability of what his language does. It is modest and unassuming, yet bold in its deceptively small meditations. His sentences achieve their goals through sophisticatedly simple means: Longley loves to understate (or underplay), retard (and see how far he can go), imply, question, and enumerate (long enumeration in short poems is part of his signature). This book, including the elegy sequence that comprises the whole second section, is a masterly realization of the light touch he brings to serious subjects, as if sentences were his way of breathing. And they do not behave conventionally, despite his life-long study of such basic things as love, friendship, death, experience, memory, historical memory included, and of some other disciplines that go along with them, like learning to know nature for instance. There’s also a lot to learn from Michael Longley – part of the pleasure is the detailed knowledge and wisdom the poems bring. While greatly attached to certain classical rules, Longley has always paid homage to them so interestingly, simultaneously mastering and subverting them. The Stairwellis a book by a major poet writing at the height of his powers.