CULTURE

Homer’s strong influence on poet Longley

Poet Michael Longley had always been curious to see Greece. It wasn’t just that he studied the classics at university, and has drawn inspiration from Homer for some of his most striking poems. He also wanted to verify a similarity he thought he had observed in photographs between the physical features of his Irish homeland and Greece. «I thought of Ireland as a waterlogged Greece, and Greece as a sunny Ireland,» he told Kathimerini English Edition. Longley was in town Monday at the invitation of the European Translation Center (EKEMEL), whose director Helene Zervas had organized a week’s stay for him and his wife, critic Edna Longley, at the House of Literature at Lefkes on Paros. A wildflower aficionado who frequently extols the natural world in his poems, Longley was in his element, and is already planning a return trip on his own account. He spoke to the press at EKEMEL ahead of a public reading from his book «Homer’s Octopus and other Poems,» a bilingual English-Greek edition translated by Greek poet Haris Vlavianos, just out from Patakis publishers. Asked about the influence of Greek myth on his work, Longley said that he had been a poor student «because I spent all my time trying to write poetry,» but that he had rediscovered Homer in his late 40s. He spoke about how Homer had allowed him «to give voice to my lamentations for my mother and my father.» He cited the «heart-stopping moment» when Odysseus meets his father again, and the scene where he visits the underworld and tries to embrace his mother but can’t because she’s a ghost. Releasing poetic potential Homer also, he said, allowed him to write about war and about «our little fratricidal civil war.» His poem «The Butchers,» about a group of Protestant paramilitaries who used to kidnap, torture and kill Catholics, owes something to the scene where Odysseus slays the suitors. «I don’t think I could have written about that terrible episode in our history without Homer,» he explained. Reading to an appreciative crowd that evening, Longley summed up his approach neatly: «We read the epics like page-turners to see what happens next – I halt the narrative flow and release the poetic potential.» We look forward to more of that and him.