Michael Longley wins PEN Pinter prize
The Northern Ireland poet Michael Longley has been named winner of this year’s PEN Pinter prize. Longley is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a recipient of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and the Wilfred Owen award. In addition, he has won the Whitbread prize, the TS Eliot prize, and the Irish Times Irish literature prize for poetry.
Longley was a classics scholar at Trinity College. Some of his poems refer to the stories and characters from Greek and Roman mythology, yet often bear witness to contemporary moments: the retrieval of Hector's body in 'Ceasefire', which was published just days after a ceasefire was called in Northern Ireland. His wife, Edna Longley, is a critic on modern Irish and British poetry.
He was selected by Maureen Freely, chair of judges and president of English PEN; Antonia Fraser, historian, biographer and widow of Harold Pinter; Tom Gatti, culture editor of the New Statesman; award-winning poet Don Paterson; and playwright Polly Stenham.
Don Paterson said of Longley: “For decades now his effortlessly lyric and fluent poetry has been wholly suffused with the qualities of humanity, humility and compassion, never shying away from the moral complexity that comes from seeing both sides of an argument. Longley is a war poet and a love poet, a nature poet and a poet of the arts, a poet of social and cultural history.”
Michael Longley said Harold Pinter “was a great playwright”, adding that he “encouraged me in my youth. So, for personal as well as literary and political reasons I am moved and honoured by this award.” Antonia Fraser said: “Harold always had a deep admiration for his [Longley’s] poetry and after a memorable visit to Northern Ireland under his tutelage, he added to it personal affection.”
The PEN Pinter prize is awarded annually to a writer from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel prize in literature speech, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.