The Weather In Japan is Belfast-born Michael Longley's third new book of poetry in a decade: Gorse Fires (1991) ended a long poetic silence and earned its author the Whitbread Prize for poetry, and the subsequent The Ghost Orchid (1995) affirmed the re-emergence of a singular poetic voice, notable for its density of image and metaphor and at ease with classical allusion. Yet for all that his verse is marked by a patient clarity of perception and rhythmic virtuosity that renders complex ideas with a distilled and careful elegance. Longley places painting and literature alongside the natural world in the constellations by which he steers, and if many of the poems here hint at man's capacity for violence, brutality and chaos, the poet's sure guide is the brief illumination afforded by the organising gestures of culture or the epiphanic beauty of nature. The title poem's Zen brevity exemplifies this: "THE WEATHER IN JAPAN/Makes bead curtains of the rain,/ Of the mist a paper screen" recasts Ezra Pound's imagist verse as an end-of-century meditation on the reciprocal transformations between art and experience.
Longley's confidences rest ultimately in the observation of the particular and in local and domestic manifestations of generosity and democracy, offering the reader the trembling compass-point of a life creatively rendered: in "All Of These People" he recalls the suggestion that "the opposite of war/ Is not so much peace as civilisation", instanced by the cobbler who "mends shoes for everybody" and by the butcher who "blends into his best sausages leeks, garlic, honey". The last might stand as a metaphor for Longley himself, a generous versifier blending the rich elements of poetry's resources with the small insights that affirm our humanity. --Burhan Tufail
"A keeper of the aristic estate, a custodian of griefs and wonders" (Seamus Heaney)
"One of the finest lyric poets of our century" (John Burnside)
"His work indicates one of the gifts of the major poet, of making the one life speak for all, and its corollary, of seeming to be able to speak to anyone" (Sean O'Brien)
"Michael Longley's affectionate metre, his clean-cut and lucid measure, is one of the most distinguished accomplishments in contemporary poetry" (Douglas Dunn)
"While much contemporary verse attempts to sound casual, even offhand, Longley has consistently explored ways of thickening the texture of his idiom. His measured rhythms, skillfully crafted metaphors and elaborate syntax always insist on poetry's origins in ceremony, its powers to commemorate and dignify... His poetry binds the actual and mythical so seamlessly one looks in vain for the joints" (Mark Ford)