Fran Brearton's reading of Longley's work relates the development of his poetry to the recent literary and political history of Northern Ireland, and to the Irish poetic tradition from Yeats to the present day. In placing Longley's poetry in a network of cultural influences, and evaluating its critical reception, her study also engages with key debates in the criticism of modern poetry in English.
She offers a broadly chronological reading of Longley's work from the 1960s to the present day, tracing thematic continuities across his collections. Longley's long silence between The Echo Gate (1979) and Gorse Fires (1991), she argues, helped him to re-shape and strengthen his poetry, so that his later work is in some ways a re-reading of his earlier poetry but taken in new and unexpected directions.
In this highly readable book, Fran Brearton draws on letters, manuscripts, published and personal interviews with Michael Longley, as well as on his memoir, Tuppenny Stung, and his recent researches into his father's military career. She shows how his poetry is shaped by the dislocations and tensions of his English parentage and Irish upbringing, making him one of the most imaginatively various and formally inventive poets writing today.