REPRINTED FROM the LRB BLOG OF AUGUST 5, 2019
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I was invited to Ulster University, and was told sternly to be sure and lock the university building where I was staying, first the outer gate, then the inner, then the door to my corridor upstairs, and then the one to my room, each with a different imposing key; once inside this stronghold I heard laughter and came upon a crowd of poets, talking, drinking, reciting.
It was startling, like a sunburst of colour in pervasive grey winter, another world. The company included Michael Longley, Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, who had his penny whistle and was playing it—but memory may be playing tricks. Poetry, I realised, could be a vivid shared pleasure, something understood between friends or new acquaintances; a feature of a party alongside the drink and the craic and the songs: not silent, not solitary, not somehow high-minded or especially melancholic, even when the content was filled with dread and misery.