To Mayo with Longley, and North with Mort

Over the past few years I’ve come to know and love the landscape of County Mayo, and particularly the remote townland of Carrigskeewaun (“The Rock of the Wall Fern”). Even on the wettest Irish year I’ve got the car across the river and through the tide with groceries and laundry for my fortnight among the waterbirds. I’ve watched a dipper on the Owennadornaun, a merlin hunting for meadow pipits, and golden plovers feeding on the waterlogged duach. After a whole day shore-fishing off Allaran Point and Tonakeera, I’ve come home with one mackerel, cooked with reverence and mustard sauce. I’ve watched otters, the first for ages, rationing binocular moments behind the curtains of the bedroom window as they unravelled out of view.

At least I feel I’ve done all of these things – thanks to the lyrical powers of Michael Longley. I’ve never been to Mayo, but Longley, whom I interviewed in 2006  for a piece on literary Belfast, has since transported me there countless times with his poetry, which I’ve plagiarised in the previous paragraph. He is one of the inspirations behind this site. I’ve long believed that some of the best (but least acknowledged) travel writing is done by novelists and poets.

Further proof of that comes in the form of Division Street by Helen Mort, whom Carol Ann Duffy has described as “among the brightest stars in the sparkling new constellation of young British poets”. Although Mort has already won numerous prizes, this is her first full-length collection (she’s only 28), and it’s one preoccupied with the place where she grew up: the North of England. I’m delighted to be publishing on Deskbound Traveller a poem in which she ventures still farther from the South: North of Everywhere.

(Charlotte Runcie has interviewed Helen Mort for tomorrow’s Review section in The Daily Telegraph. Carrigskeewaun features again in Michael Longley’s latest collection, A Hundred Doors, published in paperback by Vintage.)

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