The West of Ireland is a good place in which to hide. Fast-moving columns of sun and rain cause landmarks to appear and disappear; the roads have potholes which could hide the many vagrant horses, donkeys and sheep; and young boys hang from the signposts till they are wildly twisted about. To find your way is pleasantly difficult - but even more pleasant is the difficulty of being found. Among other splendid things,'the West' is the land of transplanted urban dream kingdoms, a paradise for poets who do not wish to be disturbed. Michael Viney's documentary, The Corner of the Eye, opens with a slow sweep across this landscape, a picture of distances fringed with purple and a few tawny cows nosing through the foreground, then switches to a little white cottage in the midst of it all, and then to the face of the dwelling's occupant, and the film's subject, Michael Longley. Sitting in the blue light from a window, Longley discusses - in a manner which the film's opening sequence seeks to imitate - the process of exploring unfamiliar places. He remembers how, as a native of Belfast, he came to Carrigskeewaun in Mayo at a time when the Troubles were starting to break out in Northern Ireland. What first mesmerised him about the West was the horizon, the sense of unlimited space, the lines of hills. Then, as the years passed, he became more fascinated by the middle distance, by walls and trees and roads until, finally, his love affair with the landscape ended with him on his hands and knees looking 'into the faces of small flowers'.
LRB 2 November 1995 | PDF Download