Hailing from County Down, acclaimed poet and University of Edinburgh alum Leontia Flynn is the voice behind this edition’s poem of the week. Whilst Flynn’s literary offerings are rich in number and all come as highly recommended reads in their own right, today the spotlight is on ‘The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled’.
Flynn’s national identity, coupled with her consistent and deft use of demotic prose, have understandably put her works in comparison with those of her countrymen, contemporary titans of the Northern Irish literary scene Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. Kate Hellaway of The Guardian, reviewing Flynn’s latest collection The Radio, cuts to the heart of her appeal: “Flynn is interested in the mind, its indoor fireworks.” This is a comment that feels impossibly tailored to ‘Furthest Distances’ – ostensibly a poem concerning the ephemeral joys of travel, yet in its final stanza unfurls a deeper thematic arc. Utilising travel as a wider metaphor for the transience of life itself, Flynn’s first person narrative voice proclaims “the furthest distances I’ve travelled / have been those between people. And what survives / of holidaying briefly in their lives.”
Flynn’s choice of ‘holidaying’ as an operative verb is universally resonant in its implication that as individuals our time on this planet is, in terms of temporal relativity, nothing more than a fleeting ‘holiday’. Flynn invokes a journey narrative that spans the passage from birth to death – a path that every single human must tread. Through this, ‘Furthest Distances’ successfully awakens in its readers a simultaneously jolting and yet so well-worn awareness of the universal binding force that forms life’s only inevitability: death.
So whilst ‘Furthest Distances’ is imbued with thoughts of underlying mortality for those who wish to discern them, I must also make the case for it as an entirely accessible literary work. With so much poetry there comes a little-acknowledged pressure to squeeze an unattainably idealised ‘truth’ from them. ‘Furthest Distances’ does not demand this from its readers. It presents itself playfully through fleeting moments of rhyme and, most importantly, Flynn’s commitment to the vernacular. Unhurried colloquialisms firmly bat away any accusations of literary elitism.
This is a poem of depth from which anybody can walk away with a sense of balmy comprehension. Flynn wields travel in the age of modernity as her overt subject matter to ensure that ‘Furthest Distances’ remains as viscerally relatable as possible, offering meaning for everyone from the seasoned literary critic to the committed philistine.
You can read ‘The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled’ here.
Image: Hackley Public Library via Flickr