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When Longley says in the beautifully laconic “Poem”, ‘I am the Candlelight Master/ striking a match in the shadows’, it seems to hint towards the contents of this collection; fragments of light set amidst darkness.
This is Longley’s latest collection, and in it, he moves like a grandmaster chess player, pieces positioning with exactitude on the board. ‘The Candlelight Master’ is a book of reflections and shadows, observed with the acuity of a life-long cataloguer. In “Flower-Names”, Longley takes us back to the 1988 murder of George Larmour on the Lisburn Road and the elegy “The Ice Cream Man” from his collection, ‘Gorse Fires’. He is not afraid to revisit pain, re-examining the capacity of words for healing, refusing to be silenced by acts which themselves are unspeakable.
He continues to sew his greek mythology into the fertile backdrop of Carrigskeewaun and we are glad to be soothed once more by the recitations of his masterful listing. In “Fen Violet” he says of his daughter, ‘You paint flowers, Sarah, as though they have souls.’ Similarly, he paints worlds out of words, his poems like little charges, sent out full of colour and soul.
The gentler side of this body of work, most exquisitely captured in poems like “Toes” and “Tadpoles” are full of Longley’s enduring love for his grandchildren. In contrast, the much darker presence alive in “Moths and Butterflies” and “Dandelions” are for the forgotten children of the Holocaust . The exploration into the complexity of what it is to be human is stretched throughout the collection from the smallest observations to the grandest scale where men die as animals in “War” and “Victor”.
Pleasanter moments can be found infused in poems like “Key-changes” where we can feel the nostalgia humming as clearly as the notes played by his childhood piano teacher. “Brother” and “Peter”, are elegies for his twin brother, and are so delicately done, they seem like kisses upon the page. There is much warmth as these poems gather about each other, meditations on life in “December”, and as the book closes with the semi-found poem, “Love”, it is not hard to feel the familiar sense of encircling, healing and homecoming. And for that, Longley’s readers are still hoping, still listening.
From “In My Sleep”
I am relieved
You were awake
To hear me speak: