#TheCandlelightMaster by Michael Longley

‘I can’t bear the thought of a world without Michael Longley, yet his poetry keeps hurtling towards that fact more and more urgently as it stretches in an unflinching way beyond comfort or certainty.’ So wrote Maria Johnston, reviewing Longley’s previous book Angel Hill. Yet The Candlelight Master does not only face into shadows. The title poem sums up the chiaroscuro of this collection, named after a mysterious Baroque painter. Other poems about painters – Matisse, Bonnard – imply that age makes the quest for artistic perfection all the more vital. A poem addressed to the eighth-century Japanese poet, Otomo Yakamochi, says: ‘We gaze on our soul-landscapes / More intensely with every year.’ The soul-landscape of The Candlelight Master is often a landscape of memory. But if Longley looks back over formative experiences, and over the forms he has given them, he channels memory into freshly fluid structures. His new poems about war and the Holocaust speak to our own dark times. Translation brings dead poets up to date too. The bawdy of Catullus becomes Scots ‘Hochmagandy’. Yakamochi and the lyric poets of Ancient Greece find themselves at home in Longley’s Carrigskeewaun.

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Wielding a colossal pair of scissors

Cutting out from the costliest paper

The world’s peculiar shapes, he instructed

– MATISSE

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(@vintagebooks, 6 August 2020, e-book, 80 pages, #ARC from the publisher via #NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed)

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I’ve read a few poems by Longley and even studied one of them for an Open University course but have never read a full collection before. I’ve no idea why. The Candlelight Master is an excellent collection of poems. I enjoyed all of the poems on offer here. There are a few poems in the collection which draw their inspiration from mythology and feature Priam and Achilles including War and Glory. These are the best poems in the collection. I could have read an entire collection with this style of poems in it. They reminded me of his poem Ceasefire which also features Priam and Achilles. Other poems I loved include Matisse, Ors, Xanthos and Moths & Butterflies. I will seek out other poetry collections by Longley.

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