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Review: New Light for the Old Dark by Sam Willetts

I chose this book as part of the 2015 Reading Challenge, this is my book with antonyms in the title.

Titles are something I struggle with as a writer and a reader. A bad title, a telling title or just something unappealing can instantly turn me away from a book; I do tend to read books based on instinct or initial appeal and occasionally recommendations. They also have the power to get me excited about a book or a poem or a play. They can light the fire of curiosity. Recently an editor came back to me with lovely compliments about my poetry but she didn’t like the titles, and it has taken me nearly two weeks to rework those titles. It’s like imagining your best friend with a different name – doable but a difficult habit to break.

Anyway; this title ‘New Light for the Old Dark’ slowly reveals itself through Willetts collection. It is about looking at childhood, heritage and ancestry, and the self in a ‘new light’ and dispelling the preconceptions that we leave behind us in the ‘old dark’.     The poems flow through Willetts own childhood, the upbringing of his mother’s escape from the Nazis, and the redemption from a heroin addiction.     Willetts manages to convey these unbelievable events through smaller, familiar images which give the reader a foothold in his reality. From the image of a little girl against her mothers hem to a Redbreast, the Dublin messenger-bird, the reader is absorbed into the world presented and becomes an active participant in its unfolding.     There are moments of brutal perception in ‘A Child at Their Party’ when Willetts describes the scene as ‘from a children’s book written /  by adults for themselves.’ – what a wonderfully heartbreaking observation. One that takes us back to our own childhoods and how we remember them, but also, as children the reminder that we were never on our own authority and that in fact our memories and environments; that we often hold so dear, are merely constructs. Artificial nostalgia created by adults for the adults that they are, that we were to become.     The collection has a sense of loss about it, a sense of being the puppet, but this ‘new light’ shines onto the strings, and although we are the pawn in this big game of life and government it may actually be what we make of the ‘old dark’; of our culture, history and within ourselves that breeds that light.

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