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This review is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Cover of Angel Hill
Sue LeighSalvaging Snail Shells: Take One

Michael Longley, Angel Hill (Cape Poetry) £10.00
Angel Hill, Michael Longley’s latest collection, inhabits territory that will be familiar to those who know his poetry. The wild landscape of Carrigskeewaun – the poet’s rural home in County Mayo, which he has known and loved for fifty years – and those darker histories that continue to haunt him: the Great War (remembering particularly his father and the boy soldiers), the Irish Troubles, Homeric Greece. But there is also a new landscape in this book – that of Lochalsh in the Western Highlands – and it is here that the poet’s painter-daughter Sarah lives, under the hill that gives the book its name. Longley describes this as a peaceable place, a soul-landscape.

It is to Angel Hill that Sarah goes to paint with her ‘big sheets and charcoal for drawing / Snowdrop cumulus and lichen lettering’. It is also the place where the snowdrops grow, ‘wintry love- / Tokens for tommies home from the trenches’. Boundaries blur like this in Longley’s work, histories reimagined in familiar landscapes. Rosemary Garvey’s donkeys in Connemara for example recall Homer’s comparison of Ajax to a donkey. In an elegy for Seamus Heaney, Longley remembers driving around the North with Heaney chanting Great War songs.

There are elegies too for victims of the Troubles. Longley is keen to make sure individual lives are not forgotten, remembering the victims by name. The poet responds with profound tact to this most challenging of subjects and is acutely aware of the artist’s responsibility not to trespass on the suffering and ...


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