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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.


As with previous collections, Snow Water is fastidiously made. The poems, like the poet's favourite themes - war, elegy, love, friendship, nature, art - melt into each other. The verse is, as always, immaculately cadenced and humane in its responses and perspectives; the poet's voice as ever emphasises a need for vigilance and restraint (a Longley poem that has lost all self-control is quite unimaginable). 'Poetry,' as Longley has said, 'is mainly about putting the right word in the right place' (Poetry Ireland Review). In other words, poetry is about composure, with all that word's attendant meanings.

One way of retaining composure is through ceremony. And just as in The Weather in Japan (2000), with its Zen wisdom and poems as tight as haiku, in Snow Water Longley continues to import the exquisite formalities of oriental culture into an Irish setting. In his 'wee transcendental mountain cottage' in Mayo, the poet lives a scrumptious life. Overdosing on 'jasmine tea and/ moon cakes' ('Moon Cakes'), he takes a self-effacing delight, as in the title poem, in delectable brands of tea: 'favourites include Clear/ Distance and Eyebrows of Longevity'. But ceremony in Snow Water also has a more solemn function. In 'Sleep & Death', for instance, we are trans-ported to the Trojan wars, to observe the preparation of Sarpedon's corpse; the body is washed in 'running water', preserved in oil, wrapped in 'imperishable fabrics' ...

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