Life Sentences | James McGonigal
James McGonigal’s poetry has been gathered from the 1990s onwards in pamphlets and full collections. Life Sentences is his third from Red Squirrel Press. His prose work has included literary anthologies, criticism, biography and letters, as well as professional studies in language and literacy. Born in Dumfries in 1947, he now lives north-east of Glasgow.
‘In its grace, in its slow, thoughtful and wise cadences, Life Sentences is not only the perfect antidote to our rushed times, it tilts the reader into an unknown and slightly unsettling world of the poet’s fabulation. There is a quiet masterful felicity of language here, at once compassionate with a refreshing clear-eyed European sensibility at work, reminiscent of Jaan Kaplinski, of Pentti Saarikoski, yet clearly and movingly steering its own course, being its own phenomenon in McGonigal’s elegant and questioning words.’
‘Even the title—Life Sentences—reveals this poet’s deft touch with serious matters: for if life imposes heavy sentences on us, then words, sentences, poetry, can also offer life. His writing is mysterious but it sparkles with illumination too, whether listening to the botanical world, or to the resonance of the past (he lives beside the Antonine Wall), or to fellow poets such as Hugh MacDiarmid, George Mackay Brown, Gerard Manley Hopkins or Les Murray, whose presences rise up so compellingly here. McGonigal’s eye for the unexpected ensures that Life Sentences brims over with moments of vision, beautiful and unsettling, that go on lingering in the reader’s mind.’
‘His poems are “economical with the truth” in a good way. He wastes no words, and takes such care of the ones he uses that you have to read with similar care to feel the weight of their meaning. These poems are gentle yet precise, quiet yet accurate. They have both mystery and clarity, are personal but open to the reader’s own concerns and reflections—a two-way process, as the best of poetry always is. Above all, McGonigal keeps the light of human sympathy glowing in the darkness.’
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