Book Review

Review – Tongues of Fire by Sean Hewitt


In this collection, Seán Hewitt gives us poems of a rare musicality and grace. By turns searing and meditative, these are lyrics concerned with the matter of the world, its physicality, but also attuned to the proximity of each moment, each thing, to the spiritual. 

Here, there is sex, grief, and loss, but also a committed dedication to life, hope and renewal. Drawing on the religious, the sacred and the profane, this is a collection in which men meet in the woods, where matter is corrupted and remade. There are prayers, hymns, vespers, incantations, and longer poems which attempt to propel themselves towards the transcendent. 

In this book, there is always the sense of fragility allied with strength, a violence harnessed and unleashed. The collection ends with a series of elegies for the poet’s father: in the face of despair, we are met with a fierce brightness, and a reclamation of the spiritual. ‘This is when / we make God, and speak in his voice.’

Paying close attention to altered states and the consolations and strangeness of the natural world, this is the first book from a major poet.

My Review:

“Even if the prince himself led me

through halls banked with riches,

I’d rather sleep in a dark tree-hollow

with you, my husband, if you’d let me.

If all the men of Ireland and of Scotland

stood undressed in a line before me,

I’d choose to stay here with you

and live on water and on watercress.”

Tongues of Fire by Sean Hewitt was the second shortlisted book and also the second poetry collection I read for this year’s Young Writer of the Year award. Oh my goodness, I am just wow… I feel like that’s what I have been saying all the way through. Wow.

Tongues of Fire is a collection of poems that transform our views of the world through nature, beliefs and emotions. Each poem touches upon different themes, love, sexuality, masculinity, madness, loss, grief and peace. The beauty of all Sean Hewitt’s poems lays in the quietness, the gentleness and the greatness of all that will be, all that can be and all that will never be.

My favourite poem in this collection is Buile Suibhne. The way Sean Hewitt translated this ancient tale was incredibly haunting. The longing, the loneness and the madness! It was so affecting. But it was the last poem that got me in tears. I won’t say much more as it is extremely personal but It hit too close to home.

I just want to congratulate Sean for this stunning debut collection. Wow two books in and I am already in a pickle as to how am I ever going to pick a winner for this year’s award?! They are incredible!

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