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New Light for the Old Dark by Sam Willetts

New Light for the Old Dark

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Shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award 2010.

Costa Book Awards 2010 Judges' comment: "A remarkable first collection by any standard - very moving, utterly gripping and not a false note."

Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry 2010.

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Shortlisted for the Forward prize for Best First Collection as well as the 2010 T S Eliot Prize, New Light for the Old Dark is an unusually late debut, presumably because Sam Willetts (born in 1962) lost 10 years to heroin. Even more unusually, addiction is not the sole subject of his book, but rather one of several elements – along with the Second World War, his Jewishness and his mother's wartime escape from Poland – that form a loose-leafed autobiography.

The thumbnail sketches of dead junkies and people on the point of departure, visits to cemeteries and snapshots of a cleansed ghetto and Nagasaki the instant before the bomb, make for a haunted atmosphere.

For all that, New Light for the Old Dark is not lugubrious, and Willetts' conservative treatment of charged material not only avoids sensationalism but also delivers quietly affecting moments.


New Light for the Old Dark by Sam Willetts

The poems in this remarkable first collection have been hard won: 'Fruits of much grief they are,' as Donne said, 'emblems of more.' Having lost ten years to heroin addiction and recovery, Sam Willetts emerges now - suddenly, and apparently from nowhere - as a fully-fledged and significant English poet. In a book deeply conscious of history, one series of poems tracks his mother's escape, as a young girl, from the Nazis, in a narrative that moves from a Stuka attack on the Smolensk Road to the Krakow ghetto, the destruction of Warsaw, to Nuremberg and Nagasaki and, finally, his mother's grave. Other poems address Englishness, secular Jewishness, and the childhood pleasures of Oxfordshire - an increasingly deceptive pastoral, stalked and eventually shattered by heroin, which brings a grim new existence among dealers and users. The redemption the poet finds, through detox and rehab, love and writing, is full of regret for the years and lives wasted, but also offers a lyrical rebirth of the senses: 'In a new light, a new moon/ that isn't made of scorched tinfoil/will turn your tide again'. Deft, economical and wonderfully original, this is work that celebrates the peaks and troughs of a lived life, the poems' vivid clarity feeling both fresh and fully earned. It is rare to find an unknown poet of such mature quality, and New Light for the Old Dark represents a brilliant dawning.

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Sam Willetts has been through fire and come back, with his own improbable cantor's quorum ready-assembled around him: mystic, junkie, dealer, truant child, Holocaust survivor, son, lover, brother - he is able to make them all sing, in poems of such fluency and force, such holy fortuity of phrasing, they make us want to celebrate even as they make us mourn. A natural like few others -- Henry Shukman This letter is sheer poetry to the bard of no fixed abode * Sunday Times interview *

About the Author

Sam Willetts

Sam Willetts was born in 1962 and has spent most of his life in Oxford, where he read English at Wadham College, and in London. He has worked as a teacher, journalist and travel writer.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st April 2010


Sam Willetts

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Jonathan Cape Ltd an imprint of CCV


72 pages


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