Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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No Need for Candles, David J. CostelloJacket of pamphlet which is a kind of deep mossy green, with the author's name in bright yellow small caps centred in the middle of the jacket. In the top third, the title of the pamphlet is in lower case, slightly left of centre, with the top line (No Need) indented more than 'for Candles'. The title is lower case and much bigger than author's name. Below it, very small, in white italics is POEMS. At the very bottom of the pamphlet, centres in white and very small caps, is the name of the press.

Red Squirrel Press, 2017  £6.00

Subtle palette

The first thing that struck me about this pamphlet was the colours on its cover: an olive background is lit by yellow-gold and white lettering. Turning to the poems, my enjoyment of this subtle palette continues – and of those two colours (white and yellow) in particular.

In the poem ‘Tan y Graig’, Costello writes:

We could have gone
to Malaga or Tenerife.
A new apartment, swimming pool and sun,
but I preferred the cottage.

Why? Because the ‘wet and windswept land’ seems to this writer to have provided ‘all the colour’ needed, and now, looking back, seems even ‘brighter’. He’s right: the experiences these poems describe – the Welsh slate paths they walk and re-walk – are intensely vivid, against their backdrop of rain, and then lit by his paler hues.

The first poem in the book, ‘Candlelight’, I think describes a man’s love for his wife. It’s distinctive and strange, describing his ‘Cocooning her’ in a mind-map.

He could only read her by candlelight,
When her skin’s waxy scars revealed themselves

Then, further down:

But moonlight is whitewash 

I like the way each mention introduces a different texture: wax, whitewash. The next poem, ‘Moth’, is perhaps my favourite – and the moth it describes has ‘floury wings’. Here’s its opening stanza:

Drawing the curtains dislodged it.
Now it bothers me at night.
The whirr of its wings.
Its little thermals bristling
the stubble on my face.
The way it nuzzles into dreams.

Whether tracking loss, memory or love – of people and place – this ghostly-lit palette recurs. There are, for instance, ‘cloudy pearls’, a ‘yellow smile’ (‘Nan’); ‘a belt of buttercups’ (‘Growing Up’); and the poet writes of being ‘Sheathed’ in the new moon’s ‘dull dissolve’ (‘Canrig Bwt’). The effect is cumulative, for me – so, these alabaster saucers, when I meet them in ‘Welsh Dresser’ (quoted here in full), acquire an almost supernatural power. I like this short poem:

Once a week she cleaned the Welsh Dresser
Moving each alabaster saucer in turn
Like dials on an ancient machine
Programming time to a standstill.

Charlotte Gann