“Rúa das Hortas”, watercolour by Val McLoughlin.

“Rúa das Hortas”, watercolour by Val McLoughlin.

Santiago Sketches is a book of short, imagistic poems entirely set in Santiago de Compostela, where the small and the local are revealed to be universal, mirroring the process whereby this small city near Finis Terrae (the end of the earth to the Romans) became central to human patrimony and declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. Since the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus – the first Camino de Santiago guidebook – many books have been written about the paths to Santiago. Santiago Sketches is one of the first book in English about a year in that city to which millions have travelled, but which most arriving pilgrims depart after a brief stay. Here, McLoghlin uses his fluency in Spanish and gallego, and his background as a Hispanist, to capture what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being”, and translate them to us.


Santiago Sketches has the immediacy of a diary kept on the go, and the colour, grace and formal definition of poetry. It’s full of youth, the readiness to explore, learn and play, and the life lived in public spaces that young people share with the “stumbling camp followers” of history. David McLoghlin writes of a church bell, “You can hear the real / rope pull in the ringing”, and his book too is real – like time and place, like near and far and long ago.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin


Santiago Sketches is brimming with sensory snapshots: whether "the richness of reused olive oil" issuing from cheap restaurants or a baker suggesting his customer crunch on the saint’s sugary bone or noting "high heels on marble [clicking past] confession boxes." David McLoghlin reminds the reader of the marvelous reasons to be a tourist, that is, not to merely observe, but experience with all one’s senses.  His poetry pulls us out of familiar routine and into a radiant one. By way of affecting detail and pensive tone, these poems are not mere souvenirs: join McLoghlin in his walk down avenues and alleys.

—Kimiko Hahn, author of Brain Fever

Santiago Sketches is a gift-box brimming with luminous local details of a loved place through which--over a space of nine months--the poet moves like a pilgrim of the senses, offering in poem after poem what’s been seen, felt, smelled, heard; what’s been touched, tasted, and understood: Flap of a pigeon’s wing...  A dark-eyed girl in purple slippers... an angel raises a star/ among the horses… At the fountain, the junkies/ washing their needles. What McLoghlin has composed in this adventurous new collection is a scrupulously tolerant anatomy of Santiago, a religious, secular, open-eyed, warts-and-all love letter to a city where he—a stranger—managed for a little, unforgettable while to make himself at home.

—Eamon Grennan, author of There Now

Thankfully, we have McLoghlin’s perseverance and “eye work” that have given us, in these poems, an outsider’s / insider’s view. Instead of photographs, we have photowords. These poems are ethereal, worked-on but not overworked, slightly-controlled reactions to what caught his eye. These sketches, or searchings, are better than any tourist guide. The information is precise, accurate and loyal to people and place. You could do worse than go to Santiago with these poems in your pocket to guide you. They are the stuff of a poet’s pilgrimage, homages to a place that helped him to grow and to complete some of that dialogue with himself and the other. Is not this what the camino is all about.

—John Liddy, author of The Secret Heart of Things