Skip to main content

“Bethesda Constellations” by Peter Hughes

Steve Spence

“Bethesda Constellations” by Peter Hughes, pub. Oystercatcher. 28pp.

I love Peter Hughes’ poetry which fuses the personal with the political with an ongoing relish for language which so often brings a smile to my face. These poems are mostly geographically located in Wales, his new home I believe and combine a love of place with a love of words in a conversational tone (an inner conversation, that is) which reminds me more than ever of the late John James. In fact Hughes has included another ‘in memoriam’ poem ‘At Red Wharf Bay’ which features the moving lines: ‘I remember all the stories / about contacting the dead /good afternoon to you too John / wherever you may be.’

 

In ‘Georgic’ (for George Economou) Hughes plays with his knowledge of form – ‘it’s been a long time since the Georgics / George but of course it’s always next season’s  / away fixtures sneaking through the sentence / that occupy the fleeting sunlit glimpses / disappearing at the far end of the mind’s garden centre as someone said in Rome…  .’ There’s an easy going lyrical beauty to this writing which is so filled with humour and is pleasure-driven in a way which puts all the nasty politics in its place. This gets even better with the later line – ‘tapping my foot to your Nashvillanelle’ (tipping my cap to a villanelle, perhaps? – the poem has nineteen lines) which so easily crosses cultural boundaries and puns in a way which is slightly reminiscent of Denise Riley (‘Joseph Cotton Reel’ for example). This almost deserves the description ‘slapstick’ but it’s all so light and breezy, filled with life and variety and such a pleasure to read and it all slips down so easily.

 

 The poems ‘March, ‘April’ and ‘May’, according to the end notes, relate to a series of poems in collaboration with Elena Rivera, based around their joint response to Tchaikovsky. Each of these short poems is formally different and look so on the page in a manner which emphasises the visual aspect of the text without being remotely ‘concrete.’ Here’s ‘April’ in full:

 

          April

 

          so everybody’s backing up

          & burying their cheeses

 

          some night’s it’s harder

          to decide

 

          die behind a skip

 

                   or dance in front of thousands

          to Tchaikovsky

 

The group titles suggest this may be a sort of ‘diary form’ written under the duress of ‘lockdown’ and all the other disasters besetting us just now. The opening reference to ‘burying their cheeses,’ reminded me, rightly or wrongly, of Pepys’ cheese-burying tactic during the Fire of London, a suggestion which is heightened by the reference to ‘fire’ in the previous poem. There is a suggestion of political oppression (again from the previous poem – ‘the king is in his armoured counting house’) and the overall mix of a taut lyricism with the resisting euphoria of music and a hint towards the title (‘Bethesda Constellations’) with ‘Hubble ultra deep field images’ from ‘May,’ provide a richness which you can work away at and savour at the same time.

 

There’s plenty more to engage with in this short and enticing collection, including some unexpected references to British motorbikes in ‘Pascoli in Gwynedd’ and numerous mentions of food which substantiate Hughes’ relish for the good things, another ‘John James trope,’ an opposition to all the bad stuff and the bad politics which we are currently living through. Fantastic!

 

 

 

Copyright © Steve Spence, 2020

Popular posts from this blog

Review - High and Lonesome: Three Books: Crozier, Prynne, James

Andrew Duncan High and Lonesome : Three Books: John James, Striking the Pavilion of Zero, J.H. Prynne, High Pink on Chrome ; Andrew Crozier, High Zero (Shearsman, 2021; edited Ian Brinton)  The reason why these three books from 1975-6 and 1978 are being republished together is straightforward. Crozier had named a work High Zero , and when I interviewed him in 2003 he conceded that it referred to High Pink and Striking the Pavilion of Zero , and that he had used lines from those two works as keys to develop the High Zero poems from. Publication together allows one to read across and recover a part of the composition process. High Zero was published in 1978, later than the two poems it is a response to. The founding moment is The English Intelligencer , in which all three of these poets took part. This was an attempt to recapitulate the development of Charles Olson, up to about 1950; he was seen as both the continuator of Pound and as having thought profoundly about geography. T

Essay - Whatever Happened to the Poetry Manifesto?

MARTIN STANNARD WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE POETRY MANIFESTO? Recently I tried writing an essay that had the working title 'Why the Meaning of a Poem is the Last Thing You Should Think About'. I felt like I had something to say. It began like this: I can't help but remember what my old angling tutor used to say: “Be careful when you open a can of worms." Of course, he didn’t say any such thing, and I never had an angling tutor, but writers, and perhaps especially poets, can say anything and get away with it, because . . . Actually, I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure if it's true. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And I'm not sure about that, either. I think it's probably best if we accept a certain degree of uncertainty and subjectivity and other words that suggest everything is open to argument and get on with this. Just because something is open to argument doesn't mean it's wrong. Later (about 3000 words later) I decided I was on to a loser.

Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press) In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof , a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...c hurning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’ Power’s companion on the