December 14, 2008

Peter Hughes

Peter Hughes [England]

Peter Hughes was born in Oxford in 1956. His mother was born in the Claddach, Galway—an impoverished Catholic ghetto without electricity, running water or sewers, situated outside the city; his father's people came from Redhill, in Surrey.

Hughes went to local comprehensive schools and, for a while, to Sunday school at the convent. For several months it was his ambition, as he writes, "to become the big nun who sang 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' in The Sound of Music." For a couple of years he did a range of disparate jobs (milkman, stagehand, hiring out boats, gardening, landscaping, playing guitar in a bar, building, house renovation) and travelling in Europe—especially around Alpine regions—before going to Cheltenham Art College for a year.

He spent a year in the Isles of Scilly—reading, growing daffs and spuds and shooting rabbits with a Czech shotgun. He took his degree in English, from 1978 to 1981, at what was then the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology. It was in that period that he came across the poets who have influenced him most, including the Americans such as John Ashbery, Tom Waits and Frank O'Hara; and various contemporary European poets and writers closer to home: David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, John James, Barry MacSweeney, Doug Oliver, Peter Riley and John Welch. He particularly liked Pasolini and his description of himself as a Catholic Marxist.

After doing an M.Litt. in Modern Poetry at Stirling, he moved to Italy in the autumn of 1983, living and working there, mainly in Rome, until 1991. For him, he notes " it is still full of more sacred sites than are listed in the guide books, including every stop on the underground."

John Welch published the first of his poems as The Interior Designer's Late Morning in 1983. His Many Press also did Bar Magenta (1986), a book he shared with work by Simon Marsh (who has been based in Milan for over 20 years now). Peter Riley brought out his Odes on St. Cecilia's Day as one of his Poetical Histories in 1990. He published The Metro Poems in 1992 – one poem for each of the stations of the Rome metro. Rod Mengham did two Equipage booklets in 1995: Psyche in the Gargano and Paul Klee's Diary. Andy Brown published Keith Tippet Plays Tonight as a Maquette chapbook in 1999. Salt did Blueroads: Selected Poems in 2003. There were two chapbooks in 2006: Minor Yours, from Oystercatcher Press, and Sound Signals Advising of Presence from infernal methods.

He observes that he has " been lucky enough to be involved in some memorable readings over the years: with David Chaloner, Helen MacDonald and Roger Langley at the Cambridge Conferences of Contemporary Poetry; with bass player Simon Fell at SubVoicive; with guitarist Ron McElroy at the Diorama Gallery; with John Welch, Simon Marsh, Nigel Wheale and Peter Riley on several occasions, in various locations.

"Music, painting and writing have been equally important to me and I tried for years to sustain an active involvement in all those fields, as well as earning a living by teaching. The crunch eventually came in spring 2006: I decided to stuff my paints and instruments in the loft and focus on the writing.

"The results have included The Pistol Tree Poems (a collaboration with Simon Marsh which is ongoing and unfolding on the Great Works website); Berlioz (serialised on Intercapillary Space); Italia (published by Liminal Pleasures); The Sardine Tree (a life of Miró); From the Green Hill (based on the work of veteran jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stanko); and the Shearsman book Nistanimera."

Hughes lives on the Norfolk coast, with his wife Lynn, in a coastguard cottage which is creeping ever closer to the cliff edge; but the views are increasingly breathtaking.


The Interior Designer’s Late Morning (London: Many Press, 1983); Bar Magenta (London: Many Press, 1986); Odes on St. Cecilia’s Day (Cambridge: Poetical Histories, 1990); The Metro Poems (London: Many Press, 1992); Psyche in the Gargano (Cambridge: Equipage, 1995); Paul Klee’s Diary (Cambridge: Equipage, 1995); Keith Tippet Plays Tonight (Beaworthy: Maquette, 1999); Blueroads (Cambridge: Salt, 2003); Sound Signals Advising of Presence (Stromness: infernal methods, 2006); Nistanimera (Exeter: Shearsman, 2007); Berlioz (Colchester: Intercapillary Space, 2007); The Sardine Tree (Hunstanton: Oystercatcher Press, 2008); The Summer of Agios Dimitrios (Exeter: Shearsman, 2009); Selected Poems (Bristol, England: Shearsman Books, 2013);  Allotment Architecture (Hastings, East Sussex, England: Reality Street, 2013); Quite Frankly: After Petrarch's Sonnets (Hastings, East Sussex, England: Reality Street, 2015)

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English


a load of gutted loft insulation
stirs on the front lawn

an airy cake of yellow web & dust

we & the strange house
breathe in slight differences
through late winter nights
that resound to little adaptations
& imagined trespasses

the space above has increased

the January morning is a shallow basket
left by the dustbin
full of snow & brilliant tracks


the chalk stratum glows
between thunder & carrstone

a low tide behind
the sea wind come to life


a chimney unblocked
after 20 years

voices return
from undressed walls

it dawns on us
the oceanic surge through
seconds of disrupted grammar
of the sea wielding sun
to open windows


shifting whispers of sky in the hearth
taste of stale air in cupboards

relative absence of paranoia


sticks of rot & woodworm
feed the reopened hearth

ease this decayed air out of the house &
mouth into the local star gale


the winds walking
waves on the sea

through the carpet
right to the fire

on the horizon
a white citadel


February quarter light & dawn smell
Rustin's Pure Turpentine
150 mil of titanium white
the last smear of indigo
breadcrumbs & linseed oil

the ache of the familiar versus
the ache of the unknown

the day's first oystercatcher lands
facing east


mussel beds sunk under the storm
top of the world whipped headless black

noise as of boxes being shifted
way below or above

hair-dark wind


trudging back off the low-tide mussel beds
a muddy Tesco bag full of late sun
& two pints of living shells

the making tide & blue angels
go about their business as usual

you can walk here so far into the sea
that when you turn around
the land appears
like someone else's and your own idea

Reprinted from Great Works, VI, no. 2 (May 2006)
Copyright ©2006 by Peter Hughes.

The Pistol Tree Poems: 31

Attended by two fallen angels
and an evolving mollusc

in the absence of a nozzle for the old green garden hose
I once again succumb to wrinkled pink thumb cramp
fanning ghostly rainbows at the beans & rhubarb
turning through glistening arcs of soft wet light
towards the disused lighthouse & the west
swooping swags of mist
slowing settle on the seedlings
& the midweek nymphs depart:
diverse birds emerge with expressions like mad pirates
seeking beakable earth after the dry spell
we regard each other sideways
as the sky turns farfetched Catholic mauve
filled with aching Bruckner endlessness
the spacious clarifying dusk sung by the first few evening stars
daily vastation after tea a dry fly cast int the silence
it's been a funny month
I swapped that tarnished tenor sax
for a scuffed black ocean-going canoe
& we found out how much is closed
with the help of new maps including OS Explorer 250
constructed on Transverse Mercato Projecting
Airy Spheroid OSGB (1936) Datum
a deer & her fawn at TF670283
so we stood motionless gently watching each other
breathing like a nature poem
but not he one I wrote yesterday:
alpen/alpen/digraph cluster/I felt sadder/after lunch
maybe I'll change it today as we had bacon
the Omniscient Mussel is relaxin'
in a creased slate-colored shell suit:
wassup purrs the benign bivalve
hi OM I say why have they barricaded Gipsy Green? [TF691424]
the local suits heard the goat-girl was coming replied the mollusc
the lost & visionary goat-girl
with her unsponsored songs of tomorrow
at the end of our walk
we saw the road from the other side

The Pistol Tree Poems: 37

dogs have no pores & polish up well

stitched inflated dog skins
bob upon the water
fixed to nets which drop down deep in darkness
barley sensed boundaries of nothing & knots
4 in the morning & I couldn't brainstorm or sketch
a neckerchief for a ferret
let alone new pastel suits
for the slinky boys of the papal guard
something trundles past the window
no-one says the congestion charge
will keep riff-raff jalopies
out amongst their shacks & ditches
but not much is said these days
build me a cake-stand of Carrara marble
1/4 acre should do it (except at Easter)
it must be delightful to lean 18 stone of aristocratic largesse
on one's elbow & look at the horizon with one's eyebrows
everybody thinks everybody else
know what to think & it's too late to check without sounding thick
easier to buy an apricot poncho
or green rubber duck shoes
just like the ones in the ad
the ones the countess wore last autumn
when the generous sunlight piled gold in every garden
for everyone who could afford a garden
the sun soon goes down
flailing round the cosmos in its brilliant agony
its mad & final conflagration
it's a one-off
a depression of cloud condenses to the west
where the last fish turn & surge towards the nets
those stumpy black buoys glint & tremble in mashed white water
when you touch the boundary
change its shape as much as you can
the dogs are dancing the dogs are dancing

Sunday 30th September

dawn at the end of September
the waning moon loosely moored
in the stirring eucalyptus tree
the constant unfolding of surf
muttering below the scent of jasmine
on which the night's last moths alight
brushing the flower which hardly moves
a touch like breath that's situated here
against the down on your forearm
& then is gone & it's lighter now
a little owl calls across chapel beach
as the light is turned off in the kitchen
four pine needles & their shadows on the rock
the dark nodding mid-morning sea
through the skin of the water
& deeper into another element
entering the ultramarine cave by touch
& in the still shadows of a sultry afternoon
honey slid glistening over figs

(from The Summer of Agios Dimitrios, 2009)

Tuesday 30th October

I got the mosquito with an orange
then I ate the orange: justice is done
in airports the blues is turned to trifle
& because travel makes you really thick
why not buy four kilos of Toblerone
& a bottle of Scotch for eighty quid
the engines start up so do the babies
howling over the lights of Piraeus
then we & the babies are swept up to
twenty-six thousand feet over somewhere
too much like Switzerland for its own good
above the earth in the dark thoughts turn
to Norfolk winter saltmarsh & footpaths
meeting at the edge of Brancaster woods
where colonies of snails roost in the trees
mid-evening over a place like France &
from this height the world is decorated
by humanity with gold & silver
lights of habitation embroidered over
the rich dark cloak of earth with moonlight
flowing down our rivers past the churches
schools & hospital blocks to the lighthouse
poised by the shimmering acres of sea
I foolishly thought that writing this poem
would make happier & it did

(from The Summer of Agios Dimitrios, 2009)

1 comment:

martinRoxArt said...

exciting stuff as always Peter.
glad I found this