A tin of Troy: Two from Peter Hughes


Peter Hughes: Minor Yours
Oystercatcher Press: 4 Coastguard Cottages, Lighthouse Close, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk PE36 6EL
[12pp. Pub. 2006, £3, ISBN 1-905885-008]

Peter Hughes: Sound Signals Advising Presence
Infernal Methods / Thule: Quoybow, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3JU
[17pp. Pub. 2006, £3]

Reviewed by Abena Sutherland

'Minor Yours' takes this dark swinging tune – Chet Baker on trumpet – and turns it to a note-book ballad of political refuge, "ti ki ti ki ti ki ti ki".

a trickle of coal dust
down an outhouse wall
The notes of an exiled trumpeter? Heart or soul in his mouth, which is itself hoarded nearby,

I've buried a spare & battered
mouthpiece taped up in a plastic bag
in a field on the outskirts of town
each note an "inner vapour trail". Too much in public, when private life is fled. The trumpeter is "waiting around for a computer" at the library. Leaps of – but are they association? Is the trumpeter a wander-artist?

the mind never clearing except
to arrange its core as a clearing
'Sound Signals Advising of Presence', published at the same time, is full of much shorter poems, often in small sequences (such as 'Oystercatcher' which you can read here at Great Works.) The leaps are more playful. Music is joined by the sea and by many birds.

the progression
whether in fourths
fifths of flagons
achieves its ends
by spiralling up & around

to find itself covering the same ground
          at a higher level
with a finer view
but less sure
about the colour
     of the front door

('From the Green Hill' 2)
Many poems read as if they describe a painting we can't see, and perhaps the painting is a visualised poem. Characteristically, the fanciful becomes diagrammatic:

& before the birds rise, & tide withdraws,
you realize the tide is always high,
the great wish of sea, reaching for the moon,
staying constant as the Earth turns through it.

(from 'Landing')
A blue circle and an earth circle and a moon circle. There is a finely honed offhandedness which is also found, most immediately and appositely, in Ralph Hawkins' work. There is also an aestheticism of a casual kind,

the winds walking
waves on the sea

through the carpet
right to the fire

on the horizon
a white citadel

('Oystercatcher' 6)
The idea of a space cleared in the middle of - a life? - recurs, "garden surrounded by darkness". The sequences in 'Sound Signals' and the poem of 'Minor Yours' slide in noted details, seemingly uncentred, until you see at a certain point that the thing is concave, and in the middle, quite probably, is "a roasted peanut / that's not as firm as it used to be", or else it's a detention centre or the threat of one.

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