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This review is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

TENUOUS BALANCES PETER HUGHES, Nistanimera (Shearsman) £8.95 / $15.00

in the bloodcurdling month of May
when cells & hearts were bursting
my cardboard box was turned
entirely inside out


The cardboard box may be classed as bathetic or possibly flippant but it is not intrusive and does not undermine the lyrical intensity; in fact it is as serious as the cell or the heart or the month of May. It may be a figure for an emotive capacity, the personal 'heart', or it may be perfectly factual; we can take it as both without losing the poem's impetus. It is the rhythm and lineation which do this of course, the stress donated to 'entirely' as a substantial word gained across the enjambement. This is typical of the way Peter Hughes personalises and modernises the Romantic lyric mode of address, blending into it the stratum of practical everyday living with its hassles and clutter, and the conversational speaking voice. He plays with the inheritance of the European love poem as a renewal of it, sometimes seeming to undermine it and then folding it back into his purpose, as in the second half of the same poem -

in the unearthly month of May
when birds stumble under hedgerow plants
my heart unfurled
like a hedgehog in a pile of dry leaves
which she approached with Swan Vestas


The situation is particularly clear here, the first poem of the set 'Dichterliebe', based on Schumann's settings ...


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