About Peter Hughes
I was born in Oxford in 1956. My mother was born in the Claddach, Galway—an impoverished Catholic ghetto without electricity, running water or sewers, situated outside the city. My father’s people came from Redhill, in Surrey. I went to local comprehensive schools and, for a while, to Sunday school at the convent. For several months it was my ambition to become the big nun who sang ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ in The Sound of Music. I had a couple of years doing 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.
I spent a year in the Isles of Scilly—reading, growing daffs and spuds and shooting rabbits with a Czech shotgun. I did a degree in English, from 1978 to 1981, at what was then the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology. It was in that period that I came across the poets who have influenced me most. These included Americans such as Ashbery, Tom Waits and O’Hara; 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. And countless more, of course. I particularly liked Pasolini and his description of himself as a Catholic Marxist.
After doing an M.Litt. in Modern Poetry at Stirling, I moved to Italy in the autumn of 1983. I lived and worked there until 1991, mainly in Rome. For me it is still full of more sacred sites than are listed in the guide books, including every stop on the underground.
John Welch published my first poems as The Interior Designer’s Late Morning in 1983. His Many Press also did Bar Magenta (1986): half of the poems were mine; half were by Simon Marsh (who has been based in Milan for over 20 years now). Peter Riley brought out my Odes on St. Cecilia’s Day as one of his Poetical Histories in 1990. Then the Many Press 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.
I’ve 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.
I live on the Norfolk coast, with my wife Lynn, in a coastguard cottage which is creeping ever closer to the cliff edge. The views are increasingly breathtaking.
“Petrarch wrote over three hundred sonnets & the following twenty poems are English versions of what have become known, in my head, as The Second Batch. This group consists of his sonnets 27 – 46.”
Apollo, s’ancor vive il bel desio
in meteoric lines that slit the sky
wrote notes in dark fecundity
looming under Cassiopeia
I invoke the idea of Apollo
I invoke the idea of a poem as
perpetual enactment of pursuit
of passion of flight forever turning
into your damp cavern & formation
as living light changes this appearance
surfaces through you-tube & saliva
mouthing inclusive preliminaries
we are joining ground into night once again
via the grace of imagined movements
through air & all is increasingly clear
Io temo sí de’ begli occhi l’assalto
well I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch
with you & me & most forms of the social
for what is it now time escapes me &
on I jog while ducking my own thoughts
like a dyspraxic boxer on acid
or Hercules chugging through the under
growth clawing the shirt of madness from his back
we all want to wipe the world’s hard-drive clean
at times & they’re the ones which drive us
to distraction & death & the end of the line
it’s her eyes that I can’t come to terms with
their stirring stellar nurseries do me in
ways & means I can’t elucidate this
overdue message to you & heavens
S’amore o morte non dà qualque stroppio
if love or death don’t fuck it up
by making me a mumbling imbecile
another gormless poetry muppet
or just a corpse chilling down the Co-op
I’ll polish off this amazing sequence
which will be classy but bang up to date
& could find acclaim as far away as
Norwich or the rougher parts of Cambridge
but you need to let me have my books back
I can’t get on without the old masters
Italian English & American
I don’t need all the academic cack
but I need my Dantes & O’Haras
my James both Rileys & Ted Berrigan
Il figliuol di Latona avea già nove
she’s out of circulation for a week
& alas the cosmos goes cold turkey
all the fauna & flora & people
are helping the gods & small particles
look in & behind the hedges & clouds
for even the ghost of a hope of a glimpse
of where she’d parked her numinous aura
but the windows & mirrors stay empty
we all twitch & itch with desperation
as insects scuttle round the insides
of our skulls & prospects for the weekend
biochemical regulation cascade
in the absence of platonic tablets
will the sky ever open again
Se mai foco per foco non si spense
try putting out fire with gasoline
or turning water-cannon on a flood
fucking in support of virginity
shooting troops to protest against the war
gluttony cannot be cured with cheesecake
or alcoholism with Guinness
reality will not prevent dreaming
a glimpse of the facts will not cure love
we have so much in common I love you
or we don’t therefore opposites attract
I can’t have it both ways & so I do
both feet pressed hard to the floor
handbrake on & a roaring in my ears
the shuddering shouting this will not end well
from Regulation Cascade (Oystercatcher Press, 2012).
Order Regulation Cascade.
Read an interview with Peter by Aaron Game.
Visit Peter’s Shearsman Books author page.
Visit Peter’s website.