Sometimes I think poetry is a small world- there are the legends, of course- Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney – and the modern greats – Armitage,Carol Ann Duffy,James Nash and after them there’s us – the wannabes and has-beens who keep on struggling to produce something that is better than mediocre. You rarely get a poet who comes out of nowhere and blows your socks off.
David Hughes, however, is such a poet. He taught English Literature in York from 1975 to 1991 – a career ended with a climbing accident in which a friend and colleague died.PTSD put an end to his teaching career, though not his writing.
His life became intertwined with a troubled young man (also called David) who was also a writer and poet. The two of them became a writing team – Young Dave and Old Dave. In 2008 Young Dave was sent to prison for an assault and sent poems to David Hughes for comment for comment. ” Young David and I,” he wrote, “wish them to be attributed to both of us.” A lot of his later writing is part of this project.
What does he write about ? Climbing and landscape figure in the early work, and he writes with immediacy and verve.
“Ice across our faces till our breaths begin to freeze
into our hoods, snow goggles glaze, becoming masks
Of plated frost, and compass needles disappear
He writes about war, including a stunning response to Edward Thomas’s ” Adlestrop.”
His technique is unobtrusive, controlled,making the structure reflect the meaning.
Without doubt his best work comes from the collaboration with Young Dave. In one of the prison poems – ” things I miss” -Dave (Which one ? Does it matter?) writes ” the smell of traffic in a queue” and ” the touchdown hiss of settling snow on leaves.”
Look at that last line again…isn’t it perfect ?
The two most successful poems reference the Bible,and the division of souls into sheep and goats.They examine the nature of charity. If you do something good, something charitable, should you be praised for it ? If you receive charity, should you be grateful ? Or is charity something that just happens – an exchange of energy between two souls ? These are poems which leave an echo.
“Ex Libris” is the first hardback from Valley Press. It is beautifully produced, with head and tail bands, and even a ribbon marker.
There’s a man’s life here, and his thoughts, and David Hughes is a man worth listening to.
You can buy it here: