Peter Hughes

Picture of Author Peter Hughes
Photo by Beryl Riley.

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About the author

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 (some of whom I heard read at the Cambridge Poetry Festival—who was it who had just died?

A translator read his poems then brought on a tape-recorder, pressed play, then walked into the dark wings as the poet's voice occupied the empty stage); 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 Tippett 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 has since been collected in a Shearsman edition in 2011); 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 books Nistanimera, The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and Selected Poems.

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.

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