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Review: A Year in the Bull-Box, by Glyn Hughes

The blurb for Glyn Hughes' A Year in the Bull-Box stresses that the collection was written at least partly as a description of his healing process after being diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. The booklet is divided into seasons and lovingly detailed descriptions of nature characterise much of the poetry. There is a remarkable study of and appreciation of the beauty of cows in Two Heifers:

I am half asleep in their field,
one part Ayrshire, patched brown,
one Friesian, stumble across their meadow,
fumble out of the aeons
with what grace has been granted by humans...

This puts the scene in a context of history and the universe, slightly reminiscent of Thomas Hardy's approach to nature. It continues with affectionate closely-observed detail:

...She continues to stroke with her strong, dark tongue.
She rasps the long face, cheek and eyes,
their peat brown beauty running with the damage of flies
still hovering over her knotted brow...

Elsewhere he celebrates the beauty of flowers, entering into a depth of experience:

Hedgerows are pricked with the lights of roses
of such incandescence that they seem to burst
into fire and lose substance...


Then all seems a harmony of the spheres
in a green light (which is the grasses' part),
honoured by fading stars)

Flowers give the light back in cups of beauty.
They recompense the dark
and bandage the damaged soul.

from Flowers

This is talent of a high order and the beauty and originality of the poetry speaks for itself.

Unlike many collections following cancer treatment, there is not a diary of or description of these experiences. Night in the Cancer Ward while describing his feelings, also interests itself in dreams and other patients on the ward:

the bedside lamp, my spectacles, glass of water,
watch laid by, a stack of books;
and pain reliably hunting...
Angrily, in his mother tongue, the old Ukrainian
mutters in his sleep. (Of death camps?)...
Deep in the wards, a telephone rings,
One limps to the bathroom
dragging his apparatus linked to the ante-room of death...

Glyn Hughes returns to an image of nature outside the ward:

...Nature goes off by herself, dancing,
too youthful for an interest in age and death.
I see through the window the flash other green foot...