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

In 2009, Glyn Hughes was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, and had recently been granted use of an isolated stone hut in the Ribble Valley - the eponymous Bull-Box - and the, time spent there became an integral part of the healing process and provided the thrust of A Year in the Bull-Box. The stone hut itself is the residuum of deep faith in life; it is a kind of richly ambiguous dwelling-place, both claustrophobic and expansive, tiny and infinite; on the one hand expressing the cramped cubbyhole of the body, on the other the expansiveness of hope and world, light and nature. This is nowhere better expressed in the opening poem of the collection, Bull-Box:

...saw a red backed shrike on the thorns
That are overgrown behind The Bull-Box.
I was immortal then, not seventy but
a lithe, inquisitive
child again.

The anxiety of illness finds redemption in memory, and in the intense immediacy of the physical world, as in Greenfly:

A greenfly sits on the uncomprehended glass
in uncomprehended light where the warmth pours


The poems arc meditations on life (in its relationship with death) that are almost religious in their reach, as in Cyclamens:

Life's purpose seems for this
moment that is entirely itself; is all that I can know - I know.
All life, damned behind,
means nothing but that it led to this.

What marks such writing is the clarity, harnessed by trust in simple utterance, an unashamed hungering after beauty for beauty's sake. The triumph, and the centre of gravity of this collection, is probably Going There on The Long Causeway which, in phases, is reminiscent of R. S. Thomas's evoking of otherness in nature, especially in the stubborn man ...not loved by wife, I suspect, nor children and no wonder. From Thomas, he moves towards Jung, perhaps, in a memorable escalation of purpose and thought:

Even then I could not help thinking that mine was a collective grief,
as small stones together pave a road
and that here seem almost to pave the air [...]

Hughes trusts in simple utterance.