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Pennine Way by Glyn Hughes

Reviewed by Elaine Connell

Reading and making notes for this review of Glyn Hughes’ new seven part poem Pennine Way gave me one of the most mentally stimulating afternoons I’ve had for some time. Whilst it is written in a simple style and uses relatively easy language, it has several layers of meaning which lead the reader into speculation and reflection about not only the Calder Valley but also the nation.

Hughes writes about a hike taken along the Pennine Way. It is both the story of an actual journey along part of the spine of England and a gently mocking social commentary on a country where “would-be toffs” , “over-wealthy teenagers” and “drivers”, “clawing through sputum” control the fog ridden: “drenched, offshore island.”

We don’t usually associate “serious” poetry with humour but there are some delightful touches of comedy such as the poet finding “Charlotte Bronte’s Book of Jokes” and “Fun With Your Publisher” by Carmen Callil being his “bedside reading”.

Also amusing is the announcement that the poet’s:
“ex-wife, it is rumoured,
has joined the paramilitary wing of the Quakers.”

as is his conjecture about the UFO activity about Todmorden “down there lost in its darkness”.

What dominates this poem, however, is the Pennine setting itself. The landscape is a rather larger character, far more alive and possibly more important than the people, including the poet himself who, in a poignant image in Part 4 of the work, describes himself and all others as: “but ripples in eternity.”

Nature is obviously as living a force to Hughes as it was for Wordsworth. We can easily compare Hughes’ imaginative immersion in this part of West Yorkshire with Wordsworth’s relationship with the Lake District. The poem also has the same Wordsworthian sense of the sacred quality of Creation which is portrayed in a series of striking, evocative, highly sensual images which seem deeply rooted in the Calder Valley’s past, present and future.

This poem is part of the Romantic tradition of the personal narrative which moves from the individual experience to make universal observations about society and human nature. Indeed Hughes himself seems to appreciate that he is taking on the bardic role favoured by some of the Romantic poets:

“If I sound like that chap spouting the history of an
ancient people who lived faraway - …
that might be nearer the truth than you’d imagine.”

And in true bardic custom he offers the vision that we can “save ourselves” by “trespass on learning, trespass on the moor.”

Elaine Connell

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