Sundry sonnets (unsugared)

Regulation Cascade, Peter Hughes (24pp, £5.00, Oystercatcher)

In some well-appointed corner of Paradise, if indeed Paradise has corners, Francesco Petrarca, a.k.a. Petrarch, may be boggling at Peter Hughes' cheerfully and engagingly free translations of twenty of his sonnets. Keeping to the 14-line form and spraying the decasyllabic bullseye on the metrical target with a certain wayward consistency, Hughes performs some small miracles of resuscitation and repurposing, ransacking contemporary culture and landscapes more East Anglian than Southern European for his workshop materials. His nimbleness sometimes takes him into delightfully outlandish places - the sonnet beginning 'Orso, e' non furan mai fiumi né stagni ' ('Orso, there was never a river or a pool', Orso being both the name of an aristocratic host and the Italian word for 'bear') is launched with:

     Bear Grylls agrees - just as a waterproof
     lightweight two-man tent with integrated
     mozzie-net & sewn-in groundsheet is not
     the best location for a bonfire

     so the world cannot accommodate my love
            (from 'Orso, e' non furan mai fiumi né stagni ')

Though the purist may already be tutting, or even sobbing in a corner with thumb in mouth, others will find the results of Hughes' freedom of association consistently thrilling. Petrarch's trademark strings of paradoxes become downhill slaloms that just brush cliché:

     gluttony cannot be cured with cheesecake
     or alcoholism with Guinness
     reality will not prevent dreaming
     a glimpse of the facts will not cure love.
               (from 'Se mai foco per foco non si spense')

Unquestionably, the sleep of humanism still produces monsters too:

     even nasty bastards have a soft side
     Mussolini collected toy meerkats
     Michael Gove licks his snake to sleep each night
     George Bush whispered to bricks Pol Pot liked dogs
             (from 'Que' che 'n Tesaglia ebbe le man sí pronto')

Perhaps some of Petrarch's
trecento elegance goes missing in the process, but not the notes of feeling to which Petrarch directed his flow of invention and which, genuine or not, came to mark the sonnet form. Suffering and constancy in love - how the two twined together in the DNA of European poetry! Petrarch's Laura is said to have been married to an ancestor of the Marquis De Sade...

     but however bleak & god-forsaken
     this place is - however wild & goosebumped -
     I never find myself distant from love
           (from 'Solo e pensoso i più desert campi')

If you like the sound of this, I understand that more segments of Hughes' enterprise are to be published by Like This Press and Red Ceilings Press, and I'll certainly be checking them out. It seems that this could a rich seam for Hughes for some time to come - after all, there are more than 300 sonnets by Petrarch just waiting...

           © Alasdair Paterson 2013