A review of Peninsula by Trevor Hewett

Hewett observes and writes about those things which others tend to ignore, and allows the close, and very quiet perspective he takes to reveal its own meaning, without judgement or fanfare. This is an easy to read, and tenderly chosen collection which will open no wounds, but perhaps a few doors, encouraging the reader to also look closely at the world around us in silent reverence. It is both a tribute to the harsh beauty of the southernmost part of England, as well as a tribute to nature and the clarity of solitude in general.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Peninsula: Selected Poems
By Trevor Hewett
Independence Jones
Guerilla Press Division
www.independencejones.com
2005, In print ($12.95 incl. postage)+ ebook ($3.00)

The forty poems that make up Trevor Hewett’s third collection f poetry, Peninsula are all set in the south of England, generally in Cornwall. The poetic voice is a quiet one, looking for epiphany in the most familiar and common of imagery–tides, a seagull standing in the wind, a sunset, or the daily observations of an estuary. The reader follows the poet as he takes a walking tour so regular its familiarity is passed onto the reader, who begins to adopt the silent, detailed way of looking at the natural world as if it contained a key to understanding the self:

Sculpted by the water, wind
re-formed each day, and yet
this shaled bend

remains the same, in essence,
and as near to permanent
as anything we’ll see. (“Old: Cargreen, River Tamar“)

In this animistic perspective of the world, there are answers everywhere, except in the man-made prisons of insurance buildings, “pine-panelled” offices, empty dinner party small talk, or in the pollution of train yards. There is plenty of human action, but instead of being the central focus, the slow lunch of an elderly couple, the vitality of schoolgirls, the daily mechanisms of an immigrant, or the clipped conversation of the poet and a fisherman take on the circular rhythm of the natural world, taking place in a flurry of animal-like activity with its momentary change of light, and then disappearing:

the land absorbs us,
we alter it with our presence.

Then, after a time
it seeps into us, lodges there,
mutates and improves us,
fills us with its stillness,
strength, its variousness;

its unbearable beauty.(“Fisherman: Looe River, Cornwall“)

There are no flashy metaphors or purple passages in this work. The imagery remains soft, teasing out its meaning through observation rather than juxtaposition, with the denouement of each poem revealed through the silence that invariably follows description. Nearly all of the poems end on this silence; a silence which swells, the silence of an empty sky, the silence of oblivion, and finally, the ultimate silence of the grave, where the “quiet man” has chosen his own plot, from which he will return to the earth he has been watching so closely. There is much of beauty in Hewett’s poetry though, and quiet or not, natural or human, the language is often evocative, such as the discovery of a field of glow worms (“Pale Fire: Boscastle, Cornwall”) with its ”green thousands of faint-lit beetles,” or the grace found in the grey sky, shadows, and cobwebs of an old ruin (“Valley: Bodmin Moor“).

There are times when all this quiet reflection is almost overwhelming and the reader feels anxious for more chaos, noise, the greedy cacophony of desire. There is just a little of that hinted at in the sensuality of “Driftwood: Duckpool Beach, North Cornwall:”

Burning you,
the blue-green salt flames
flare like screams of pain.

Or in the heady promise of a sunset:

crimson flares across the sky
and shafts of shifting, liquid light
penetrate the canopy
and promise the rebirth that follows night; (“Woodlight: Draynes Valley, Cornwall“)

But in both of these instances, as with all of the poetry in this collection, the excitement is illusory. The burning ceases, and the sunset is over, bringing us back to silence again. Even the violence of a seagull gorging on a chick (“Witness: St. Germans River, Cornwall”) is simply part of the natural world and one to be accepted quietly.

Hewett observes and writes about those things which others tend to ignore, and allows the close, and very quiet perspective he takes to reveal its own meaning, without judgement or fanfare. This is an easy to read, and tenderly chosen collection which will open no wounds, but perhaps a few doors, encouraging the reader to also look closely at the world around us in silent reverence. It is both a tribute to the harsh beauty of the southernmost part of England, as well as a tribute to nature and the clarity of solitude in general.

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