All Down Darkness Wide review by Seán Hewitt – thoughts on sex, care and loss | Autobiography and memory
Jhe poet Seán Hewitt’s first foray into memoir unfolds in the non-linear manner favored by many contemporary exponents of the form. We move with elegant fluidity through the phases of Hewitt’s life: memories of growing up near Liverpool with a growing sense of his homosexuality; his complex and stealthy sexual experiences in college; the development of his literary interests; the devastating illness and death of his father.
At the heart of the book, however, is the writer’s relationship with the inscrutable Elias. Elias is a Swedish student whom Hewitt meets while hiking through South America after completing his English degree at Cambridge. They begin a whirlwind romance. The bright green waterfalls and infectious reggaeton of their surroundings are as captivating to Hewitt as Elias’ “confident…aloof…easy sociability.”
Among the memoir’s more discreet interests is the legacy of Hewitt’s Catholic upbringing. A beautiful passage, for example, describes his time volunteering at the sanctuary in Lourdes. But as the text focuses on the ineffable Elias and their relationship develops, religiosity takes on more subtle forms. Reflecting on the specific exhilaration of first love, Hewitt’s writing becomes confessional.
When they finally have to leave each other, they find that the separation is too much to bear. Hewitt is reworking his postgraduate research plans in Liverpool and moving to Elias’ hometown of Gothenburg to study remotely. But their once intense connection is changing. Hewitt encounters his first tonic Swedish winter, and Elias falls into an unexpected and deep depression. He attempts suicide and is hospitalized.
The confessional mode continues after Elias is released and the story becomes, in part, an examination of caring for someone “on the edge of life”. Hewitt’s paranoia about leaving Elias alone, even briefly – “How could I keep him safe?” – vibrates off the page.
Queer artists who dwell on their own suffering are often accused of unnecessarily portraying homosexuality as a kind of trauma. But throughout this troubled time, engaging in poetry galvanized Hewitt and lifted the text. Together, the two men informally translate the work of Swedish writer Karin Boye. They throw themselves wholeheartedly into this task of creating something new together. Hewitt captures the process vividly, emphasizing both its slipperiness and all-consuming quality: “Each line of each poem would change form as it came, and between us we would chisel it into something to suit us. to both of them, finding the right words, and trying to keep the music in the language, which had a meaning of its own, something that resonated beyond the words, and seemed to catch a glimmer of the world behind them.Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in the context of his academic work, Hewitt finds in the texts “a bouncing and tumultuous energy. Something in the rhythms, the clashes and the uncertainties of the syntax, made a tension vibrate in my body, and I wanted to throw the book away and run outside to look at something, to see the world as he showed it to me.
The Swedish landscape offers new perspectives and a sense of possibility too. Visiting the summer house where Elias attempted suicide, Hewitt has a moment of respite in the garden, which he conveys with some of the grace that characterizes his award-winning poetry: “The wild lupins that grew here in summer had all become the tuber again, and only a wisp of pink light was cooling above the sea. I closed my eyes, pressed my lips to the cold air and balanced myself against it, as if stooping slowly into a new reality.
Hewitt’s introspections lead him to a place of self-acceptance, a partial reconciliation with what he has endured. It would be inaccurate to suggest that the story is ultimately redemptive. As the memoir progresses, however, they do so with a discernible sense of openness, of Hewitt moving away from the shadows to a place where he is able to say, “The connections between me and my world , those who had held me down, were cut off. My body and my homosexuality and my life became inseparable… I felt myself becoming irrevocably and radically whole.