Even at this stage, Hewett’s imagery is striking: from the grandmother’s “bite like a sour green apple,” or eyes “remote as pennies.” The work roams without boundaries between mythology, politics – especially as it works across Hewett’s communism both as ideologue and as cynical doubter — realism and reference. Even when the imagery sits in a context that is less powerful, the work clearly opened doors to other writers, especially female ones. Nothing was off limits to Hewett: not her own life (even when libel was the result), not the government and its policies, not the daily details of the working man and woman’s life in general, and not the intimate frailties of the human body.
The work begins to move from play and imitation towards dark literary power around the Alice in Wormland period. Unlike her Wonderland counterpart, Hewett’s Alice is no sweet innocent child. Many of other critics have identified the link with the confessional poets Lowell, Plath and Sexton in these poems, and certainly there is plenty of that in this work, especially in the opening, with its sweet pastoral transitioning to the old lady “in a darned cardigan/with a carving knife mouths.” The horrible grandmother and equally horrible mother are straight out of Hitchcock, and Alice hardly better with her “flogging hammer” and changeling’s perception. By the time the work gets to “Days of Violence days of Rages,” the extended poem becomes an incantation of pain moving Alice through an entire lifetime of sex, communism, childbirth, betrayal, loneliness, illness and death. It’s both intensely powerful and at the same time, self-indulgent and bitter.
The best work is the last, taken from Halfway up the Mountain. While the writing is still dark, it moves away from bitterness and self-reflection towards something larger – a kind of synthesis. There is also tender motion here, between longing and regret which is depicted with honesty and subtlety. The sense of the body is always present as the work, charting the decline and loss that comes with age, mingling sensory power with the rich imagery of pastoral: