Richly visual and with an eye for the telling detail, Sue Hubbard’s poetry is the work of a writer who has also spent much of her life as an art critic. The poems in this Archive recording showcase what Helen Mort has called Hubbard’s “painterly sensibility”, with many pieces taking visual works of art as their starting point. From ‘Room in New York, 1932’, which envisages Edward Hopper’s emotive painting as a moment of deceptive calm where “somewhere down the hall, a door slams”, to ‘Nude in Bathtub’, where Pierre Bonnard’s depictions of his bathing wife become a charged metaphor for ‘the nervy moments / that hemmed in his life’, finding the precise words to match the almost ineffably pictorial is an abiding fascination. As the speaker in ‘Blakeney’ implores, “Oh love, what I want to say / is look”, and it is in looking closely and honestly at the details of our everyday lives that Hubbard’s work finds its power.
Though she began writing at an early age, Sue Hubbard spent many years bringing up her children as a single parent, before she was able to become, in her own words, “a serious writer”. “I had to claim that for myself”, she has said in interview, echoing the experiences of many women writers in a literary culture geared towards the archetypally masculine. But it is precisely Hubbard’s interest in the familial and domestic, not to mention the renewed sense of perspective that parenthood can provide, that invigorates her poems. In ‘Checks and Balances’, the poet finds delicate profundity in a return visit to her childhood home, a place where “I sit hugging that past as the tears / come, trying to find words to unlock, / to name this longing”, while ‘Ghost Station’ conjures a lament for the seemingly minor but emotionally seismic moments of our lives in a list of lost objects: “Think of a bent hair-pin lodged for years under a wooden carriage seat / fallen from a stook of auburn hair, a single collar-stud trapped beneath”.
This Archive recording draws on Hubbard’s three published collections to date – Everything Begins with the Skin (1994), Ghost Station (2004) and The Forgetting and Remembering of Air (2013) – to offer a broad canvas of work, taking in everything from Eurydice in a London underpass to a ship forging through “cerulean ice-fields”, from moments of intense sensual intimacy to a metaphysical encounter with ‘The Idea of Islands’. Throughout, Hubbard delivers her lines with earnestness and urgency, suggesting Martyn Crucefix’s assessment of Hubbard as a “poet who serves as an antidote to the chirpy shallow materialism of much of our culture”.