Swimming to Albania
Page Count: 78
Publication Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Cover Artwork: ‘Peel Sound — Sunset.’ Barbara Rae CBE, RA, RSA, RE
About this Book
“Reading Sue Hubbard’s Swimming to Albania, the reader enters a world of acute absence and remoteness haunted by the ever-present unresponsive dead, into which the details of everyday reality explode like hand grenades. Whether recalling lost relationships, travelling in foreign cities, observing landscapes and gestures or contemplating works of art, these balanced, skilful, stark, courageous and strangely erotic poems offer the reader the deepest sense of inquest into the self. They are extraordinarily moving.”
“These poems are haunted by rocks and beaches, the foam of a wave breaking or teenager’s sugar-stiff petticoat, figures dimly recalled from the empty streets of childhood. Against these recurring images, Sue Hubbard traces an all-too-human journey between pain and the vagaries of hope on one hand, adult forgiveness and understanding on the other. She knows how to “sort vowels and furled consonants”, and how poems are salvific of the promises that the child she was, made to herself.”
“Swimming to Albania has a perfectly balanced tripartite structure, contrasted, like the Anglo-Saxon elegies, with present or past companionship. Moving between an Atlantic shoreline retreat and familial inland warmth it contains highly evocative elegies for the poet's father and finds, in the final section, recovery through artistic retreat in Siena and Portugal, ending with a further move outward in the title-poem. There are several wonderful figures of displacement: the mermaid out of her element on the earth; the imagined visitor who is a male poem. The book as a whole shows eloquently, in the words of its final section, that 'we travel to discover who we are.”
“There is a frank and baffled rage in these poems, in part against loss, age, loneliness and lack of communication. Yet there is also a passionate desire to recover order and meaning, for the regards of love, for some form of redemption. The woman as island is a recurring trope – literally when the narrator inhabits a wind-swept and remote coastline; metaphorically, she is often a solo visitor to European cities, sometimes almost a stranger in her own family, sometimes to herself. Despite this, in the act of each poem’s creation, Hubbard triumphantly snatches positive value from the very precision and courage with which she renders disillusionment.”
“Starting with an image of childhood home these poems explore the positioning of the older daughter and the ensuing loneliness and longing which follows into adulthood. Then, with this as the reader's map, we travel outwards into less known geographies to experience how that isolation, that desire to belong, repeats itself in widening circles ...”
Praise for Sue Hubbard’s earlier work
"The Forgetting and Remembering of Air is a stunning piece of work – an achingly moving narrative of love for a child, parent, sibling, lover or icon. In these poems Hubbard is travelling through love and its possibilities of home, moving fast towards the acceptance of the disappointment, the ruin of it, like that great house of the cover."
"There is nothing safely aesthetic about these poems, beautifully observed though they frequently are. The watching intelligence reaches so far into the places, situations or works of art that it nearly forgets itself, and maybe desires to. The central block of poems on the tragic deaths of women signal that danger, and make it all the more of an achievement when the closing poems journey to the edge of the Atlantic, almost beyond comfort or habitable land, and come back with a ﬁnal, hard-won ‘...yes’."
"‘There are two kinds of islands' begins the poem, ‘Dreaming of Islands’, ‘those born of erasure and fracture'. From the 'river's dark skin' at Bow Creek to Yves Klein, from St Ives to Prussian Blue; from Cliﬀ and Elvis to Charing Cross, from Dora Carrington to Diane Arbus, Sue Hubbard locates places and people with a lyrical precision of voice, following those erasures and fractures to a 'fragile yes'. The poems surge with a natural force breathing the world 'into and out of itself'. A mixture of nature and art; this is an impressive book."
"Whether describing the Thames estuary or the remote west coast of Ireland, Sue Hubbard pays close and exact attention to the elemental world and the vulnerability of the human within it. These moving poems face the ‘anthracite dark’ outside and inside us, and emerge renewed by it, like prayers ‘written on the waves’."
Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist, broadcaster and art critic. Twice winner of the London Writers Competition and winner of third prize in the National Poetry Competition, her publications include Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon), Ghost Station and The Forgetting and Remembering of Air (Salt), The Idea of Islands: a collaboration with the artist Donald Teskey (Occasional Press, Ireland). Twenty of her poems appeared in Oxford Poets 2000: an Anthology (Carcanet) and, as the Poetry Society’s only Public Art Poet, she was responsible for London’s largest public art poem, Eurydice, at Waterloo. Her poems have been read on Poetry Please, The Verb and Front Row and appeared in The Irish Times, The Observer and numerous magazines and anthologies and have been recorded for the Poetry Archive.
Her prose and novels include Rothko’s Red: short stories (Salt), Depth of Field (Dewi Lewis) and Girl in White (Cinnamon Press). Her third novel, Rainsongs, is published by Duckworth, UK, Overlook Press, US, Mercure de France and Yilin Press, China.
As an art critic she has written regularly for The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Time Out, The New Statesman and many leading art magazines. Her selected art writings Adventures in Art is published by Other Criteria.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and twice been a Hawthornden Fellow. In 1999 she was awarded a major Arts Council award to finish her second novel.
Swimming to Albania is her fourth collection.
Read a sample from this book
Lost in Space
There are galaxies inside me,
interstellar stars and dust.
I am full of dark matter,
quarks and spirals
of deep love that cannot
be seen with the naked eye,
lives that might have been
different under other alignments.
Somewhere amid black holes
and the absorption of light,
beyond the mass of Milky Way,
there’s a distant room:
the walls covered with faded flowers,
a meadow of flecked sunlight,
where a child lies beneath
a bleached quilt in a narrow bed
dreaming of a boat
with a single blue sail,
a boat that will take her home.
and even with all the forgiving the being
in this moment and this following every
tilt and shift of the world the stillness of snow
the seeping of grey dawn over the grimy sill
the curdy light of the city and its stale breathing
it’s then I think of that dark lake the trees
leaning out over its black mirrored skin
fringed with purple loosestrife that grows
along the edge of slow moving water
the bulrushes reflected in its anthracite
depths and imagine diving down and down
into that icy water through duckweed
and pools of green algae watermeal
and water hyacinths milfoil and hydrilla
to be caught in tendrils of curly-leaf pond weed
then on deeper still past clasping-leaf
pondweed with its thin and delicate oval
shaped leaves that are wide and wavy
coontail that lacks any true roots and the naiad
and sago pondweed to where light ceases
downwards with this cold seal body
towards that lost thing that special thing
I know is there in the muddy depths
till I can no longer go on holding my breath
Those Far Blue Hills
I have become a connoisseur of roads,
having grown weary of anticipation,
of waiting too long in the dark hours
for whispered promises and midnight calls.
Now I take this solitary journey
down hidden byways and lanes, hauling this horse-hair body
towards those far blue hills and stagnant dykes,
the shifting sands and impatient cities.
Longing for wilderness I’ve become a storyteller
of absence and loss, though all travel
is a form of return as well as departure.
Between barren islands and bare rocks
I trek this narrow path without
losing sight of the stony shore,
where a white haar draws in
across the purple sky
and this journey ceases.
Copyright © Sue Hubbard 2021