Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sue Hubbard

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Sue Hubbard
http://www.suehubbard.com

Sue Hubbard is a freelance art critic, novelist, award-winning poet, lecturer and broadcaster.

Her poems have been read on Radio 3 and Radio 4 and she has contributed to many arts programmes including Kaleidoscope, Poetry Please, Night Waves and The Verb.

FICTION:

Her latest novel, RAiNSONGS, is due from Duckworth January 2018.

Depth of Field, her first novel, was published in 2000 by Dewi Lewis.
Her short stories, Rothko’s Red, were published by Salt in 2008.
Girl in White was published by Cinnamon Press, 2013_

POETRY:

Twice winner of the London Writers’ competition and a Hawthornden Fellow, she was the Poetry Society’s first-ever Public Art Poet commissioned by the Arts Council and the BFI to create London’s biggest art poem that leads from Waterloo to the IMAX.

Her poetry includes:
Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon 1994).
A selection of poems in Oxford Poets 2000 (Carcanet).
Ghost Station (Salt Publishing 2004),
The Idea of Islands (Occasional Press 2010)
The Forgetting and Remembering of Air (Salt Publishing 2014).

Her work has also appeared in a number of prestigious anthologies and literary magazines including: Encounter, Acumen, Ambit, Poetry Wales, Poetry London, London Magazine, The Independent, The Observer and The Irish Times.

ART:

Sue Hubbard has contributed regularly to a wide range of publications including Time Out, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, and The New Statesman. She has also written for The Times and The Guardian and numerous art magazines such as Apollo,Tate, Irish Art Review, NY Arts Magazine and the RA magazine, The Los Angeles based contemporary art magazine, Artillery and http://www.3quarksdaily.com. She writes regularly for Elephant Magazine, Artlyst and The London Magazine.

Her selected art writings, Adventures in Art, were published by Damien Hirst’s Other Criteria in 2010

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

I started to write at a very young age. I remember my first poem. I must have been about 11 and it was a school exercise. The poem was called Trees in Winter. In a childish way there was something of Robert Frost about it. I used the natural world, as I still do both in fiction and  poetry, to convey emotion and mood. I realised, though so young, that this poem really mattered to me. That I wanted my teacher to understand the sense of isolation and loneliness the poem was trying to convey.
As I grew older I wrote as a way of trying to make sense of the world. I was also reading a good deal of poetry and living in a remote part of the west country with three small children, whom I ended up bringing up alone. Poetry was a way of sorting out my feelings, of finding a voice at a very difficult time.
Then I realised that I didn’t just want to write for me. I had a very early poem shortlisted in the Bridport competition. That gave me a little confidence to become more serious. I joined my first poetry workshop in Bath, quite a trek from my home, in order to share critical feedback. I wanted to improve. To develop my own voice and share with others who cared about poetry. My first collection, Everything Begins with the Skin, was published by Enitharmon in 1994, while I was doing my MA at UEA and embarking on writing fiction.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I have to say my mother. We didn’t have an easy relationship but she did read me poems when I was small. I remember being particularly touched by William Blake’s The Tyger and The Lamb. Later, at school, I was lucky to have good English teachers and to read good poetry.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Well at school, the two poets with whom I fell in love were Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins. We never studied contemporary poets, so I slowly began to discover them for myself. At first it was people like Brian Pattern and Sylvia Plath. I also love Jacques Prévet’s Rapelle-toi Barbara. I loved the romanticism and the rhythm and was attracted to its French tristesse and sort of Juliette Gréco nostalgia!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Oh how I wish I had one!  I am an art critic and a novelist, as well as a poet. Art criticism demands deadlines (tight ones when I was writing for The Independent and The New Statesman) so I tend to feel I am always in the wrong hat at the wrong time. I try to do residencies whenever I can and take time away from meetings, the internet etc just to walk, read and immerse myself in a piece of writing. That is when I write best, when I have that pristine uninterrupted space that a busy urban life doesn’t really allow. I need that time to recharge emotionally and spiritually, to reconnect with the deepest parts of myself. The part that feeds my work.

5. What motivates you to write?

It’s not straightforward but I think it is first of all a conversation with myself, a way of externalising deep thoughts, feelings and observations, of revealing my true and most fundamental self.  I am also motivated by the thought of a well-read audience. I write poetry and literary fiction and I want to appeal to those who read these forms. Yes, winning competitions is nice – I won the London Writers twice and have done well in other competitions – but poetry is not really about winning but communication. I always want to write a better poem and to touch people. I want to bring a lump to their throats.

6. What is your work ethic?

I work hard – but it is not always on poetry. I am about to publish my fourth collection with Salmon Press (Ireland) in 2020. I don’t, now,  feel compelled to write poems for the sake of it. I’m only interested in the ones that insist on being written. I’m also trying to get on with my fourth novel and that is a hug commitment. Rainsongs was published with Duckworth this spring.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I earlier mentioned Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think Keats made me fall in love with the Romantics, while Gerard Manley Hopkins pushed me to think about form and the power of language. I was a generation who grew up with Plath and I found her wonderful but rather overwhelming, as though she had said it all. T. S. Eliot and The Four Quartets provided the spirituality and philosophical questioning I wanted from poetry, as did Rilke.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I tend to like Irish and American poets. There is a directness and emotional fearlessness about them that I love, writers such as Eavan Boland and Jorie Graham. Mark Doty and Billy Collins. I am less interested in poetry that is obviously ‘difficult’. I want it to make my heart beat faster, to grab me by the throat. Head and heart, yes. Technique, yes. But in the end, for me, the heart must win.

9. Why do you write?

I think I have answered that question already. To make sense of the world and because explorations with language are how I do it. Being a writer is who I am now, it’s an essential part of my identity. It’s a bit late to change!

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

There is no one way. As with eggs there are many different recipes. Being a journalist (which I also am) is a very different business to being a poet but I think it has helped my writing. You learn to be succinct and not to be precious.
You have to know why you want to write. There is nothing wrong with writing just for yourself and your friends. I mentor ex-offenders and for many of them it is cathartic. But it you want to be serious you have to, as Beckett famously said: Fail again, fail better. It’s a constant process of learning and trying to get better. It  isn’t easy to write well. And of, course, you have always to be prepared to murder those little darlings.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am writing an artist’s catalogue for the painter Peter Joyce, who lives in France. Being a poet many artists ask me to write about them. I’m also editing and working on my fourth collection, due out in 2020 and slowly trying to get on with the enormous task of my fourth novel.

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