Tag Archives: Salt Publishing

‘A Very Nearly Complete List…’

Luxe, Amy Key, Salt, £9.99
reviewed by Mark Burnhope

luxeTrue to its title and glamorous front cover (a matte-gold jacket, diamond-studded text), Luxe is filled with luxuries, both material (vintage fashion, brick-a-brac, trinkets) and immaterial (love, friendship, loss), for holding in the hand or wearing on the body figuratively. Many of these poems catalogue and list objects that represent the poet’s likes, loves, memories and desires.

I had read and enjoyed some of these poems online, so my expectations were fairly high. In reading, some of those expectations were subverted. For example, ‘Brand New Lover’ – the first poem, and one of the book’s more obvious love poems – has a looser, more conversational diction than my favourite tauter, more imagistic and fragmentary poems. For me, Key’s work is strongest when it lays found objects on the table and simply writes them with all their sumptuous vocabulary. That collage approach is described in the second poem of the book, ‘Here, For Your Amusement’, with its suggested dark side to hoarding precious items as nostalgic memory triggers:

I would like to be able to make a very nearly complete list,
of everything that matters to me, leaving nothing out.
Is that what it’s like to be afraid to die?

While it rarely wears ideology or politics on its sleeve, Luxe is feminist in the sense that it both flirts with and undermines classic, narrow tropes of womanhood, like ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’. I was torn between wanting more of the autobiography hiding under the clutter, and admiring how Key reveals herself through it; historically, male poets have largely owned the privilege of dressing up, writing in persona, playing an act, while women were largely expected to expose themselves in confession or domesticity. Against this backdrop, Key’s decision to make a “mood board” of herself instead is striking. Nevertheless, In ‘We Should Be Very Sorry If There Was No Rain’ – dedicated to Sarah Crewe – the inadequacy of objects to fill emotional spaces inspires an open love letter to friendship:

I mention lately I’ve lacked a honeyed mood,
delicates have evaded me. Again I’ve spent too much
trying to ornamentally tile my life.

That sensuous, tactile listing can be found in ‘Before The Waning Spiral Stairs’, with its “mouth whirled with steel-tinged rum”, “resin drifted from a bow”, “idly laced up in leather and weave”, “smoked my hair in a lime-washed cellar”. Or ‘Poem in Which’ (sharing its name with the online journal that Key co-edits). Its economy with language and imagery proves that naming is often description enough. That’s Key’s power; the ability to paint a nuanced, controlled self-portrait (or gallery of self-portraits) using the materials of her psychological, social and physical environments:

I describe ‘tulle’ and ‘chiffon’.
His eyes replace mine.
In which I walk down Lower Marsh with a paper bag of apples.
The wind laps at my ankles.
I covet the turquoise paisley dress.
I relent – as you wish, as you wish.
I leave my flat to the sockless beatnik.
Poem in which I have sequined ears.

Mark Burnhope

“listen as the world hums quietly/ to itself”

The Forgetting and Remembering of Air, Sue Hubbard, £12.99, Salt
reviewed by Jim Murdoch

9781907773396frcvr.inddSue Hubbard‘s not a painter although I suspect she might quite like to be; poetry’s a poor second to most visual art. My initial response, after scanning an excerpt of this collection, was, “I’m not a great lover of nature poetry (I’m frankly not sure what’s new to be said on the subject) but let’s see if she can win me over.”

In an article Hubbard writes:

“Today landscape painting is viewed as marginal, peripheral to the philosophical and conceptual concerns of contemporary art. Traditionalists see it as upholding a nostalgic vision of timeless values, whilst for most modernists the landscape is essentially urban, tainted and dysfunctional.”

The same could be said about landscape poems. In Hubbard’s poetry Nature’s role is to provide a giant metaphor for the human condition: trees aren’t lonely, winds don’t drink, stars might no longer be visible but they’re not hiding. Long (admittedly eloquent) descriptive passages set the scene/tone and then the human observer appears to add a touch of profundity or pathos. “What do things know?” Hubbard asks in the opening poem followed by “What do they tell us?” in the second. In the third we find her walking through a wood “in search of a poem”:

I try to write a line of colour,

but words are a string of biro scrawls
Without air or light or hue,

[White Canvas]

I know exactly where’s she’s coming from. I, too, once wandered aimlessly seeking inspiration and have the bad poetry to prove it. She writes:

Open your heart like a door
and listen as the world hums quietly
to itself

[Love in Whitstable]

I did try but evidently was looking in all the wrong places.

Nature’s huge and we’re so small. This is evidenced in ‘riverrun’ which devotes a whole page to setting before the observer holds her “breath/ and listens to the wood/ waiting for something to happen”; a tiny diamond in an overpowering setting.

The book is divided into three parts:

‘A Meaningful Speech’ could’ve come out as a chapbook in its own right. There’s interesting stuff here but the poems don’t cohere as well as the second and third sections. There are some good pieces though like ‘Keeping Hens’ and ‘Naked Portrait, 1972–3’.

‘Over the Rainbow’ comprises ekphrastic poems responding to the suicide paintings of Rachel Howard. Minus the accompanying art, the poems inevitably feel like they’re missing something. Shame too there’s only nine; this would’ve been a nice chapbook in its own right.

‘The Idea of Islands’ has already been published separately accompanied by paintings by Donald Teskey and so also suffers a little from the estrangement.

“…writing a poem, as for the visual artist drawing from life, is a ‘process’, a ‘reaching towards’ something that is largely unknown,” writes Hubbard. That may be the case but it can’t stay unknown. It becomes known during the reading. I wasn’t entirely won over by these poems—my fault undoubtedly—but I can see why others might be.

Jim Murdoch