'There's nothing I can tell you, is there?
Only this: it is a story of survival. So far. This far and no further.'
Beginning with a barely perceptible nod to William Carlos Williams's 'This is Just to say', Sunshine assumes the voice of a mistress addressing a now-famous film director's wife. Wielding a feminist knife, the voice slices its way through a series of brilliantly-crafted octaves. It is funny, tender and mocking by turns, yet always earthy and compelling, its many movements never striking a false note. It has the power and depth of Sylvia Plath, combined with all the wit of Rosemary Tonks.
The second section, Nothing Else, equally commands our attention with a collection of beautifully-intertwined elegies, sweeping us into a world of mental illness, ghosts, family ancestry, extended families, hospital wards, filial and romantic love, childhood friendships, abuse, the nature of memory, loss of loved ones, and the changing nature of power in relationships over the years. It is unflinching in its honesty, refusing any kind of false solace, yet also achingly funny, and unfailingly compassionate of the self and others. Nothing Else shines its light on the darkest side of our lives. Ultimately the poetry is celebratory, giving us reasons to live with hope and love.
Sian Hughes accounts of her life as the mistress of an artist, and of the deaths of her mother and 'not parents' are frank, pithy, and terrifyingly precise, sharp with tender, startling truths, nubbled with bodies and lit with love. I urge you to read them.
Praise for Siân Hughes' previous work:
Most minds retreat from the scenes of our greatest fears… Siân Hughes, on the contrary, advances, with the flaring senses and clear eyes of a writer intent on her proper subject. These fine, bare, desolate poems are the result; each one as arresting, rare, and compelling as the truth.
Siân Hughes's voice moves us because she manages the difficult art of putting wit to the service of strong feeling — a rare achievement.
Siân Hughes's first collection, The Missing (Salt, 2009), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, won the Seamus Heaney award for first collection, was long-listed for The Guardian first book of the year, and shortlisted for The Forward Prize and Aldeburgh Prize. It contained among others 'The Send-Off', the poem that won the Arvon International Poetry Competition in 2006 and 'Secret Lives', winner of the TLS / Poems on the Underground competition in 1996. Siân lives in her home village on the border of England and Wales along with some of her children. As well as working in a local pub, she teaches creative writing for mental health centres and other charities, and is currently a PhD student at Chester University.
(Photo by Pete Rimmer)