Letting the images speak is also a feature of the collaboration between poet Sue Hubbard and artist, Donald Teskey whose large black and white charcoal drawings add depth to the poetry. Poetry and images emerge from Cill Rialaig, a remote peninsular of Co. Kerry where an abandoned village has been saved from dereliction by becoming a project for artists in residence who brave harsh winters far away from modern conveniences. The pictures are full of dark energy, waves crash from them in sparks of light, fence-posts bow in the wind against a back-drop of unforgiving hills, cottage in the shadows of the cliffs. The same sense of place in both images and words is immediate and visceral. The islands are empty, 'the battering sea/lashing/their glassy rocks with the spittle of lost tongues.' (Ballinskelligs) while at ‘Cill Rialaig’ the poet realises, ‘I understand the loneliness/of storms’ and how on 'the edge of the world' the 'stones breathe/destitution and loss.'
In this raw landscape in the depths of winter the place seeps into Hubbard’s bones so that her reflections on land and her own body and mind become one,
(The Idea of Islands)
In this place where 'the motions of mind/have nothing/to hang onto' (New Year) and where what is learnt is 'how old I have become' (Odyssey) there is nonetheless a fragile but deep vein of optimism; the water 'endlessly adapts//fluid against the rigidity of rock' and 'though we feel ourselves/to be made of earth/our cells are filled with water.' Moreover, there are occasional rays of sunlight, and although this 'does not erase/this vast emptiness’ yet, ‘we are not so alone/in this disappearing world'. (Bólus Head) and the final work is '…yes' (…yes).
Jan Fortune-Wood, editor Envoi
'Poet and artist collaborations are generally more exciting than novelist/artist ones, if only because the artist in the latter tends to be regarded primarily as an illustrator. That is distinctly not the case with The Idea of Islands where the dark, painterly, drawings of Donald Teskey and the atmospheric, but sharply observed poems of Sue Hubbard add up to something more - more in fact than a kind of joint-reportage on sense of place. The sense of place here is also the place of body and mind where, as one poem puts it, "we feel ourselves / to be made from earth / our cells are filled with water". Life and place move around and within each other becoming each other's memorable conditions.'
'Cill Rialaig is at the edge of the beautiful and atmospheric southernmost peninsula of Kerry. Sue Hubbard writes her spare poems about a harsh winter pilgrimage there, testing the body and mind to its limits. Donald Teskey depicts the landscape surfaces of the place in magnificent drawings. 'Now His Days' and 'Light Breaks Celestial' pick up the words of the poems, but the pictures could be of nowhere else. This is a magical, searching book.'
'What Donald Teskey and Sue Hubbard have produced in The Idea of Islands is a marriage of shared lyric sensibilities and their own harmony of ideas that serves to sustain this coupling of word and image. A perfect marriage it is too, and those sensibilities are acutely attuned to the distinct and atmospheric qualities to be found out at the "edge of the whip-lashed Atlantic". The imaginative responses of both artist and writer are perfectly complementary. When the poet describes the sea as being "black as a saucer of spilt ink", the painter renders it so with all the power and drama (and dark foreboding) that the sea itself often yields. Like the islands themselves, bare and austere, Teskey's evocative, beautifully textured drawings and Hubbard's sequence of reflective and highly visual poems stand unadorned but infused by the same sense of mystery that emanates from these desolate outposts. This double focus accumulates into a vividly thematic book that, in the making, has resulted in a fine example of the craft of book-making.'
Gerard Smyth, Literary Editor, The Irish Times
Set in a wild, remote landscape, on the west coast of Ireland, Cill Rialaig is a pre-ramine village that clings to at steep slope 300 feet above the sea on the old road that leads to Bólus Head. The restored stone cottages of the village, which now support residencies for visiting artists, are about as far west as you can go in Europe without falling off. From this rugged coast the island rock of Skellig Michael is visible, some eight miles out into the Atlantic, where pre-Augustinian monks once built their beehive huts. This is a landscape permeated with history and memories. It was here that the poet Sue Hubbard and the painter Donald Teskey met and initiated a collaboration that resulted in this book.
The Idea of Islands comprises a suite of fifteen emotionally incisive poems by Sue Hubbard and eleven powerfully atmospheric drawings by Donald Teskey RHA.