Linda Saunders is a highly praised, prizewinning poet. She has been widely published in magazines and
anthologies. Her first full-length collection was short-listed for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize. Two further collections followed, most recently A Touch on the Remote (from Worple Press). https://www.worplepress.com
She worked for a number of years as a fine-arts journalist and editor, shortlisted for Arts Journalist of the year and she is a member of the International Association of Arts Critics.
Philip Gross wrote of her poetry that she ‘applies words to subtle experiences
as a painter might use paint, for their texture, balance and tone, with attention
to each brush stroke ….’
She herself has written: ‘I am fascinated by the exquisite particularity of every
living moment. For me a vital spur to writing is to explore the unique feeling of
each slippery experience, memory or observation.’
Her themes are prompted by family and by human encounters, and by a love of
the natural world, landscape and birds in particular. At the same time she has a
of sense of existential mystery in the larger context of space-time.
When Linda won the Teignmouth Poetry Prize Judge John Greening said: “This poet knows what E.M. Forster meant by ‘only connect’, juxtaposing different elements with immense care and clarity: the shoes, the shell, the glasses, the egg-cups, the elephants, they all process and are processed into a dignified courtly music before our eyes – but the poet allows time for a big philosophical question too. I hope you will agree that ‘Outside Chance’ – which should perhaps be retitled ‘The Favourite’ – well deserves the top prize.”nfathomable universe.
We talk of her own evolution as a poet and her inspirations. Her considerable body of work can be sourced from most major outlets and today we have the pleasure of Linda reading several of her works–which will be published on BardWindow.
Poems read today include
A sliver of light
above the lawn, weaving,
wavering, never quite deciding
to settle, feinting as if to baffle
a predator, or searching the air
for some sweet pheromone –
a Holly Blue!
If I look away
it must vanish, but now flirts
around me, a flake of sky,
dancing a net to hold me captive,
then alights on my hand,
nails me with its pale blue sail:
silvered azure with a sheen
of turquoise, colour alive,
never to be believed till now
as I dare bring it even
to examine banded antennae,
a pepper of black dots on folded wings.
Smaller that my fingertip,
sipping salt from my skin,
it investigates my strangeness
with no apparent notion
beyond its own need and moment
of the gift it entrusts to the human.
Intimate and rare,
as a signal from a star,
I feel the tickle of its footsteps.
We used to think it a mad sparrow before
we learned it was the last migrant to return
and its name explained what it was up to,
flipping off a post or a low-slung branch
with flight controls seemingly gone haywire.
Today, here’s the first, hunched at the ready
on the tallest tombstone in the graveyard.
Overhead, against a washed sky brushed
by feathery remnants of raincloud,
swifts are scything the wind, returned only
last week for their circus of high-flown love.
For our souls’ health, we need to go on gazing,
stopped in our tracks and sorrows, to mark
the arrivals of birds that cross the world above
our news and wars, our migrations of loss.
Long-haul passerines with their songs of summer.
The swifts twenty-four/seven on the wing.
Birders call their first-ever sighting of a species
new to them, a lifer. For me, each returning
migrant is a lifer again, somehow newer still
in renewing each first of every summer
down the years: harbingers of memory,
human and avian, surely ancestral.
Yet only this moment recalled as exquisitely –
wing-tilt and flecked feather, the lilt of its whistle.
My heart always somersaults as crazily as
the spotted fly-catcher plying his skill under
the churchyard yews like a spirit liberated
from the earth below, skittish with surprise
and quite loopy with life, this fling of resurrection.
Baby wants new shoes, he’d say, to give a lift
to a small flutter each way on a horse
he’d wised up on in the racing columns.
But once he put all of five pounds to win –
and did – on an outsider, Burlington Arcade,
having dreamed himself among a wild crowd
yelling its name at the finishing line.
It was the sole evidence he could ever claim
for divine or psychic intervention
on behalf of any need of baby’s,
or his own. Just chance, he thought it, when a shell
slammed down beside him on the battlefield
and did not explode, while the world paused
as he said goodbye to it, aged seventeen –
he’d lied about his age to volunteer –
then found his glasses by another miracle,
and put them on to look into the future.
What is the difference between luck and grace?
His golfer’s swing was an action of honed
grace, preceded by a moment of stillness
something like prayer, club raised on high,
as if to align himself with every
quick nuance of this world’s here and there,
the sky’s depth, each inflected shadow, tilt
of wind and wish towards a promised land.
Among his silver trophies on the sideboard,
sharing the pride with ebony elephants
paraded trunk to tail, were the egg cups
awarded in those days for a hole-in-one.
A stroke of grace, I’d say, in league with luck
that the shell didn’t kill him, as was the perfect
loft and flight he gave a ball that landed
sweetly on the green and trickled home.
poem starting with a line by Jack Gilbert
We use them sideways.
Words, he meant, that will do for now,
slipping them through or between
to prise a way towards
what we don’t know yet how to say.
My mother cut sideways through water –
she’d swim in any weather, any sea,
her right cheek pillowed on the waves.
Once she hooked back a man from drowning,
brought him to shore on her strong sidestroke,
legs scissoring the undertow.
is a strategy of cunning,
making headway in adversity,
catching the gale sideways
and using it.
After the stroke, she was often lost
for a word – she the linguist who loved a cryptic
crossword. I took the slant of her meaning
and how she strove by indirection
to arrive at it, like a small craft
in a contrary wind.
Some things, faintest stars, we see more brightly
if we just look
so a mist, a smudge, resolves
into points of light, sidereal
in the corner of the eye.
It’s the way our eyes are made,
near the edge more densely receptive,
so we always have this sense of what escapes
a truth askance and facetted,
a love so far unsaid.
“Almost…” she said once, exhausted,
gripping both my hands and waiting
like the poet for the word that will tend
his passion, then hooking the prize at last
with an intake of wonder, “…inexhaustible.”
Which was about the size of it.
His smile on my screen saver keeps beaming in
above the Milky Way on that tee shirt
I found at the Monterey Aquarium
and brought back across 6000 miles
of earth and ocean. He’s worn it and worn it –
our home galaxy floating luminous
on ultramarine, with the arrow pointing
You Are Here, north-west of his heart.
From the back garden, he finds Mars for me;
October small hours, conditions perfect,
near invisible scrim of cloud to cut the star-glare.
You’ll have to be quick, he says –
to glimpse the faint smudge of Sirtis Major
like an upside-down Y, and the south pole
tilting its bright spot of ice towards us.
I stoop over the eyepiece and catch
just a tiny cell sliding already out of
the scope’s slim beam of vision: the planet
no bigger than the pupil of an eye, but closer
than it’s been for years – and I’ve lost it.
Awesome! breathes my son the astronomer
as he tracks it again across 35 million miles.
His anorak gapes open
on those glowing words: You Are Here.
We pass things between us, memories that rise
like a genie from an old lamp rubbed clean,
from these jugs and teapots and bowls reached down
from a wide ledge dusted less than seldom.
We have washed and dried every one
to reawaken the gleam of the glaze
and the colours it protects undimmed.
He passes them back to me, where I stand
on a chair to replace them on the shelf
at the internal window that lets light through
from the hall to the kitchen. One by one,
he makes almost a rite of it, says Careful!
as if I would not be with these bygones
which we lit on once with glee and brought home
wrapped in newspaper. He can’t help foreseeing
disaster – how china would smash if dropped
from this height. Though just an infant in the War,
he still hears the scream of sirens in his dreams,
the whine of doodlebugs over London, feels
through the years the aftershock of the bomb
that reduced their terrace home to rubble.
But now I too can’t bear to watch the news.
Already millions of refugees jam
the routes out of Ukraine, trundling cases –
what to take? what to leave? – lugging plastic bags
stuffed with iron rations, nappies, a warm rug,
infants on their hips, wide-eyed, taking things in.
I receive each find, found again, in both hands
like a gift, as we tell each other where
and just when this lidless ginger jar, or this
teapot with its violets in fresh spring bloom,
first took our fancy, asking to be loved.
Familiars, survivors, viewed from each side
of the internal window they look somehow
astonished by the light of this moment,
rescued again from their own lost stories,
and part of ours, re-enchanted, at home.
As always, thanks to http://www.albadigitalmedia.com for technical support to the podcast.