Lesley Saunders

poet and educationalist

photo: Dwain Comissiong


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What people have said about…

Angels on Horseback:

‘Lesley Saunders’ “Angels on Horseback” at first catches you off-guard, seduces you with gorgeous vocabulary, then leads you unerringly through ‘ordinary treasure’ made wondrous and extraordinary to culminate in a chilling intensity. Lesley ranges through her pantheon of heroines, exploring the violence done to them, by others and themselves, not through worn rhetoric but through defamiliarising tropes of disturbing beauty and pleasure. It is a rare to find poems as perfectly controlled, a pamphlet as assured and startling, as this.’ Mimi Khalvati


‘For all it is a fairly short pamphlet then, it is extremely ambitious in scope. It moves from ancient Greece to Victorian Britain and beyond to the 1980s, whilst incorporating Greek, French, Old English into the verse… This pamphlet casts light on an important and largely forgotten historic event. It attempts to speak for a lost voyage, to reclaim an important piece of history.’ Alice Tarbuck

‘The poems written by Saunders are a poetic, imaginative log of the twelve voyages of Pytheas. Pytheas, from Massalia (now Marseilles), is thought to have been the first person to circumnavigate the British Isles, in 325 BCE. His own account of the voyage is lost.  The poems in this book are expertly crafted. Each follows a format of seven lines to a stanza, with five stanzas in all and the last line of the final stanza always standing on its own with a line gap separating it from the rest of the work. It is the final thought that the reader is left with and echoes the rest of the poem. This line both echoes and leads the reader on to the next poem… The twelve voices in the poems travel over centuries and The Twelve Voyages of Pytheas represent the voyages in each one of us. The personae in the poems change from male to female, grandmother to grandson and include even a transgender voice keeping the reader alert to subtle changes in tone, dialect and content. This is a highly skilled and innovative interpretation of the Greek sailor Pytheas with subtly added meaning to relationships, voyage, travel and generally the experience of life… I would highly recommend this chapbook to anyone with a willing mind to be taken on a voyage of discovery.’ Wendy French

Cloud Camera:

‘“Cloud Camera” evokes the capturing of the ephemeral, of foxed and silvered edges. This is exactly what Lesley Saunders achieves in her collection. Using the stimuli of scientific advancement, Saunders explores the realms of human curiosity, as well as an almost dreamlike succession of objects given voice. However, at no point are the poems of Cloud Camera detached or clinical. Saunders excels at drawing out the human dimension of her poems… Some of the poems are obscure, but this isn’t necessarily a criticism as they are beguiling enough to work without explanation. References and scientific content of the poems are detailed in the back of the collection for readers wishing to know the specific histories. However, I feel that the collection should be read blind to begin with, allowing the musicality and the distorting focus of the cloud camera to frame each poem. Cloud Camera is not blinkered to emotion through the focus on the scientific, but rather shaped by it. Each poem captures a very human moment.’ (Jessica Mayhew, Eyewear, 17 July 2012)

‘Lesley Saunders is arresting for the vigour with which her thought compels words… The poet of Cloud Camera knows about “the portable ache of self” and knows that the world of dreams and desires co-exists with the world of empirical data. She can generate excitement out of that understanding. That is what makes Lesley Saunders extraordinary. Anyone can write about dreams, and anyone can write about data. But not everyone, contemplating an anatomical model, can move from “Apparently I am made of parts. A locked box of troubles” to this conclusion: “I am unlit rooms, a visionary anatomy shaken by small fevers. / How I live is dark science, fretful fugue; a mirror under a shawl.” The rigour that goes into “I am unlit rooms” is worthy of a Donne.

Science means knowing, and poetry about knowing – philosophical poetry – is one of the oldest traditions in writing. To write about the man who holds the record for the longest and fastest sky-dive, or Fanny Burney’s mastectomy, is like writing about the shield of Achilles, in Lesley Saunders’s hands: that is, it becomes a profound inquiry into the nature of experience and knowledge. The dynamism of her responses, across a wide emotional and factual spectrum, makes Cloud Camera the most intelligent and thrilling book of poetry I’ve seen in several years…

Lesley Saunders is distinguished in her first field, educational research. Cloud Camera should place her among those who are seriously spoken of in her second calling, poetry. (Michael Hulse, Poetry Review, Autumn 2012)

No Doves:

“Like the dazzling fly-past in her poem ‘Halcyon’, Lesley Saunders’ distinctive blend of wonder and intellectual curiosity emerges in No Doves at full power, each poem a sustained arc of allusive riches, alert and echoing – truly a devotion of noticing.  Her subject is that tension between all that is Hopkins’ “counter, original, spare, strange” and the wider sweep of language and history, which Saunders celebrates here in all its intricacy and pathos.” Jane Draycott

“No Doves is a quite dazzling collection… She shares with fine poets like Jane Draycott and Charles Tomlinson an incredibly clear-eyed perception in language which is as musical as it is exact. Writing of ‘Ice’ she observes: This is the white gold of the poles, the water that rings / like metal having first mastered the stillness of crystals, / and this the discipline of the slow freeze, whose splinters / leave no trace of travel through the muscle of the heart...’ Lesley Saunders is a very exciting and interesting writer who deserves your closer attention.” David Morley
http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/morleyd/ 3 May 2010

“Lesley Saunders keeps the ball in the air. Her toe is precisely placed and the poems swing on, line after intelligent line—meditations on stone, cold, blackbirds, a red lipstick, an ear of wheat—all deftly and accurately set out… In Some Languages Are Hard To Dream In, a longer sequence, she puts her best foot forward.  I’ll quote in full part vi.:

Sparrows rustle in the grass like winter leaves
while an old leaf sits like a bird on a wall
saying nothing that anyone can hear.

Don’t you wish you’d written that?  I do.  And each part of the sequence is good. Yes, Lesley Saunders is very worth reading, and re-reading, for she’s not going to make it easy for us, however easy she makes keeping that ball in the air seem...” J. Brookes, Square Magazine #8

Her Leafy Eye:

‘Having been so impressed by the verbal exuberance and richly textured description of Lesley Saunders’ poem “Rill” when I was judging the Buxton Poetry Competition (in which it received first prize), I looked forward to reading the sequence of which it forms part.  I was not disappointed: the rest of Her Leafy Eye lives up to the initial promise of that poem.’ Fleur Adcock

‘The tumbling flow of the words in these poems is very compelling… the poet… exploits that characteristic “English” orchestration of hard and soft sounds… the language builds into various horns of plenty – in fact I could have read another twenty or more poems in this vein.’ Acumen, September 2009

‘…an intriguing lens through which the eye looks back from a lost world to our modern one and back again: a gaze that is more satirical than leafy… Saunders writes densely; images lapping and overlapping and switching from historic to contemporary details are part of her technique. ‘Dovecot’ does this and generates real excitement – its blur of dawn arrests, parachuting “shock-troops”, forensics and surveillance evoking Shakespeare’s Coriolanus fluttering the dovecot of the Volscians to create a nightmarish portrait of England’s lost order and harmony… the language… secures a place in the reader’s mind.’ Magma, November 2009

‘Great breadth and subtlety of thought and construction inform the whole collection, together with a huge sensuous energy: this is partly a matter of reference and image, stimulated no doubt by being in the fresh air with trees and water and artfully activated vistas, as well as the poet’s evident acquaintance with early-mid-18th-century culture; but it also seems to spring through the language.’ Elizabeth James http://theunderfoot.blogspot.com/2009/08/pomes-and-gardens.html

The writing workshops:

‘I really enjoyed it – it was truly inspiring’
‘That was such an inspiring afternoon on Saturday – I found it thoroughly stimulating’
‘Thank you so much for your lovely workshops; I really enjoyed both of them’
‘Thanks again for running the wonderful workshop, I really enjoyed it!’
‘The poetry was magical!’ (Session for headteachers and school senior leaders)
‘your workshop was a wonderful experience, not only for being with like minded people but for opening up my creative side once again. Now I’ve started I can’t stop the creative flow, much to the detriment of housework! Thank you for an inspirational workshop’

The writing ‘clinics’:

‘It was absolutely wonderful to meet you and your advice was very useful.  I cannot thank you enough’
‘This was a really precious time for me’
‘Everybody that I have spoken to was completely delighted with the feedback session that they had with you on Thursday and have come home and made changes and worked on their pieces, which is amazing.’

The commissioned poems:

‘The poem is quite wonderful, and was, as I hope you realised, greatly appreciated by everyone.  It made the occasion very special’
‘I just love the poem – really beautiful and evocative and the links you have made to Bruner, Crowe and Lively are excellent’
‘Your poem was simply perfect.  I know that X will treasure that more than anything.  It was the perfect capstone to a splendid evening.’
‘What a beautiful poem; its theme, its verse and its delivery all succeeded in rounding off an important evening for so many of us…’