Guest Review: Mayhew On Saunders
Jessica Mayhew reviews
By Lesley Saunders
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. ‘A Person is Not a Landscape’ chronicles the discovery of imprinted human remains at Pompeii. The speaker of the poem notes how:
...my colleagues prefer to turn the other way
towards the endless renewing of sea and sky, the view over the bay.
(‘A Person is Not a Landscape’)
Despite this misdirection, the camera-like gaze of the poem brings the reader back to the physicality of the victims, “the lipped ceramics of their ears.” The visual is a strong influence on Saunders’ poetry; as she notes in ‘A Sheep, a Duck and a Cockerel,’ “Looking is always an act of desire.” This sensual yearning roots her poetry, always bringing the reader from celestial and scientific thought back to the populated “wind-blown planet.../ its gold-rimmed clouds where the tragic weathers reside.”
The sense of sight is handled delicately within this collection. Scientific curiosity is touchingly melded with human desire in ‘Astronaut’s Wife,’ in which the protagonist longs to:
See with your eyes the fusewire
of Amazons, lights-out of outbacks and pack-ice.
How small and puzzling our earthworks...
Here, desire chimes through the internal rhyme and half-rhyme, whilst the sibilance of her words draws the reader to the final line, and the reality of the couple’s separation, “Our bed cold as a field.”
The gaze of Cloud Camera is also reflected in the fleeting moment of discovery. ‘Experiment’ details the effects of static electricity, and as a result, the poem is almost haunted by the boys who took part:
You’d know the moment you met one by the excitable wings of his collar,
by the folded ailerons of the shoulder blades, the way his uncertain hair
had coiled into wires, and the eyes like skies after lightning’
Here, the longer lines create an atmosphere of dreamlike suspense, in which the boys move from the peripheries of language to the centre and are transformed into a “lark-mirror, a dark chandelier.” Transformations are a key theme within the collection, stretching into the nature of language itself. Saunders’ exploration of the invention of the writing that lead to Braille echoes the process of poetry:
Because, as you put out the lamp, you can feel the words blister
and bud, the seeds of a future where even a blind man can read.
(‘The Invention of Night Writing’)
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 is currently a student at the University of Northampton, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. She has had poems published in several magazines including The Seventh Quarry. Jessica has a forthcoming poetry pamphlet entitled Someone Else’s Photograph, to be published by Crystal Clear Creators.