Review: Lesley Saunders’ Cloud Camera reviewed in Poetry Review

Below is an extract from the review “Unlit Rooms” by Michael Hulse which appears in POETRY REVIEW Volume 102:3 Autumn 2012 p119-120

Unlit Rooms

MICHAEL HULSE

Lesley Saunders, Cloud Camera, Two Rivers Press, £8.99, ISBN 9781901677812

Stephen Edgar, The Red Sea. New & Selected Poems, Baskerville, $19.95, ISBN 9781880909782

Anyone who reads contemporary poetry needs these important books. The poets could hardly be more different. Lesley Saunders is arresting for the vigour with which her thought compels words. Stephen Edgar is striking for his cadenced grace. Each is dazzling, and each should be far better known.

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.

Don’t take my word for it. See her poem on Mary Shelley’s dream that her dead baby came to life, her poem on the fallen angels (whose knowledge is “not to be unlearned now”), or these last lines of ‘Census':

 If this is not the life you meant to live, please ask

for help. We belong to the beloved. How would you

describe. How well can you speak. How long can you stay.

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. Was it not submitted to the PBS, that this book failed to be a Choice?

 

Michael Hulse’s latest book is the anthology, The Twentieth Century in Poetry (Ebury, 2011) co-edited with Simon Rae.