Oct 23 2023
Poetry review – THE TALL GOLDEN MINUTE: Kelly Davis welcomes a new and wide-ranging collection from Linda Saunders
‘LIVE SLOW’ – the capitals are deliberate, in this slogan written on a jogger’s T-shirt. Linda Saunders notices this detail and it triggers one of her characteristic reflections on the nature of time, considering how a ‘dancing insect fits its whole life into just one / of our flash-by, disregarded days’. We too must follow the instruction, as this superb collection should be savoured, and the poems reward slow, careful reading.
Divided into three sections, The Tall Golden Minute moves from poems celebrating much-loved places in Cumbria and Yorkshire, through precise and beautiful observations of nature, to a selection of haunting family portraits, and finishes with some clear-eyed meditations on mortality. The poems are satisfyingly arranged so they are in conversation with each other, one leading naturally to the next, linked by a word, thought or setting.
Saunders makes it clear that she is looking back over a long life. In “Too Soon to Winter”, ‘She knows how it feels, to fold your wings / into their own shadow’. In “Beyond Me”, she says, ‘Today my first great-grandchild / sleeps glowing in my lap, / skin of pale silk, eyelids flickering’. She may be ‘white with the shaken years’ but her poems are bursting with energy and insight – and they deserve to reach a wide audience.
She’s adventurous in her use of poetic form, switching from lyrical couplets and triplets to short broken lines to conjure up the rushing water in a beck. She adopts long stanzas in a narrative poem like “Strength” which describes the tragic loss of a huge sycamore in a storm and finishes with a moving description of a ninety-year-old neighbour taking in the damage to his garden. He was once ‘treelike himself’ but now he’s ‘found a rake to lean on, and to work with / to the best of the last of his strength. / Any wind at all might blow him over.’
Although Saunders is undoubtedly a gifted nature poet, some of my favourite poems in this collection are about people. In “Everlasting Flower”, she sees a blue rose tattoo on a young man and imagines how it will ‘float like a dream still over the mottles / and corded veins of an old man’s hand’. “Handyman” is a tribute to ‘Keith the joiner / everything-sorter’ who wears a stud in his ear and can fix pretty well anything. And in “Living Statue” the poet ‘cloaked as usual in shadow’ sees a young man in silver paint having a sneaky cigarette break, before returning to freeze on his plinth for high-street crowds.
At a time when so much contemporary poetry seems relentlessly introspective, it’s refreshing to come across a poet whose focus is fixed on the world around her. Whether she’s describing two wood pigeons preening ‘each pearl-grey feather’ or standing under her favourite birch tree ‘lost in the interplay of leaves and sky’, she is alert, connected, electrified by the miracle of life.
It is worth mentioning too that this is the first publication from Tremaen Press, a new poetry imprint at 186 Publishing; and with this collection, the publishers (John Freeman and Stuart Gaskell) have set a high standard for their list. [Copies of The Tall Golden Minute can be ordered through bookshops and are available via Amazon]