London Grip Poetry Review – Kate Foley


Poetry review – SAVED TO CLOUD: Adele Ward finds the climate emergency and Covid restrictions can sit side-by-side with poems depicting a long life lived to the full in this collection by Kate Foley


Saved to Cloud  
Kate Foley 
Arachne Press 2023 
ISBN 978-1-913665-76-0
66pp      £9.99

The wordplay of the title, Saved to Cloud, suggests our close relationship with nature and the internet, both of which are themes in Kate Foley’s collection. Writing and reading are also recurrent topics, with poems looking back towards her influential writing predecessors and their significant poems, as well as considering her writing process now and in future. With so many authors using the Cloud to write, save and share their work, the title is rich in suggestions, setting up expectations that the collection satisfies.

The opening poems demonstrate the importance of the internet, particularly as they were written at a time of lockdown due to Covid, ‘when the shining leaf/and the virus/both live outside’ and the poet expresses empathy with others:

while we hope on
behind our windows and screens,
when gadgets and gizmos
offer a grateful substitute 
for the touch
we long for.

Nature and human touch are yearned for and witnessed through the glass of the window or tech screen, giving them additional force and making these poems positive despite the restrictions and fears imposed by the virus.

This is the world viewed through the eyes of a highly perceptive writer, whether free to wander or closed indoors, and the importance of writing and reading is apparent from the start. The opening poem, with its title “Necessary Poets”, stresses how essential poetry is, and the metaphors and similes are beautifully and accurately chosen. Poets studied at ‘O’ level, many years ago, still ‘live in the pocket/like a silver coin.’

Some ‘ordinary poets’ (the adjective chiming with the ‘O’ of ‘O’ level) might not be in the canon with a large body of work, but their one successful poem might be anthologised and could live for centuries. As Foley puts it:

Ordinary poets
may from time to time,
if they’re lucky
speak the one word
that will do, so
they need to learn humble -
because, if the arrow hits the target,
they'll never know.

The downside of technology is deftly described in poems including “Power Cut”, where Foley describes mobile phone addiction in ways that reveal its horrors while also showing her skill at the comic voice. In the absence of electricity, she continues to write in the traditional way:

Yes! Paper and ink!
Making this tiny gesture,
two fingers up to keyboards,
screens, the febrile glow
of phones in faces, in trains,
on planes, at dinner,
under the pillow -
down the aisle.

The pleasure of escaping technology for a while is here, and yet Foley is no technophobe, but rather a poet in tune with the latest news and devices who also displays a vivid memory for a long life richly lived. Anyone who reads Foley’s poems or attends an event will be surprised to see the comment on the back cover that she ‘looks back on almost nine decades of life’. The past and present are portrayed with a writer’s youthful curiosity: there is a welcome absence of nostalgia in the historical poems, while the present-day poems have no signs of technophobia. It’s pleasing to see a writer bucking the trend and going against the false stereotypes of our ageist and still sexist society.

In “Rag and Bones” Foley shares a memory only her older readers will recognise from childhood: the man who passed their homes regularly, calling out for items they wanted to throw away. Unlike the original rag-and-bone men from previous centuries, this collector went beyond actual rags and animal bones to include other household detritus that could be ‘recycled’ for money, as we’d say now. The poem moves from the man in the horse and cart singing ‘Ra-bo-ooon’ to the present day without him, when:

He’s gone -
so much rubbish,
landfill spilling
on a once green land.

The poem weaves seamlessly between past and present, without idealising a time of less environmental damage – the people who have been alive since that time are the ones who welcomed the convenience of single-use plastic, along with luxuries including central heating and daily hot showers. None of us can read these poems and feel we are not responsible.

The kind of materials we had in the past were recycled by rag-and-bone men and others trying to make an income, not for environmental reasons but because they had a value. Customers returned glass bottles to shops for a refund, with no talk about benefits to the planet, and switched without much thought to more damaging habits and materials. Foley ends the collection by asking ‘Will it build again/our earth?’, stressing the environmental theme by giving it the last word.

This final poem is called “Repeating Patterns” and it questions the kind of life there will be on earth after we have gone. It combines the urgency of our need to fight climate change and pollution with an appealing alternative image of a possible vibrant and peaceful future without us.

In Saved to Cloud, Foley draws attention to our species in crisis and at risk of extinction, but there’s also a sense of how to live life well, savouring the enjoyments of nature and more urban settings. Foley is a flaneuse, living and travelling in other countries where she describes the simple but important pleasures, such as sitting in cafes in good company. As always with this poet, the collection is both serious in the themes tackled and a thorough pleasure to read.