THE TALL GOLDEN MINUTE
By Linda Saunders
Tremaen Press. 105 pages. £12. ISBN 978-1-7397814-9-1
Reviewed by John Dunton
I’m a town and city type, growing up surrounded by factories and cotton mills, listening to the sounds of buses and lorries trundling down the road, and hurrying along with everyone else to where it was we were going. Trees, flowers, grass? Well, yes, they were there, usually in parks, but my reaction to attempts to make me see more in them than is immediately apparent was akin to what I was told Samuel Johnson had said : “A blade of grass is a blade of grass. Now tell me something interesting”. Life in the streets, where the unexpected might happen, always seemed far more exciting than wandering in the countryside.
I probably won’t alter my overall views much as old age takes me closer to the final reckoning. But reading Linda Saunders makes me realise that the unexpected also comes along on a hill or in a field when the view is suddenly enlightening, or when a strange bird appears, and a tree is a reminder of a kind of permanency that nature provides in a world of shifting intentions and events. Her delight in what she sees is recorded in a poem like “Sudden Spring,” which is descriptive in more ways than one. The scenery is there (“an eruption of little mauve crocuses”) but also a mini-portrait of someone close to the poet who found a way out of a bleak urban environment and entered a land of “earth and plants and animals”.
The presence of people in the poem (people in the sense of someone besides the poet) is a reminder that what someone sees is what we’re told about. The views are filtered through the poet’s mind and shaped selectively. We don’t just see a landscape, any more than we do when we look at a painting of a rural scene. It’s the artist’s interpretation of it we look at. The best poems blend the various aspects of what’s there into one. A poem called “Swale Time” does just that as what’s seen (“heather and sedge give way/to sheep-cropped verge”), goes along with “bikers,/bandy and armoured” clustered outside “the highest pub in England”. And with thoughts about a lost watch and ideas about time. Ideas occur in more than one poem: “there’s no such thing as Now,/trying to explain: his now can never/ be the same as mine”. These lines from “Our Brocken Spectres” relate to The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, which also influenced the writing of “Swale Time”.
With regard to people, I particularly liked the poems about the poet’s parents. Her mother is written about movingly in “She’ll Come Out Running”, where she’s remembered as someone “with the secret romance of years/before I was born”, and in “French Lessons with English Tea”, where a long-ago relationship with a man in France is referred to. The poet’s father appears as less colourful but having a “gift of calm”. The poem, ”Under the Hat”, explores his past. Saunders only knew her grandmother from an old photograph, and discovered after her father’s death that his mother was an Austrian Jew : “Her story hides now in an oblivion/deeper than the photo’s dark background”.
The Tall Golden Minute is a strong collection with an admirable consistency in the writing. The poems move easily and without any obvious displays of technique to distract the reader. I’ve quoted a few lines but it strikes me that doing so really doesn’t get across how the book holds together as whole and not just as an assembly of individual poems.