Lesley Saunders

Lesley Saunders was a winner of The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Exhibition 2016/17.

She is the author of nine books and pamphlets of poetry, most recently Periplous: the Twelve Voyages of Pytheas, a chapbook from Shearsman Books. Her poems have been widely published, including in Ambit, Areté, Artemis, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, London Review of Books, Magma, Mslexia, Poetry London, Poetry News, P N Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, The New Statesman, The North, and Warwick Review. She is also a featured poet in New Poetries VI (Carcanet 2015). Lesley has performed her work at festivals and on the radio.

Among numerous awards and prizes (including longlistings in the National Poetry Competition 2014 and 2015), her poem ‘The Uses of Greek’ was shortlisted for the 1999 Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem, and she was joint winner of the inaugural Manchester Poetry Prize in 2008. She won the Live Canon competition in 2015 with the poem ‘Asylum’. She also won the ‘Ten Poems About Clouds’ competition hosted by Candlestick Press and the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Lesley has worked on collaborative projects with artists, photographers, sculptors, dancers, and a composer and choir; her poems have been set to music by musicians and she has recently completed a collaborative project with installation artist Susan Adams. She undertakes editorial and mentoring work as well as book reviewing, and is currently working on a book of translations of selected poems by the acclaimed Portuguese writer Maria Teresa Horta.

She runs writing workshops for major organisations as well as for local groups, and has held several residencies, most recently at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. Her most recent full collection, The Walls Have Angels, described in the Winter 2014 issue of the Poetry Book Society Bulletin as ‘a window into lives lived – past and present – and a song for survival’, was inspired by her residency at Acton Court, a hauntingly beautiful Tudor manor house and its summer visitors in 1535, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

A new collection, Nominy Dominy – an extended praise-song for the Greek and Latin literature Lesley grew up with as a schoolgirl – is due out from Two Rivers Press in 2018. In her career as educational researcher, Lesley holds Visiting Professorships at UCL Institute of Education, London, and Newman University, Birmingham, and is a Research Fellow at the Oxford University Department of Education; she is the author/co-author of over a hundred journal articles and book chapters.

'Lesley Saunders’ Angels on Horseback at first catches you off-guard, seduces you with gorgeous vocabulary, then culminates in a chilling intensity. Lesley ranges through her pantheon of heroines, exploring the violence done to them not through worn rhetoric but through defamiliarising tropes of disturbing beauty and pleasure. It is rare to find poems as perfectly controlled, a pamphlet as assured and startling, as this.'                                                                                                                                                             - Mimi Khalvati


No Doves is a quite dazzling collection… Lesley Saunders is a very exciting and interesting writer who deserves your closer attention.’                                                                                                                                                            - David Morley


‘Lesley Saunders is arresting for the vigour with which her thought compels words…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.’                                                                                                                             - Michael Hulse, Poetry Review


Angels on Horseback

At the thé dansant she explains how the cancer
is eating her, melting her marrowbone to jelly.
She can smell herself, jugged hare, hung game.
All shaven and shorn, she sips echinacea
out of fine china, notices the hairline crack
in her cup. Perhaps she’ll try a finger of toast,
a teaspoon of soup, a soupçon of sweet.
Nothing tastes good. She gets up to tango,
her scalp glistens softly under the lights, her legs
feel suddenly unsteady, thieved by the breeze,
she’s vol au vent, mille-feuille, cabell d’àngel.
She imagines her chemo-brain in its liquor, oyster
ready for shucking. The angels are coming.
Her dance-partner catches her fall, glides across
with the sushi, shimmies in the swim of her eyes.


“The contemporary poets to whose work I return again and again, with admiration and envy, to try to find out ‘how do they do that?’ include Anne Carson, Jane Draycott, Medbh McGuckian, Michael Symmons Roberts… I’m also captivated at the moment by Jacob Polley’s Jackself, Mona Arshi’s Small Hands and Theo Kwek’s The First Five Storms; and I still find myself revisiting Plath and TSE…”


Cloud Camera, which was published by Two Rivers Press in 2012, was inspired by a visit to the Whipple Museum of the history of science in Cambridge, where my attention was caught by a number of beautifully-wrought and intriguing objects. I started with one or two poems and then found I had a whole book!

The collection tries to give a subjectivity – a dream life – to scientific abstractions and inventions, to fill out the metallic exteriorities with an interior reality.

A sample poem is ‘A Hare’s Breath’, which tries to capture some of the strange giddiness people must have experienced when they first looked down a microscope – for example, at a magnified image of a flea. In those days, microscope images were invariably distorted by chromatic aberration, with the result the flea’s head seems to sport a halo around it – which cannot help calling to mind William Blake’s miniature painting ‘The Ghost of a Flea’.

The poem’s title ‘A Hare’s Breath’ comes from an internet search I did for the origin of the expression a ‘hair’s breadth’, the unit of length which, until the mid-20th century, was about the same as the highest resolution of microscopic measurement, about 10-5 metres. But the search also threw up a site containing the question ‘what is a “hare’s breath”?’…”

Titles by this author

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