Ghosting for Beginners: Anna Saunders, Indigo Dreams
Anna Saunders’s Ghosting for Beginners is a rich procession of phantoms and monsters. An undercurrent of anxiety for the material world grounds the collection: these spirits are anything but fey; these ghosts are part of the natural and spiritual life of this world.
“Ghosting”, the modern equivalent of “sending to Coventry” someone you want to dismiss or hurt, is the sub-plot of the witty title poem. It’s a meld of visual images - “Oh gauzy digits / hovering over the keys” - and ironic commentary on the practice so common in the digital age: “There’s no need to hang around graveyards / with malevolent intent …” and “Imagine how the ghouls will envy you / when you become a spectre on social media.”
Here are historical ghosts, (‘I said, Thomas, There is a Piece of Work about the Ghost’), mythic ghosts (‘The Lapwing’, ‘A Wild Swan in the Tunnel’), spirits raised by nature’s alarm (‘The Eye in the Tree’), urban ghosts (‘A Murmuration Seen above the City.’) There’s a prophet on the train, the Angel of Revelation in a New Age shop, and William Blake’s monstrous Ghost of a Flea. Hauntings are sometimes funny, often vengeful, but can equally be benign though sad.
There’s plenty of wit and humour in this collection. I enjoyed the visit of the Angel of Revelations to a New Age shop, “dressed only in a cloud”, appalled at the whimsy on the shop’s shelves, who creates an apocalyptic scene that sets off the smoke alarm and brings security running to pin him down as he roars at the pigeons outside the window.
In ‘The Song’ Saunders gives lyrical expression to personal feelings of loss and mourning by evoking a walk in the woods accompanied by the memory of her father, and returning home alone listening to a robin with “the urgent song of a creature/ asserting its claim on a darkening earth.”
But in ‘A Ghost before Dawn’ she advises a widow to forget, to leave her husband “in the liminal”, this “filmy, limpid creature / too ethereal to embrace”. She warns that “… our desires are gravity / holding the dead / fixed down to the earth.” And “How can we hear the one note of the dawn/ when night is still whispering in our ears?”
Saunders turns a steady but slant gaze on creatures of the night and the imagination with her joyfully visual phrasing. Her use of language is as imaginative as the creatures she has invented and researched. In ‘On How Ghosts Take the Moral High Ground’, the licentious former lover, now dead, as a spirit is “scrubbed clean” – “All his sins are exfoliated now, his new skin / light as bible paper, lucent as rain.”
Anna Saunders has published a number of previous collections, and is the CEO and founder of Cheltenham poetry festival. This is a collection that I will look forward to opening often, with new favourites emerging with each reading.
Janice Dempsey is an editor and publisher of poetry at Dempsey & Windle Publishing. She has had poems published in anthologies and journals in the past but editing, publishing and distributing books now occupy most of her time. She also writes local theatre reviews for the online magazine Essential Surrey and her own blog. Janice and her husband Dónall host poetry events in Surrey and London as The 1000 Monkeys.