A unique and extraordinary body of work. -- Frances Leviston
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About Pauline Stainer
Pauline Stainer is an English poet, born in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. After attending St Anne’s College, Oxford, she moved to Essex, where she raised four children. After several years on the Orkney island of Rousay, she moved to Suffolk, where she lives now. Since the publication of her first volume of poems, The Honeycomb (1989) she has published 7 further full collections, including The Wound-Dresser’s Dream (1996), for which she was nominated for the Whitbread Poetry Award, The Lady and the Hare: New and Selected Poems (2003), and her latest volume, Tiger Facing the Mist (2013). She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the King’s Lynn Award for Merit in Poetry, a Cholmondeley Award and a Hawthornden fellowship, and was selected for the Poetry Book Society’s New Generation Poets promotion in 1994. She is also an artist.
Stainer is an unusual contemporary poet in that she has a highly developed sense of her lineage within a specifically English tradition, one which originates in Anglo-Saxon riddles and extends through the highly allusive work of David Jones to the powerful natural imagery of Ted Hughes; but is equally at home engaging with Mallarmé, Lorca, or Wallace Stevens. Her extraordinary facility for describing sensory phenomena in vivid detail is always substantiated by a complex historical, ethical or philosophical context, resonating beyond the vividly realised scene presented to us, as in “A Litany of High Waters”: “Everywhere, the colour of exile – silica, sulphur // arctic foxes in their mottled summer blue, / ashes white unto harvest.” Her poetry collides language from myth and legend with that from science and the contemporary world, creating landscapes in which several temporal periods become startlingly coeval, as in “A Kind of Quickening”, in which a medieval church emerges from its contemporary surroundings to produce a series of anachronistic visions:
in her field of windscreens,
glide over the hammerbeams
as if sighting eternity
In recent work she has exhibited a refreshing poise and restraint in her language to create scenes of startling power and strangeness, as in “After the Ark”, in which the disembarked pairs of animals, “long after landing”, would “watch / for the waterspouts / and that mysterious fall / of fish from the air”. The miraculousness of the natural world is registered throughout her oeuvre, as in “The Ice-Pilot”, which asserts that “One waterfall is extraordinarily like another”. Yet in Stainer’s work nature is never idealised, glibly communicant or itself invulnerable, and an acute ecological consciousness is present throughout, as in the strange and oblique poem “Thaw”, which describes how “The bodies of Victorian climbers / are recovered / as the glaciers retreat”. In the space of a few short lines, Stainer alerts the reader to environmental disaster, evokes the ecological time which dwarfs human history, and also recalls the Norse creation myth alluded to elsewhere in her work: “as on the evening / of the first day / a man’s hair / comes out of the ice”. It exemplifies this poet’s ability to charge every line of her work with compacted meaning and various resonances, effects only heightened by her reading style, the care and precision of which allows her readers to appreciate to an even greater degree the intensity and control she exerts over every word and phrase.