Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Hello 2016

It has been a long time since I last blogged so *thank you* for reading if you have returned and may this year bring much joy and inspiration.
I've been working on the final proofs for Slant Light, and looking for a prefatory quote.
Being a bit of a quote hoarder, I had quite a few good ones scribbled in the back of my diaries from over the years. One I have liked for a while is the brief: "More detail in the cow parsley" by David Hockney. There is something true and funny about it. But it's somehow too allusive and light weight.
There are others, too, "A flower passes, and that is the best of it" by DH Lawrence, and "Where the bats go round without answer" by Ted Hughes. But none of them seem right, so we have gone with a creamy blank page. And I am proud to dedicate it to my children, all three (!) of them.
We are also getting some readings set up, including a launch on April 20th at Liverpool University. I've never been to Liverpool. Really looking forward to this..


It's been so busy with a little one that I haven't had time for any sustained or concentrated reading. If I get through the London Review of Books in a fortnight, then I give myself a very small pat on the back. I have so enjoyed David Almond's "A song for Ella Grey" which is a re-telling of the Orpheus myth, ostensibly for teenagers. I bought it for our newly teenage son (who also enjoys Harry Enfield's Kevin very much) but he has not read it yet, being into Jeeves and Wooster at the moment. I wonder if it is the case of a book which adults think is a "nice thing" for children, just as they might approve of "nice friends". In any case, a song for Ella Grey is just exquisite. Almond is one of my favourite writers. He mixes a delicate spirituality with north-east earthiness, that makes for a rich, delicious register.
Here's a description of Orpheus' lyre: "It was a clumsy-looking, homemade-looking kind of thing ... seemed made of drift wood, waste wood, any wood. But when he played, it sang so sweet, so deep. Even the clunks of the thickest strings were right. They held the music down to earth, even as it seemed to float away to nothingness.
"The crudeness and the sweetness rang together, like the body and the soul, the earth and sky. And his voice. Like something from a billion miles away and somewhere very close. Like something ancient, something very new. How can I say this? Wouldn't have known to say such things just a few short months ago."

The other book I have much enjoyed recently is Sophie Herxheimer's tender and vivid The Listening Forest. But the baby has woken up and I won't do it justice so I will blog about it very soon.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

New Book

Delighted to share the exciting news that my first collection is coming out next year, with Pavilion Poetry, part of Liverpool University Press.

The book is called Slant Light, and comes in this handsome shade of green which I hope chimes with the somewhat botanical and earthy contents. I would hesitate to label the collection as 'eco poetry' but it is written with a deep awareness of human and non-human connections and threads. It contains some poems from my pamphlet, Inklings, but mostly new work that has been published here and there in the last three or four years. It's been an interesting, painstaking and laborious process gathering the work together, ordering and editing it, and we are still tweaking the manuscript.
Here's a picture of the cover -

And here is a taster of the 'blurb' -

In her first full-length collection, Sarah Westcott immerses the human self in the natural world, 
giving voice to a remarkable range of flora and fauna so often silenced or unheard. 
Here, the voiceless speaks, laments and sings - from the fresh voice of a spring wood 
to a colony of bats or a grove of ancient sequioa trees. Unafraid of using scientific language 
and teamed with a clear eye, Westcott’s poems are drawn directly from the natural world, 
questioning ideas of the porosity of boundaries between the human and non-human 
and teeming with detail. A series of lyrical charms inspired by Anglo-Saxon texts 
draw on the specificity of the botanical and its spoken heritage, suggesting a relevance 
that resonates today. Westcott’s poems are alive to the beautiful in the commonplace 
and offer up a precise honouring of the wild, while retaining a deeply-felt sense of connection 
with a planet in peril.

It is only the second year that Pavilion have been publishing and I am privileged to be part of this new series, edited by the wonderful poet Deryn Rees-Jones. The press got off to a flying start with Mona Arshi's collection, Small Hands, which won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection this year, and two other collections - Blood Child, by Eleanor Rees and And She Was by Sarah Corbett.
Slant Light is due in April next year.
Also forthcoming at the same time is Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson, which I am looking forward to very much, having recently enjoyed her work in the Poetry Review. Hopefully we'll be reading at a few events together in 2016.

I was particularly pleased with the comments from two fellow poets on the book which will go on the back - two poets whose work I admire and enjoy very much indeed. Permitting myself to blow my own trumpet *parp* - this is what they said:

Slant Light is a book of charms and wonders, full of birds and flowers. 
But Sarah Westcott is too good a poet to simply charm us, and the work here is fierce with intelligence, 
compassion and the sheer exuberance of attending to what Hopkins called ‘the dearest freshness 
deep down things’. A super debut. 
Jacob Polley   
I have been waiting eagerly for a full collection from Sarah Westcott. Now it is here I am dazzled. 
So imaginative are the poems in Slant Light it's as if she pulls her language from a fantastical place; 
Westcott takes us deep into the natural world, makes us understand its physical urgency, 
‘the insistence of air’. She has a microscopic eye. Everything we encounter here – the bat, the mole, 
the hare, the flower – is so finely described, things rise up from the page. 
This is not just a book of poems, it is a book of rich, exquisite shapes, providing a new understanding 
of how ‘we sense the bright world’.
Rebecca Goss   

You can read more about Slant Light, and Pavilion Poetry, here - 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Running again

I went for my first run yesterday since having Gabriel two and a half months ago.. and it felt soo good!
I had forgotten how running is the best form of "me time" (don't like that phrase) - far better than a bath with scented candles for example! I had forgotten how the action of running shakes your mind clear, a bit like a sieve, leaving only the interesting nuggets to think about..
I had forgotten how free you feel, moving without anyone else, but yourself, and moving with your own energy and will.
I had forgotten how good it is to sweat
It was also very gratifying to feel my body remembering what to do, and how to do it. I was a little scared putting on my running stuff - what if it didn't fit, or it felt uncomfortable. It was like trying on an old self.
It was only three miles and  I am a little stiff today. But it helped me feel more like myself again, which is interesting, as I wouldn't have necessarily thought running was that integral to me. Perhaps it is. And I am grateful to be healthy enough to do it..
Actually, I have applied for a media place for the London Marathon again. If I do get it (I'm on maternity leave, so may not) then I may defer till the year after. But I have already thought about the charity I'd like to run for - the Aiden Goodwin Foundation, so we shall see.

I've read a couple of good first collections recently, but it was Andrew McMillan's Physical (Cape)that really stayed with me. I loved the visceral tenderness of the poems, many about being a young gay man, and the explorations of masculinity.  What is it to be a man in 2015? How can a man be? I don't have the book to hand to quote, but I will add to this later when I do..
I especially liked his poem Urination, which is an almost spiritual celebration of the male body, and what enters and leaves it. Highly recommended..

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

New mother ramblings

It's been so long since I had a small baby - 11 years - that I have forgotten what it was like. Or maybe it is simply different with each child. There are some lines in a poem by Fiona Benson that keep coming to me -

'It was always like this;

a long line of women
sitting and kneeling,
out of their skins
with love and exhaustion.'


[break off to tend to baby who has woken up with a cross cry]

I am out of my skin with a gentle, deep tiredness. It's as if I am living in a slightly different medium, more viscous than air and tinted with extra light and shade.
The days are simple; days of feeding and wiping and holding, singing. I only realise how much I talk to our baby when I am not alone with him and become self-conscious. I read his face every hour, watch it changing. Already the furrow between his brows has gone, and his eyelashes are growing. I can, and do, gaze at him for hours. Not particularly thinking anything ... just looking.
I'm sure there is an evolutionary imperative for this intense focus.. one of the delights of being a new mother is being swept up in the sheer biology of it all, from the flowing patient breasts to the particular, distinctive scent of each child, which is beyond description. The particular cry, too which I could pick out from dozens of other baby cries as my own baby's. The changing parameters of what is important.

I am well away from the wider world, and at the heart of this safe, small place. For now, anyway.

[break off to tend to baby who is looking at me like an imp ... I cannot ignore his gaze]


[baby has cried for most of the morning, I think. My watch has broken. I have given him a dummy which I didn't want to do before he was born.]

[I have written one sentence and he crying again]


Back again ...

Something I have been doing a lot is walking with the baby and the dog, an hour or so each day. I have walked the same route, through September and October, and watched this local world change as Autumn deepens.
The quality of light has altered - it has lost its golden slant and the dampness has thickened. The rosehips' hue dulling from brilliant, shiny red, the leaf fall, drifts of it, the russet creeper leaves dropping like hands, the gulls on the street lamps, the adolescent magpies with new adult plumage.

As the days shift, the world shifts, in tiny increments and over the weeks and months, quite profoundly. There is an aggregation into drifts of weeks, but also something unique to each day, whether it is the cloud cover, leaf fall, or stillness of the air.

I watch the leaf colour change at the base of a scraggy oak, and leach upward, as my baby's bones lengthen and soon he becomes too long for his suit.
Semi-delirious, my perceptions take on a gritty intensity. We do not need to speak. The traffic drone is incessant, benign. On sunny days, there is an ornate dragon fly that comes to our garden.
So much washing; tiny suits drying.

And to write of this is a release, and an honouring, for I know how fleeting these days are, how particular and specific, and how I will look back on them with clarity, and a sense of loss, as each leaf breaks itself down to nothing.


His tiny nostrils are like this  '   '
What do they say in that darkness, that space where he draws up air to his lungs?

Already, it is November
Already, I have felt impatience as he cries
Already, he is learning to miss the warm teat in his mouth
Already he knows of absence

He looks into corners; what does he see? The fall of light
Already, he turns to our voices; smiles
I learn the patterns of his breath
I place my ear to his chest and hear his wild heart going
A stranger tells me how lucky I am
Yes, I say, yes

Monday, 19 October 2015

When I was born

Just posting up occasional poems that haven't quite been finished or are flawed but have a pulse ... here's one I thought I'd share. It is in keeping with the theme of babyhood that is running through my bones at the moment..
The premise for this poem is the rather comforting fact that the world existed before you were born and will go on, blithely and regardless, when you've Alice Oswald said: "The only cure for mortality is mortality".
Happy Autumns, all.

When I was born 

Perhaps there was a man on the 18.18 to Dartford
and a blackbird swooped across his thoughts
and he noticed how yellow its bill was, like crocii,
and the train was bang on time
meaning he caught the fast connection to Dover
and ate stew with his children, told them tales.

I know it was a Friday afternoon 
and I’d like to say it was raining hard 
when I pushed through and the streets were
shining and the birds were singing 
but really I’ve no idea
if the world paused for a second,
in fact I’m sure it didn’t,
as indifferent as it shall be when I breathe my last
sweet breath and this is a comfort -
such bland indifference, 
though I like to imagine my father’s eyes.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Mary Evans Picture Library

hello there
Just a quick one ...

Our poetry group, the Nevada Street Poets, were delighted to be invited to respond to one of many thousands of images at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath, this summer.
This wonderful building houses literally half a million images, from fine art to art deco to 70's advertising campaigns. Whatever you can think of, there will be an image of it...(within reason!)
My image below of the sculptor Charles Giron, produced a poem about the nature of art - and was chosen by fellow poet Kelley Swain.  I think we all made a point of choosing images for each other that perhaps would not have been our natural instinctive choices, and perhaps that made for quirkier, more suprising writing.
Anyway, you can read the poems below, in honour of National Poetry Day tomorrow.
And if any poets are reading this, you can respond to an image too, if so inspired, and send it in - details are on the site

Picture 10530690, portrait of the sculptor Jean Carries by Charles Giron, c.1880

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

brave new world

Hi blogsters.

Our beautiful baby, Gabriel, was born a week ago and he is a wonder. Sometimes impy, sometimes very old, sometimes just a tiny boy. Feeling very lucky to have him here safely in the world. And strange to think that less than a week ago he was still inside me and what a huge journey it is from being unborn, to born.  His umbilical stump is drying up hour by hour as he learns to live in his own body..

I also think a lot about the world he has been born in to, and what all the babies born now are inheriting from us. If he is lucky to have a long life, he will live to 2100.

All newborn babies are so precious and innocent. I think of those born into a world without a home, or a father, or safety, and how lucky we are to have our own beds, own front door, our freedoms.
Anyway I am writing this with one hand so will stop now but yes, a profound and moving experience to have him here sleeping in my arms, dreams running over his face in little mysteries and flickers..


Onto some poetry matters - I was delighted to have a poem painted up on a giant bill board on the corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve as part of the Phytology project.

The billboard changes every few months, and there are some more details here -

My poem was inspired by St Jude - the Patron Saint of Lost Causes and the name of the church on the site which was bombed in the Second World War. There are still lumps of rubble and brick in the soil, which once were thick church walls. I must say it was loosely inspired by the structure of a poem by Mona Arshi, called You Are Not, from her collection Small Hands. I tried to write about the specific nature on the site - it's full of mushrooms and cyclamen at the moment, and i wanted it to be accessible for people passing by..

I've also got a poem going round Guernsey at the moment on the buses, which is fun. It's great to have some work 'out there'.
Back soon and thanks for reading