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.
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’.
Invoking the sinister, slanted light of Emily Dickinson’s poem, in her first full-length collection Sarah Westcott casts her eye on a world teeming with organisms at once organic, articifical and mystical. Rooted in the natural world, the poems are concerned with the frail membranes that partition plant from animal matter, perfectly embodied in the image of ‘The Vegetable Lamb’ - a mythological plant believed to bear sheep as fruit. Revealing how firmly the spores of the ancient natural world are embedded in the contemporary, the collection is also a stark reminder of a world “quietly consuming itself.”
Poetry Book Society
Slant Light confirms Sarah Westcott as a striking new voice. Her main subject is the natural world and its many forms of life. The interconnectedness of humans, animals and plants is key to Westcott’s writing. The poems are informed by her scientific background but what makes them special is the individuality she perceives in these different forms, the voices she often gives them and the imaginative way she presents information…the approach is visionary. Even when the material is factual, the often shows it as so extraordinary that it seems beyond the real. Westcott mines the English language, drawing on scientific and technological terms and the language of everyday and obsolete words. Her tone is as varied as her vocabulary and ranges from the deeply emotional to the darkly ambiguous, from the mysterious to the vulnerable. Here is a poet deeply engaged with the natural and human world and their relationship. Her poems stay in the mind and draw the reader back. Slant Light is an outstanding collection.
Myra Schneider, Artemis Poetry
This collection mixes detailed observation of nature with folklore and at times almost painfully tender personal experiences, real or imagined. Westcott’s poetry is a moving marriage of an eye for nature and an acute understanding of the human heart. Beautifully written, tightly composed, this first collection is full of insight and forges a welcome link between words and nature.
John Ingham, Environment Editor, Daily Express
Sarah Westcott's poem “Downy Mildew” is an unexpectedly moving paean to a series of models of microscopic fungi made in the 1930s by the Cambridge mycologist Dillon Weston. “People thought fungi repulsive”, he once wrote, “and I wanted to show how beautiful they can be”. Westcott captures expertly what can be revealed if one only looks closely: “Contingent as mist/we rise up like little loaves/with dark spores/blaze our hackles, haring/across the greenest crucifers,/sinking into pulp”.
Jonathan Barnes, The Lancet
“Slant Light is a beautifully constructed meditation on man’s objectification of nature. The poems are full of clear, sometimes startling imagery … and generate a sense of reflection and joy.”
Bethany W. Pope, Magma
"This is memorable work, so full of biological references, charms and voices from the natural world. The surprising imagery and arresting language reveals Westcott’s keen eye and depth of scientific knowledge, setting the tone for the way she exposes the similarities between humans and other animals.
"… I was taken down the microscope into the pleasures and playfulness of language. A biologist’s wonder realises the empathy of a poet."
Maria Isakova Bennett, Orbis.
"This is a collection that relates nature to humanity in a way that is new and exciting … I think it is stunning.
"I'd push this book into the hands of a lot of people and I don't think you have to be very familiar with poetry to enjoy it either."
Book blogger and Costa Poetry Prize judge Jen Campbell on Getting Into Poetry (You Tube)
2013. Published by Flipped eye publishing.
Sarah Westcott's poetry is exuberant, generous and edgy. The poems in this pamphlet offer a brilliant introduction to a talented writer.
A high level of craft and finely nuanced language. The emotion in poems like 'Vegetable' is raw and should reach many.
Inklings stands out for its dark but celebratory vision and linguistic richness, sustained through a remarkable range of subject matter. This is a generous, outward looking collection that finds the uncanny in the everyday. Westcott writes lines at once punchy and delicate…Inklings is a work of personal integrity and otherworldly imagination.
Poetry Book Society Selectors’ Comment.