Saturday, 30 September 2006

First books: C

Lord, three weeks since last time. I'm really not cut out for a blogger ...
Carol Watts had an auspicious start this year, with a first collection published by Equipage and launched with a reading at the Runnymede Festival (at Royal Holloway College, Egham), on, I think, 23 April, 615 years to the day after the death of Elyenore Corp, a young woman whose memorial brass in a Devon church inspired the fifteen beautiful 14-line poems in Carol’s book.
The title alone, brass, running, quickly suggests a whole series of transformative levels, within and beyond language, matter and spirit. I can’t but think of the whole Hildegard of Bingen thing, that a few of us have messed with in verse, plus modern addresses to other medieval spiritual/mystic women, such as Jane Draycott’s and Lesley Saunders’s semi-documentary collaboration on Christina the Astonishing, who could fly (a lovely book, published by Peter Hay’s Two Rivers Press, with his illustrations, in 1998) or Alison Croggon on the endlessly weeping Margery Kempe, and others, in 'Specula’
. In Watts’s sequence, associations of the sea, ‘gulls / tacking before the wind’, ‘light / and its qualities’, the molten history of a brass, plus the reference to ‘the anchorage of one year’ suggests that Elyenore may have lived some kind of specifically spiritual rule; however I don't think it really matters. What here ‘brings breath to metal / as if the wind lifts her’ is an attainable if fugitive human joy in the sensational world and the body, channelled in the imaginary by the poet. I find it delicately and yet robustly achieved, the writing very rich but remaining fluid, turning from one thing to another, including some fragments of contemporary text and apparently particular historical references, always thinking and composing as well as riding a flow of impressions:

... think of the sound of light as
a guttering of limbs its rush a hunger
to sustain the evidence of breathing snatched
from other open mouths the denial
of burning is not harmless she is not here
is something inflammatory baptism: light
and water implicated in the frenzy of cities
(from ‘IX’)

Carol Watts, brass running (Cambridge: Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL,.2006). £3 post free.