Slant Light

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Slant Light

Pavilion Poetry


February 26th, 2016

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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.


'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

'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

'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

'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.'

'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.'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.'Jen Campbell, Costa Poetry Prize Judge

'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

'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, artificial 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' - 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

Author Information

Sarah Westcott’s debut collection Slant Light, Pavilion Poetry, was Highly Commended in the 2017 Forward Prizes. Her pamphlet Inklings, published by Flipped Eye, was a winner of the Venture Poetry Award and a Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice. Sarah’s poems have appeared in magazines including Poetry Review, POEM, Magma and Butcher's Dog, on beermats, billboards and buses, and in anthologies including Best British Poetry The Forward Book of Poetry and Staying Human (Bloodaxe, 2020). Sarah was a poet-in-residence at the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve in London and Manchester Cathedral poet of the year in 2016. Recent awards are the London Magazine poetry prize and the Manchester Cathedral prize. She was a news journalist for twenty years and now teaches poetry at City Lit in London.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Spring Wood12
Downy Mildew15
For the Love of Young Leaf19
The Mariposa Trees22
Fallen Monarch22
The Faithful Couple23
Wawona Tunnel Tree 22
The Vegetable Lamb25
Green Giant26
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch28
Little Red31
Pox Charm32
Charm for Delayed Birth33
Charm for a Lost Child34
Still Life39
Sculpting a Mole40
The Cannots41
The Green Flash43
And Then He Started Singing Again44
Charm Against a Wen45
Black and Blue46
We Are Listening51
Notes and Acknowledgements55