Sarah Watkinson & ‘Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight’

Sarah Watkinson is the wondrous new Featured Writer.  I was thrilled to meet her at Teignmouth Poetry Festival when she came to read her poem in A Poetry of Elephants and I really love her new pamphlet Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight which richly deserved to be among the winners of the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Competition. It’s the accuracy and precision and the way this can translate into metaphor about our inner selves that I so admire as well as her attention to the nuance and sound of each syllable. Reading poems by someone who understands through and through the science she is writing about and who feels the wonder of it all is exciting and humbling to me (humbling because I try to write about nature myself but lack the depth of knowledge that Sarah has … but then she was an Oxford University Plant Scientist).

Here is Ash….  ‘metal fretted spears, a phalanx silhouetted’ … such clever shaping:

sarah-watkinson-poem-imageSarah is now reading all over the place: at Dawn Gorman’s Words and Ears, in London and in Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford where I heard she sold loads of books… I myself haven’t heard her read from Dung Beetles as yet and look forward to it. She is also organiser of a day on poetry and science called SciPo in Oxford with Mario Petrucci and Valerie Laws.

I can’t resist sharing what David Morley said, ‘Can you gather birds with an aviary, / or a bestiary by building a zoo?’ Sarah Watkinson’s poetry is alert to the gorgeous precisions of the natural world and the shapes and shades of season. I found this collection utterly beguiling: there was not one poem I did not admire, and many that startled me into seeing and hearing things afresh. Bravo.

And Nicholas Bielby (editor of Pennine Platform) said this about Dung Beetles: Sarah Watkinson is a plant scientist with a specialist interest in fungi and rot as agents in bio-recycling, yet she uses her technical language in a way that is totally poetic. She uses her knowledge in a way that takes us more deeply into the mystery of things than sensibility alone could do. I like poetry like this that teaches me things as well as stirring my mind, my imagination and my feelings. There is wonder, horror and humour in these poems, all firmly grounded in understanding and fine observation. She has an unusual feeling for language, her metaphors showing the same precision as her scientific terminology, all at the service of her humane imagination — where imagination is the Coleridgean capacity to perceive things as they are. I am stirred and impressed by this debut.”]

And then there is this really spot-on review by Carl Tomlinson of one of the poems, featured on Sphinx: this phrase rang true for me Her huge pleasure in words and their elastic possibilities shines in the virtuosity that weaves the numbers into the story, to take this death and dryness and ‘make it life like’.

Hard to choose a favourite when I have so much poem-envy but here’s a short  extract from the last poem, ‘A Paradigm Shift in Ornithology’

If the morning is sunny, when each bird appears
spare energy is transformed to song
although you can’t hum the tune.

At sunset they darken and vanish –
new ones will condense again at first light

 By now, you cant resist the book, surely not? You are going to have to get it for yourself: a snip at £4.99 from Cinnamon Press 

Anyway, it is fun for me to think that Sarah and I went to the same school together in Ilkley, Yorks though we didn’t seem to cross paths then. I must remember to ask her about whereabouts she lived in Ilkley and does she remember this teacher and that one??? And wasn’t so-and- so awful or lovely?  And did she also have to learn the alphabet in order to take part in the Obstacle Race at Sports’ Day?  I expect, unlike me, she knew it already by then!



About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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