When we read Bloom, we are in Bloom. This isn’t some kind of terrible pun. When we read Sarah Westcott we know ourselves, instantly, to be in another world, flowering. Only, it’s the world we actually live in— we see this—but it is a world turned so liquid and luminous, where something strange has happened to time, as if all moments are simultaneously present, and we are remembering everything.
We are in what seems like a Rilkean world where everything quiet speaks and everything is fragmentary, like a series of stepping stones, some solid under the feet, some the kind that look secure but actually rock when you put your weight on them.
Yet this is not at all Rilke—it is all from the female body and female solitude. Perhaps it is the solitude in these poems that reminds me of Rilke. This is a psyche who is really Psyche, who is at little, at precious little distance from the natural world she observes. There are thin coverings to things, the sense of presence diaphanous sometimes, sometimes slippery.
I could quote almost the whole book here without stopping, to illustrate my point, so that this review might become another version of the book, and not a review (I’m not convinced any of my ‘reviews’ are really reviews anyway—and this is especially the case here).
Bloom, though, is not a narrative book, and I think that’s tremendously important: there are so many poetry books out there that exist as a narrative of something, and often it feels as though poetry is expected to do no more than provide nicely dressed personal anecdote. Westcott shows us otherwise. This is around Lockdown and the first months of the pandemic, but it’s not a Lockdown narrative. This is around and inside motherhood, but it is not a narrative of motherhood.
Poems are magical objects—no, magical processes that are meant to be transformative. They are meant to work deeply on the perceptions. And this is what Sarah Westcott does in this essential collection: she is at work on her own perceptions. A shape-shifter, she can slip her own skin with enviable ease, and through reading her, we can do the same. She is a deeply instinctive poet, at ease in her own poetical character, not afraid to write poems with vitally old-fashioned sounding/seeming titles:
I wanted my hands to touch something alive,
picked daisies, celandine, forget-me-not and bluebell—
behind the ears they were a blue haze.
The bluebell held six petals curling upwards,
a cute and inaccurate octopus, a lifted kilt,
a bell of soft lead a child might shape into a flower-head.
The celandines opened startled faces,
their yellow-green hearts pushed into the air.
The forget-me-nots were the back of my wrist,
a deep summer of being sixteen and running out
into a morning when form and perception were, once, the same.
Apart from the fact that this is one of those moments when someone else seems to have lived the exact same moment of my life (the last two lines), the power in the poem is much more mysterious than the power of her observations, as wonderful and gently humorous as they are. It’s more to do with the self who is saying the thing. Not even the self but the sleek perception singing, the joy perceiving: that’s what I find so moving, and so kin.
Westcott has a marvellous way of dissolving boundaries between self and other, self and world, self and time, so that any reader of hers must end up feeling: I want to be this way all the time. The word I want here is an over-used and badly understood one: natural. Reading Bloom makes one ache for that naturalness, but also, and this is rare, gives us a portal, a way of finding it.
Dream Cell (from ‘Spring Fragments’)
I could hear breathing and it was not my own. I held my breath and the breathing went on beyond me, a stream. I started to breathe again and I could hear my heart and my lungs, faithful. I woke into myself in the small single bed of my body, I woke into the white, not-white light, an inflorescence. There were no eyes and it was terrible. I went out into my body then, and I lived it.