The Met Office Urges Caution by Rebecca Watts

There’s nothing like an unexpected bookish surprise, and one of these occurred recently when OH presented me (for no particular reason!) with an impromptu gift in the form of Rebecca Watts’s first collection of poems. Watts is a name new to me, but OH had come across mention of her as she was born locally and is making something of a name for herself. Always happy to receive an unanticipated book… 🙂

Watts is an alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge, and now lives in that city; and she made the local news recently with the publication of “Trinity Poets”, the first ever anthology of poems by nearly 50 authors from Elizabethan times to the present, all members of the College. Watts is one of only a few women featured (although as she points out, it’s only recently that women were allowed to enter the College…); and it’s something she’s justly proud of. However, on to her own book…

“The Met Office…” is a lovely slim volume from Carcanet Press (with a really beautiful cover, BTW); issued last year, it’s garnered a lot of praise and I can see why. Rebecca Watts writes the kind of poetry I like; it speaks to me, I can relate to it, I don’t struggle with it, and it leaves me thoughtful afterwards. Her topics are wide-ranging: nature features (as you would imagine from somebody who comes from a rural location), as well as feminism, relationships, weather (of course!) and basically the whole human condition.

I tried to do the sensible thing when reading this collection, spacing it out so I read a few poems at a sitting, and this seemed to work. It would have been easy to rush through the book, as it was so good and so readable, but I think that would have spoiled my overall enjoyment and stopped me really appreciating each particular piece.

There is an immediacy about Watt’s writing which is refreshing, which is not to say that the poems are simple; but they have a directness that belies the complexity of the composition and meaning. Her link with nature is a particularly strong one, with Watts recording her experiences with wildlife – bats, birds, hares – as well as her responses to the landscape and the sea. Some of these are free form, some prose, some highly structured into particular shapes or complex rhyme schemes. However, she’s equally capable of knocking out a short, wry and witty rhyming verse about the different types of partying that take places at different stages of life. Some of my favourite poems were “Insomniac” about a woman pacing the night landscape, desperate for sleep; “Party”, the aforementioned witty verse; and “Aldeburgh Beach”, a beautifully constructed short work which captures the sound of the sea wonderfully.

The blurb on the back compares Watts with Simon Armitage and Stevie Smith, and although I can see where they’re coming from with the former I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the latter. For my money, Watts has a distinctive poetic voice of her own, one that makes you look at the world around you with new eyes: and I can’t recommend this rich, diverse and thought-provoking collection highly enough.