Sarah Westcott on her poems ‘Messenger’ and ‘Form’

SwallowThere is something unknowable in birds and their flouting of our earth-bound rules – and for me, this is particularly true of swifts, bearers of great distances, far as cirrus and unreachable. ‘Messenger’ has its origins in childhood – my Dad and I would sometimes walk the Devon lanes in the twilight, and one evening we found a swift, grounded on the earth. I’d always thought they were black, sharp things, and I remember being surprised by its brindled plumage, slit mouth, and dark eyes. I remember my dad gently picking it up, and how fragile and otherworldly it felt in our hands.

I had been trying to write about this encounter for some years and made several attempts before deciding to move away from the bird itself, and towards an interpretation more multivalent and ambiguous. I was inspired by the god Mercury, the tradition of angelic messengers, and the language of sailing which might capture something of the interface between human and air.

“To set away, windward” suggests, for me, the idea of ‘letting go’ into something bigger than oneself… I hope this poem can be interpreted in multiple ways.

The poem ‘Form’ was inspired by Mark Doty’s ‘A Green Crab’s Shell’ – beautifully described as a “little, travelling case” lined with a “shocking, Giotto blue”. There are so many freakishly ‘designed’ living things in the world, and curiosity about ammonites and their biological oddness led me into the echo and harmony of their form and chambers.

I was inspired by concepts of the Fibonacci sequence and the ‘golden ratio’ – how they pre-exist language and (re)occur across nature – from seed heads to bees to the spiral of a nautilus shell. I wonder how this how patterning lies inside us, down to the cellular level, into the double helix and our genetic tales. I was also intrigued by the innate sense living things carry of musical and mathematical truths and repetitions.

Sarah’s poems ‘Messenger’ and ‘Form’ were published  in The Poetry Review, 104:1, Spring 2014.