“The Submerged Sea” J S Watts (Dempsey and Windle) – poetry review

J S Watts The Submerged SeaA pamphlet of 15 poems centred on images of the seas that explore both the natural, physical nature of sea and use sea as a metaphor. “Night Notes on Sea (British Coast)” is physical, contrasting its daytime appearance where it reflects the colours of sky and seaweed with its appearance at night,

“It’s blue, it’s green, it’s brown,
grey, slate, pewter and all the shades in between.

But at night the lights go out,
unless the coast provides them
and then it’s unsubtle fairy lights
reflecting on the black sleekness
that prowls beneath.

The British sea at night is
black – nocturnal.
It does not crave attention.”

The poem suggests during the day, the sea is eager to please as if knowing it has an audience. At night it comes something more menacing, “black sleekness/ that prowls beneath” but the real menace falls in the last line where the sea, still active, has lost its empathy.

“The Flotilla of Lost Words” explores sea as metaphor,

“The surge of waters
Dragged in her wake broke
The words I had prepared
From their safe moorings.
Now we are all over the shop
With the never ending slip slop slop
Of water still trying
To suck on my toes
And my words floating away
On little paper boats
Each a small white flame
Sailing off to find the moon
Where she floats in the moist dark
Sky above the sea.”

A writer is merely a vessel for their words. I like the image of “broke/ The words I had prepared/ From their safe moorings” and the “small white flames” that the paper boats become. I would have liked a more apt image in “Now we are all over the shop”. It’s an occasional weakness that occurs in other poems too, where the initial image has been captured (such as “twinkling like diamonds”) instead of the poet stretching for something more arresting, such as some of the images from “More Songs from the Submerged Sea,”

“It is the under-tow, though,
that should worry you,
clawing back memories
like a sinking man claws for the sky.
A sudden tug below the knees
and you are the sea’s drowned darling,
pulled backwards beyond your birth.

Like the waves rolling forward
to tomorrow
and back
to the waters of their making.”

“The Submerged Sea” may be slender but the poems explore multi-facets of the sea with a strong sense of rhythm and sound patterns. The collection asks readers to look again at the familiar in a different light and question assumptions without repeating an idea. Its slenderness becomes a strength and a selling point.

“The Submerged Sea” is available from Dempsey and Windle

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