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Review - “Path Through Wood” by Sam Buchan-Watts

Andrew Taylor

“Path Through Wood” by Sam Buchan-Watts, published by Prototype, 2021.

Sam Buchan-Watts’ debut collection is a remarkable reminder of the beauty of poetry and what poetry can be and should be.

Published with a beautiful and rather fitting cover image of John Constable’s Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right, the book continues the publisher’s ethos of ‘creating new possibilities in the publishing of fiction and poetry through a flexible, interdisciplinary approach and the production of unique and beautiful books.’

Taking the title and cover image into account, one would expect a book of nature focused poems. It’s not as simple as that. Though there are poems dealing with the natural world, this collection is wide ranging, thought provoking and it could be argued, contains aspects  of poetic Bildungsroman.

The book begins with an interesting statement, anticipating some other statement-like aspects within the collection: ‘all repetitions are intentional.’ As the reader navigates through the book, this phrase takes on extra significance. ‘Prompt’ from the sequence, ‘Tableaux’ can be read as a form of poetics: ‘The poem’s form a set of shapes in worn-white tape on stage frayed / slightly at the edges […]’ speaking about Buchan-Watts’ practice. ‘Happy Accidence’ is worth citing in full:

        ‘What does your wordless absence say'
        if I speak language then language
        confides against its better nature – I
        hear it founding closer in on

 quiet the mind's ear leans in in awkwardness at rest only at its own crests,

pushing penny coins off the steel shelf without much premeditation or will

        your rhyme there for the foot to find
        a stirrup - nonsense catches, clots
        then folds together in cheery pleats,
        a mound of fabric compact for being neat

Again, the reader could take the poem as instruction. The non-standard use of punctuation places emphasis on the reader to engage with the text with consideration. An overarching sense when reading this collection, is that Buchan-Watts has placed a keen emphasis on engagement with his reader.

Arguably, the heart of this book is the superb sequence ‘Cloud Study’. Firstly, it fits with the beautiful cover design, and secondly and perhaps more importantly, it is placed perfectly in the ordering of the book. The reader again is invited to read carefully. Each poem is given plenty of white space, allowing the words to (erm) float on their own page:

        Cloud Study
        Cloud Study (after Cozens’s Engraving of Skies)

        Cloud-benighted, deathly stillness
        The clouds preceded us

 ‘Cloud Study’ is prefaced with the following, which perfectly sets up the sequence:

           The observations
           about self-consciousness
           As one subclass
           of those determinations
           Every squiggle serves
           the composition
           A vase containing
          water, or even
          a cloud

Take ‘Sky Pavilion’, a standalone poem from towards the end of the book, the startling images meet conclude in a startling final stanza:

            We trust the power lines to run forever overhead
                    to cover our intimacies
            and itineraries: taxes and car stereos


The poem leads the reader through the journey of ‘a boy […] testing his voice on the comfy / confines of his childhood bedroom / letting himself fester for the first time’ while neatly completing the poem’s circularity:

                    He spins a globe by the acid light of his computer
                                           in dim winter, stabs an accusatory finger
                   at random; tears a hole in its fabric as the power cuts out

This collection is wide-ranging, engaging and illuminating. There are poems about adolescence, the world around us and the natural order of things. The book offers the reader a comfortable sojourn from the vagaries of life. Like a good film or TV series, the book entices the reader to stick with it, to allow for the twists and turns within the poems and results in a sense of engagement rarely offered in debut collections. 

Copyright © Andrew Taylor, 2022

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