Author(s): Cat Woodward
Rebecca Tamás - Sphinx is a truly urgent, original, and electric new collection. The poems here are raw, addled, gorgeous and fizzing with anger and tenderness. Woodward has forged her own uniquely strange and affecting language, addressing knowledge, feeling, nature, and lived experience with the dazzling, futuristic sharpness of a robot mystic. These poems smell like violets and plastic, like what is to come - I urge you to read them.
SJ Fowler - Pick this book up from the table before you, virtually or in the actual world, then flick to any page. Now, have you read a poem like this recently? No, no you haven't.
Poetry is supposed to rework the boring utility miracle of language into something
that has no communicative use, but do most poets do this? Cat Woodward does,
her poems within Sphinx are magically unique. They are exciting, warm hearted
and hateful, ebullient and intimate, powerful and fearful. They are hers alone.
A Goveas - Every poem smacks me in the face with words and the titles are like poems in themselves
Each poem in this excellent collection pits its voice both against silence and against the deluge of other voices suspended above it, or surrounding it, waiting for an opportunity to smother it. Every force is met with an equal and opposite force, or a baffling of that force that absorbs and reconstitutes and reclaims the force as its own, and under its own terms, terms that repudiate even the concept of force. The poems press against their surfaces, either bursting their forms or turning back upon themselves, entering the spaces they have left, increasing their weight and, concomitantly, the depth of their approach, increasing their intensity and also the release that that intensity enables through spaces opened up under pressure. The words and the impact of the words seldom occur simultaneously, the impact coming later, or, shockingly, somehow preceding the words. Similarly, the poems are often somehow geared so that the humour and the blades rotate in opposite directions, each impacting when least expected and from behind. The poems often create or explore a breach in the habits of subject/object relations: to be aware of something is to be that thing, to be swamped, overwhelmed, possessed by that thing, to think something is likewise to be that thing, to be swamped, overwhelmed, possessed. But somehow, through facing the threat directly, we find release enough through the heart of the image, to find emptiness and loss where the presence of the subject is most intense, to find release at the core of presence. Associative leaps leave behind the experience that induced them, pushing experience back into the past by the force of the leap, both retaining and denying the experience that induced them. Often drawing on folkloric elements and pulling at a strand of poetic animism that runs back through English nature poetry to medieval times, Woodward creates poems that have a referential hum of ambiguous valency, either mock-pagan and mock-transpersonal or pagan and transpersonal, only to have these polarities continually and playfully reversed. Each symbol outweighs its referent and replaces it, becoming a non-symbol. Each part replaces the whole and becomes no longer a surrogate for that whole but a whole in its own right, casting the body from which it has wrested itself free into a horizon, a backdrop, a context. There are hurts behind these works, whether of personal or existential nature it is irrelevant to speculate, and the poems reach out to cruelty, but often tenderly, with the tenderness with which one would deliberately and sustainedly press one’s hand or soft flesh down upon a knifeblade. At other times an anger surprises an image and draws a weapon unexpectedly from an idyll. Wherever an image comes from, it quickly becomes a source of fascination and also problematic, a threat to exactly the extent that it commands attention. It is necessary to face and enter the image, to turn the image inside out by passing through it, to overthrow and recalibrate (and Woodward does this so well) the lazy associations upon which poetry so often founders. Here dirty is neat and clean is messy and the bad thing is the neatest thing of all. The poems are aurally tight, at once exactly too much and just enough. There are no unnecessary words: each does its work of anger or of tenderness, of clarity and the disavowal of clarity. The poems simultaneously tighten and release, invite and repel, speak (and silence speech) with both tenderness and hatred. The reader (or hearer) is rewarded with a mixture of certainty and rejection, of wonderment and mockery. These poems are “an instruction guide to obtainable sobbing”, a shortcut to the bottom of the lake, a communing that will not be trivialised as communication.
Cat Woodward's first collection Sphinx was published in 2017 by Salò Press. She is currently finishing her PhD thesis in lyric and robot voice. Her poems have appeared in Tears in the Fence, Lighthouse, The Literateur, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Visual Verse and others. Cat is from the UK and lives in Nelson.