Monday, December 12, 2011

Pushcart Nominees 2011: J.S. Watts

This Monday brings us yet another of our Pushcart nominees, J.S. Watts who will throw some light on her engaging poem Green Rushes.

Green Grow The Rushes, O
Reflections on the poem, Green Rushes

When trying to write this type of post and shine some light on one of my poems, I am never sure whether it’s best to introduce myself or the poem first. The poem is, after all, a reflection of a part of my mind, but, by writing this post, my mind is reflecting on and reflecting back the poem – a sort of chicken and egg scenario, but with the added complication of mirrors.

Today the first image to find its way into the mirror of this post is mine – me. I’m a British writer who has been fascinated with words and stories for as long as I can remember. As a child I loved myths and fairy stories, to the extent that I must have exhausted the local library’s book collection of Myths and Legends From Around The World. I also drove my mother mad by constantly asking her to, “Tell me another history story”. The bloody doings of the Kings and Queens of England were of particular interest to my developing, and possibly darkening, imagination.

I have maintained this fascination with things mythical and historical to the present day. I guess you can see this in the subject matter of many of my short stories and poems, my enthusiasm for British folk music and in the folk traditions (or superstitions, if you prefer) that are so frequently referenced within it. I have also developed a fascination with the human psyche: the psychological clockwork that makes (or doesn’t make) us tick as individuals. You’ll see all of these things reflected in Green Rushes as I move it into the reflective glass of this post.

Green Rushes was, as is so often the case, a coming together (or should that be a refraction?) of many different ideas and influences: the aforementioned love of myth and legend, the traditional song Green Grow The Rushes, O, the modern folk singing of Suzanne Vega (in particular the song Straight Lines, should you be interested), a lurking feeling that if anything is down at the bottom of the garden it is likely to be somewhat darker than little, merrymaking fairies (sorry, Rose Fyleman), my interest in folk traditions and superstitions and in the darker recesses of the human psyche, plus my own head of long dark hair (longer than it is now) which, at the time, had a propensity for getting seriously tangled. Combined together, the planned outcome was a mythic, folk poem of alienation and marginalization: it is purely intentional that, by the end of the poem, the rushes are found on the margins,  “at the borders of the garden”. When reflecting upon Green Rushes  you might also want to bear in mind the frequently negative influence of mirrors in myth and legend: their reputation as gateways to innumerable other worlds, their roles in Snow White, The Lady of Shallot.

The hair-brushing, mirror-gazing speaker of Green Rushes grows increasingly isolated during the course of the poem, because “one is one and all alone and ever more shall be so”, as the traditional song goes. She lets go of friends and lovers and ultimately herself when she abandons the mirror image that she has cultivated for so long, and “which shows the world as others view”, by hacking off her long straight hair. The fact that she continues to brush away at what is no longer there is not a psychologically positive thing, but the straightness which the speaker abandons is not necessarily positive either. The straight green rushes seen at the start of the poem take on a more ominous hue by the end: the green of rot and decay on the margins of life. The straightness of her hair, the rushes and her upright lover (as magicked-up by the mirror) can be seen as symbols of control and restraint (psychological and social), a straightjacket that is destroyed by cutting her hair off, though the memory of straightness is retained by the brush as it continues to “stroke straight” after the hair has gone. Custom and habit have a lot to answer for. Throw into this mix, the psychosexual allure of long hair and the superstition of seeing your future husband as you comb your hair by candlelight in front of a mirror whilst eating an apple and you have, hopefully, a folk tale of love and loss, female limitations and subsequent emancipation at the cost of sanity, loneliness and despair all contained within the domestic claustrophobia of the bedroom: a psychological reflection, in some ways, of The Lady of Shallot, but in this poem the mirror remains uncracked while the human psyche sustains the damage instead.

In writing this post and reflecting upon Green Rushes, a poem I wrote some years ago, now, I have reminded myself that the simple folk-style repetition of the poem conceals a complex interior. There are so many different echoes within the poem that, perhaps, somewhere there is shattered, multi-faceted, mirror reflecting this diversity of images and ideas back at the reader. Perhaps it is this post. Perhaps it is the poem itself. Perhaps they are both nothing but reflections of the other. Mirrors can be disconcerting things.

J.S.Watts was born in London, England and now lives and writes in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them.
 Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Hand + Star, Orbis and Fantastique Unfettered and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and, until its recent demise, Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths is published by Lapwing Publications. Further details of the book, which finds contemporary relevance in the echoes of myth and legend and the mythic in the day to day world around us, can be found on her website: .
You can also find her on Facebook at


Green Rushes appeared in Fantastique Unfettered #3

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