Cats And Other Myths, the debut poetry collection by JS Watts is something of a heavy read. Not just in terms of volume–more than fifty poems are to be found within its pages–but also because of the density and detail to be found in each of these works. Mythical and folkloric references are thick on the ground, lightened in places by a modern and slightly skewed viewpoint.
Take the lovely “Lycanthropist”, for instance. Here we have a poem written from the point of view of a werewolf. The language flows beautifully, and is powerfully evocative of nature and stillness: “With promises of empty hillsides / And dark silent trees”. There is however a more human side to the poem as well, with the narrator longing to escape from an unhappy partnership just as she longs to shed her human form and “be off through the window on four fast feet.”
Animals–both natural and supernatural–are in fact a strong presence in the collection. A quick skim through the contents page reveals at least a dozen titles with animal allusions. The wildlife to be found is excitingly varied, ranging from crows and mice to werewolves and dragons. When writing on nature, Watts has a wonderful ability to evoke both ferocity and tenderness at the same time. In “Dancing With The Dragonflies” she writes of “bright silks and a flutter of lace”, and in “Coyote” the mood is set with “empty noontime shadows”.
This animal focus is perhaps appropriate for book entitled Cats And Other Myths. The poem from which that title is taken ends the collection. In its likening of a sleeping cat to the form of a dragon it was perhaps a little whimsical for my taste, though its closing image of a cat dreaming of chasing “little humans” was wonderfully and subtly dark. As a whole it captures the essence of the collection well, with its human and animal elements, its melding of the real and the fantastic.
Cats And Other Myths is a book packed with dense, cleverly-thought-out poems. It is both meticulous and richly alive, and is well worth a moment of your time.