Journeys Across Breath

Stephen Watts

TJ Books (Printer)




ISBN: 9781913513313


Publication date: 18 October 2022



Journeys Across Breath collects poems from the extraordinary career of one of the UK’s most significant poets, Stephen Watts. Gathering all of Watts’ published works between 1975 and 2005 – as well as a number of unpublished pieces appearing here for the very first time – this collection is an astonishing journey through the life and eyes of a remarkable writer of people and place.

This long-awaited volume presents the breadth of Watts’ writing, from early prose poems, through long narrative sequences, fragmentary episodes, and later poetic meditations – all in Watts’ unmistakable voice. A writer of both the intensely personal and deeply-felt universal, Watts’ poetry charts familial histories, friendships, and encounters, set in both remote, rural landscapes across Europe and the changing, urban environs of East London, where Watts has spent much of his life.

Journeys Across Breath is a vital collection of work by a major voice in UK poetry, offering an indispensable companion to readers for years to come.

‘This collection is a rare gift. It is both a recovery of things that should never have been lost and a path into the dream of a brighter place.’ – Iain Sinclair

‘In Stephen’s poetry, as in life, translation is what makes language possible, variations preserving beauty in the ‘harshness of lives’. This exquisite collection fills me with the faith to ask as it teaches me the necessity of quiet – to breathe in the forest, to hear the dead, to hear the songs and silences of everyone who’s alive.’ – Nisha Ramayya

‘Stephen Watts’ political commitment cuts through Journeys Across Breath, showing the work of writing as indistinguishable from that of living. This book provides an extraordinary testament to a life lived in service of people and poems.’ – Will Harris

‘Stephen Watts’ work is protean and yet always strikingly his own. Like Blake, the diction and shape of his poems are made by the sensual experience rather than the organising conventional mind; looking and feeling comes first and only thence the writing, which is an adjunct to being.’ – Sasha Dugdale

‘Stephen Watts is a poet constantly aware that he lives in the midst of an abundance of people, places, things, events, asking to be said. A large part of the poetic gift consists in being born into that situation. It is a huge good fortune; but it is also what Rilke called the Auftrag, the onus, that which is required of you. The abundance of life, the joy and the grief of it, wants saying. Stephen Watts, lifelong, has been doing just that.’ – David Constantine

‘Openness is too easy a term; Stephen Watts’ poems explore it diligently. His, beyond any poetical correctness, is a vast universe where words, birds and humans migrate among the living and the dead; the delight of being alive is offered sharply, yet mercifully the “I” is no less strange than “you”, no less familiar.’ – Golan Haji

‘I am moved and fascinated by Stephen Watts’s poetry in ways I find hard to explain and extraordinarily powerful to experience. He is among the most fine and subtle writers I know on the relations of landscape and mind.’ – Robert Macfarlane

‘The work of Stephen Watts is a record of complete sensory experience. This is a tactile, lyric poetry that is the result of walking, touching and listening. These are poems of deep imagery and rhythm, that flex with the details of walks through the lacquered, condensed streets of London; poems that document travels taken on quests of discovery, for the furthering of the art of poetry for all of us. This is what poetry can be: a movement before the reader, in which resistance is played out in real time – again and again – each time the poem is enacted. These are poems for the lost voices and the hidden places, for the luminaries of past literatures that Stephen Watts meets as equals in his poems, teasing out the secrets they forgot to tell us. This is work that helps us all to breathe.’ – Chris McCabe