Monday, 1 June 2020

Lovers in the Elephant Grass


Sunlight stripes us through the wavering canes 
as we lie breathless and high, listening 
to the frantic insistence of skylarks, 
feeling our hearts recover, pulses slow,
numb to all of time but this one moment, 
wild within the elephant grass raffia,
its thin shadow grid moving across us, 
so if we half close our eyes we flicker
like the final frames of an old film show 
about jailbreak runaways who outwit 
the hounds and strip off in a southern field, 
shedding more arrows than eager Cupid, 
only to find their malnourished  bodies 
tattooed with a sweet and biblical crime.



Delighted to have this piece published in the inaugural edition of the West Review out of California. Well worth checking out - there’s some fine writing in here:

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

No, This is not Sierva Maria


(after ‘Of Love and Other Demons’ Gabriel Marquez)

Workmen dropped shovels and crossed themselves 
when her remains were revealed. That dress -
but most of all the astonishing hair,
copper coloured, more than two metres long.
They whispered of hair growing in the grave.

Supernatural tales are the best, of course,
for reinforcing God, scaring children.
I’m very old now (you may think too old 
to be true) - as a child I knew this girl
before she was exorcised -loved- to death.

If Sierva had her own demons
(not just those assigned to her, sotto voce, 
in the chatter of indolent priests
in purgatorial coffee bars),
I never saw any evidence.

I don’t recall her with lidded eyes,
smoking marijuana, defiant, 
resigned to the mad dog in the market -
yet that’s the way she’s painted here.
Naturally with her famous hair unbound.

You might ask me about her parents 
and how God allows such degenerates, 
mere simulacra of humanity, 
to hold cards they would burn rather than play. 
Perhaps it’s the chanting from the convent,

the corrupting heat, but more likely 
apathy inherent to lack of need.
I cannot confirm. All I can tell you
is most representations are fluid
and sometimes it is right to fear water.


An ekphrastic response to this image at Visual Verse:





















Friday, 1 May 2020

Eels in The Creel - and news

May News:

I’m delighted to have received a commendation in the Acumen International Poetry competition for my poem Leaving Switzerland.
And my poem A Photographic History of Tractors was commended in the local competition at Teignmouth Poetry Festival.

Also my poem Eel Catching was included in an anthology of eel related poetry entitled The Creel from Guillemot Press. I would link here but the book has already sold out. However they asked me to record a reading for them so here’s a video version. Enjoy:


More eel video poems can be found on the Guillemot Press ‘eel fest’ page here:



Eel Catching

A midnight fog lays down the land;
sucks quietly on the ploughed field,
wetly kisses the upturned sod,
whispers from the river mouth
the fetid smell of marsh decay.
The moon and stars, obscured by mist
stare upon other worlds tonight.
Time passes with no sense of motion.
The Earth lies still - except for me,
by the river, waiting for eels.

Now into this brackish reach the tide is running.
Sliding through underwater grass,
current tracers in the blind depth,
I can almost sense them: the eels are coming...
The small bell on the rod end rings,
I strike and take a fat one on -
shiny with slime, a liquid figure of eight.
I haul it to the bank, blackest in the blackness,
thrashing fiercely in the torchlight,
as if in tongues before the priest.

Later, as I walk through the wet grass
knee high by the silent river,
the eel still twists in the plastic bag
flapping briskly at my side.
On the back door step I do the act.
So much dark blood, like thick red oil,
flowing out toward the ground.
Still the eel moves in defiance,
blood without and blood within,
this deathless, lifeless thing.



Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Grip


I once met the Obamas visiting the program
the way celebrities do. Clint Eastwood too.
Shutters clicked and when they’d gone
we wondered why they’d bothered coming.

I have to tell you: the Earth is huge,
like nothing anyone has ever seen.
The Space Station - several boosts away
and everything else is prehistory,
remote as pigswill and slurry
in my granpa’s Virginia farmyard;
the viaticum in rural sick-houses.
Even my wife pursing her lips
to kiss or fret is an undeciphered scrawl
in the dust of a desert cave.

Sure, I could see your house from here
if it wasn’t for the weather
but I’m not looking anymore.
I’ve closed my eyes against the overview
and all I can think is how soft, how perfect,
Michelle Obama’s hands are,
how surprisingly strong her grip.


First published at Visual Verse 2019

Music by Robin Brown and Bill Lusty - search YouTube and Facebook for more of their music: 
The Robin Brown 4




Thursday, 19 December 2019

News 19/12/19

Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

I’m afraid I've been rather remiss in keeping my blog up to date during 2019...

In addition to the posts below I'm pleased to have had several poems included in Riptide Journal (the Exeter University literary magazine) as well as poetry in Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Deckhand, Glossophilia, Visual Verse, Atrium, and accepted for the January 2020 edition of The Blue Nib.

I was also especially pleased to see my old poem Beyond Broadwoodwidger included in the 'For The Silent' anthology from Indigo Dreams Publications in aid of the League Against Cruel Sports - where it was rubbing shoulders with work by Hardy, Hughes, Armitage and Oswald amongst others...

Finally, here's a reading of my poem The Boar, published in Riptide. Like my poem Rakinewis below,  the photos were taken in beautiful Abruzzo, around the scene of the near encounter.
Part boar part Parkinson's...



The Boar

Beyond the garden boundary,
past the halo of the terrace lights,
the undergrowth is shaking
to the soft grunts of a cinghiale.
I can’t see him but I know he’s there.


Along the night-sweat lane
near the house with the rusted vines
big white dogs are sounding off,
barking their ignorance
into the night, over and over.

I could walk out in the grass
to the edge of the rustling dark,
sure the boar would batter away
wary of my man-stink
and the shotgun I might carry.

But we play this stand off,
me here, the boar in the bushes,
for we each know our place
and no good thing can come
from forcing a meeting.

And what if it isn't a boar
rattling unseen in the canes?
Perhaps it’s something else
pulling down the green leaves,
tearing up the teeming soil?

So I stay by the moth-speckled lights
for fear of unknowable things -
not the bristly pig in the bush
with his pinhole eyes, rooty tusks,
stupidly dainty on cloven heels.

That shape though: the bulk of a boar,
of a high and hump-backed hill,
of a stoop-shouldered sky -
awful in its absence and presence -
that shape is waiting for me,

aware one day I'll have no choice
but to push into the shadows
and find the beast shaking
at a persimmon tree
knowing the fruit must surely fall.

Beach Huts

Pleased to see my sonnet Beach Huts published rather aptly at Writing at the Beach Hut.

This poem is included in the forthcoming collection The Tin Lodes written in collaboration with renowned poet Andy Brown.

https://writingatthebeachhut.org/2019/12/11/beach-huts-a-poem-by-marc-woodward/

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Rakinewis (for the ruination of Palmyra and after P.B. Shelley)

This poem was recently the Front Page Featured work at Open Arts Forum





His shroud was campion in May;
a king's cape of crocus in November.
Curled olive roots held him in the afterlife
like the fingers of forgotten gods.
For two and a half millennia
blinking skies cycled over him -
until a contadino’s plough tipped his hat
and he was exhumed for wonder.

When we first met he was standing
bright and alone in a cold mausoleum,
arms across his sword and belly
as if shivering - plucked from his bed -
his shadow cast upon cream walls.

        I’m not of this place, this cave
        is not my necropolis - free me,
        take me back to Picenum,
        lay me under the stony soil
        so I may hear again the soft

        spiking of rain on the grass,
        feel the bulbs questing in Spring,
        hear my woodpeckers calling.


At dawn we drove in a hired Mercedes,
him gazing out at the new world
laid like a loose flag on the Abruzzi hills.
I recounted the Hellenic period,
the Romans, the Social Wars, The Empire,
Christ and the Popes, The Internecine wars,
the Twentieth Century. It took a while.

        Could I have been king of all this - 'King of Kings'?

From the old stone town of Capestrano
we looked to the ruins of Rocca Calascio,
circled by jackdaws and hooded crows
A thousand years weather beaten
- and all of it startling and new to him.
Below us a tractor scratched the soil
beside a black hectare of solar panels.

        See how the Greeks left, Rome fell?
        Nothing has remained unchallenged

        for as long as I ruled my dark grave,
        humming quietly to the beat of the sun,
        the business of earth worms.
        Where am I safest? Below the loyal soil
        rolling with the terremoti,
        or standing bold in lime light
        exposed to the motives of terror,
        the certainty of political change:
        invaders with their own gods,
        who may not care for an old stone king?


But both of us knew everything had changed.
His necropolis scattered, his sleep broken.
We drove in silence to the Campo Imperatore
where the lone and level plain stretched far away
before turning back to the foothills.
I promised to bring him campion in May
and a regal fist of crocuses in November.

         Ah, and when you're gone, who'll bring me flowers then?

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

NEW BOOK! The Tin Lodes - due for publication in 2020


I'm delighted to announce that Indigo Dreams Press (IDP) will be publishing a new full collection 'The Tin Lodes' in 2020.

This is a book written in collaboration with my good friend Andy Brown. Andy is an excellent and well known poet, the author of around 14 collections (soon to be fifteen!), and professor of Creative Writing at Exeter University.

One of Andy's collections is Goose Music (Salt 2011) written as a collaboration with renowned poet John Burnside and we have collaborated in a similar manner. That is to say each of us would write a poem, send it to the other, critique and discuss it, and then write a response.
Although each poem is fundamentally the work of one or other of us they are published anonymously - the purpose being not so much to create a guessing game of 'who wrote that one?' but to ensure the book has a smooth flow and sense of cohesion.

The collection explores the ecology, archaeology and human presence in the English West Country where we both live. However the focus then expands out to put the human element inside a global context.

We're both really looking forward to the book coming out and are excited about doing readings from it - wherever we're invited!

And of course, we're excited to be working with Indigo Dreams who are a leading publisher of poetry with a stable of fine writers. Our thanks go out to Ronnie and Dawn at IDP for choosing to publish The Tin Lodes.

Watch this space for announcements regarding release date - but in the meantime if you're a literary festival or poetry association and would like to book us for a reading or talk in the second half of 2020 please contact me directly at  marcowoodward@gmail.com

Monday, 14 October 2019

Egret in Jerusalem (a ‘Golden Shovel’ after Wm. Blake)

I was recently asked to explain this poem which was published at Glossophilia on National Poetry Day (and is in my book Hide Songs).

It’s a ‘Golden Shovel’ - the last word of each line, if read in sequence, makes a line from a well known poem. 
The poem is concerned with ‘blue collar’ workers who feel threatened and marginalised by immigrant labour - an issue in many areas both industrial and rural including Norfolk. 
This has contributed to the swing to the right in politics and the subsequent vote to leave the EU. 
Jerusalem is somewhat an anthem of the English right wing.
Egrets used to be migratory, flying here from France but since the 1970s have become resident.
Structurally the poem has 12 lines and mostly 12 syllables per line. 
And yes I know the first line end word is wrong - that’s just me having fun. But if you were to take a deep breath and sing it with gusto - it might come out this way!

https://www.facebook.com/Glossophiliablog/

Egret in Jerusalem

He holds a clutch of sea-worn pebbles in his hand,
ignores the threatening sky as if nothing he did
could change his lot. Blanks out the narrowness of those
who regard him as less than dog shit at their feet.
The hurled stone flies up like a goal kick to land in
water rippling around an egret - ancient
obelisk or some angel from biblical times.
A witness to days when a working man could walk
on the waves, and more, lay out enough food upon
a cloth to feed his family. But this is England's
truth where angels are as rare as Norfolk mountains.
The immigrant bird flies off. He hawks a gob of green.


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Dark Outside project / Sing of the Mountain

Over the Summer Solstice The Dark Outside project curated a temporary radio station to play 24 hours of previously unheard music, sounds and spoken words to listeners in Epping Forest.
Yes, strange but imaginative - and it begs the question that if no one was there to listen in the deepest hours of the night did the sounds actually exist?  Yeah, yeah, that old fallen chestnut...

Anyway, I was pleased to have two poems included in the broadcast. I wasn't in the forest to hear them - I hope someone was!
The submitted recordings have in theory now been deleted and lost to wherever digital code goes when it dies. 

Except I have the recording of Song of the Mountain and here it is with photos taken in the Abruzzo Apennines, rural Devon and California:

Friday, 10 May 2019

Interview by Graeme Ryan

I was flattered to be interviewed by Graeme Ryan - himself a fine poet - ahead of the Fire River Poets reading. The following interview first appeared on their website. It covers a lot of ground and gave me the chance to talk about my influences and inspiration - which of course I thoroughly enjoyed!   (ooh look, I'm having my ego stroked... )

                                  ----------------------------


'Interview with Marc Woodward – Guest Poet reading at CICCIC, Taunton, 8pm  Thursday May 2nd

Graeme:  Hi Marc, I have very much enjoyed reading both ‘A Fright of Jays’ and ‘Hide Songs’, and recognise the integrity, depth and discernment of your responses to the natural world; the precision and flair in your use of language; the craft that shines through.

Marc: Hi Graeme,
Thanks for making contact – we met briefly at Teignmouth poetry festival last year. I’m glad you enjoyed the books, thanks for the kind words.

Graeme: What formative experiences have made you into a poet? Which of these relate to your childhood and/or schooling? Was there a moment when you realised that poetry was a key vocation for you?

M: I recall writing a poem in primary school aged around six or seven – something about ants I think – and being praised for it by the teacher who said I had a ‘gift’ (so perhaps she’s to blame?) and then thinking ‘oh this is it, I’ll be a poet when I grow up’ not aware that it wasn’t really a career option of course…
I was a voracious reader as a child and could soon recite the various poems from Lewis Carroll including the whole of the Walrus and the Carpenter – much of which is still in my head.
My father wrote poetry, although more satirical verse really, and was regularly published in the letters section of the Telegraph and She magazine of all places.
He was also a working musician so I guess I’m a chip off the old block.
G: If you could pick one or two poems in Hide Songs that lie at the heart of what makes you a poet, which ones might they be – and why?

M: I grew up in a rural village in Kent – in those days Kent was a lot more rural than it is now – and had one of those birdwatching, den building, fish hoiking, wandering childhoods, often alone – but being alone has never been a problem for me. And not for most poets I suspect – otherwise how would they ever communicate with their muse!
Events from my childhood are evident in Hide Songs – Fred on Birds for example is absolutely a true story about our neighbour who was a farm worker, mole catcher (employed by local cricket clubs) and known poacher with two concurrent families:

After laying the moles out on the wall
(glossy coats belying their broken backs)…
Fred would talk to me about all the birds
he’d eaten, how seagulls have little flesh
despite their size (less even than a rook)
and what they have reeks of garbage and fish;

 Likewise the sad event told in Lapwings actually happened:

Some days the stillness was a lapwing’s egg
waiting to break under a boot of rain…
…fresh tyre marks in the A road lay-by
a track cut through the air-sucking bracken
to a bastard wood beyond our wandering…

And I did once rescue a coot the cat had dragged through the cat flap!

I go tripping off the tongues of grass
In flip-flops and tartan pyjamas
holding before me an ill-tempered coot
Like a tarred and feathered sextant.

In my twenties I worked as the group secretary for the National Farmers Union on Exmoor and it was during that period that I wrote Beyond Broadwoodwidger which was originally published in ‘Otter – New Devon Poetry’ (now long defunct) back in the early nineties.

What do you feel?
The brief breath of an owl;
The waiting silence after the fox’s cough…
Out here, in the twitch of spiders,
The fright of jays, the quick knee-jerk
Of a cricket’s ear…

Obviously some of the other poems such as Hairy Arsed Red Cattle and Blackmoor Gate hark back to that period.

I’ve never lived in any big metropolitan area – I spent a few years in Teignmouth but that hardly counts as an urban sprawl – and have really always lived in countryside, that’s where my heart is and is always evident in my writing.

However I have now vowed to be very strict about the inclusion of any more birds in my poems – after A Fright Of Jays, Hide Songs was my attempt to expunge all my bird poems – get them out, set them free, and then never write another one! We’ll see – I was doing a writing residency in California last October and – whoops –  there’s a condor poem and look: a great horned owl has snuck in while I was asleep!

M: I’ve been a performing musician since I was a teenager. As I mentioned above my father was a musician. He’d had cancer in his early forties, his business failed and he’d resorted to playing the piano accordion – French Cafe style music and music hall singalong stuff – in restaurants and pubs and clubs and I soon joined him playing mandolin, going out night after night all over the South East.

I think my poetry is musical – I want to make it somehow melodious and I’m drawn to rhythm. I tend to be a stickler for structure – I count the syllables I’m afraid, and I wonder if this is as a result of the mathematical element in music? Perhaps not – I was drawn to Philip Larkin’s writing in my teenage years and always admired his deftness with form.

I did find that my muses would only visit as solitary souls – that is to say if I was playing a lot of music I probably wasn’t writing any poetry.

If the music backed off I’d write more.  I think there is a strong relationship between the two arts – perhaps they are just one art in different expressions?
G: Your collection ‘Hide Songs’ features poems composed in America. Could you tell us something about your work over there and what new poetic territory America opens up for you, linked specifically to any of the poems?

Do you have any favourites overall in ‘Hide Songs’ – and why?

M: Re America

I was born in New York to English parents who returned to England when I was just 18 months old.  Consequently I’ve always had this fascination with the US and have been back a number of times.

In October 2015 I was hired to teach mandolin at a weekend ‘mandolin camp’ on Cape Cod and the following weekend I was going to do some gigs in New Hampshire.  So in between I rented a cabin on a lake on Cape Cod specifically to write.

A Fright Of Jays was already published and I was working on Hide Songs. I also had in mind a submission call for poems on the theme of Light. I wrote a poem called The Light at Cape Cod about whale watching which will be in The Tin Lodes – a collection written collaboratively with Professor Andy Brown and still awaiting publication.

In fact it’s this poem which is referred to in The Battle For Newcomb Hollow in Hide Songs (“Later I wrote of the kingdom of whales/ Every stanza a waterboard of light”). 

Also The Miller’s Daughter was written around this time – again with references to Light.:

The revolutions of the mill
throw arms across the yellow field:
a clock of light which calibrates
the strength of wind, the bulk of sky,
the passage of the sun.

Distance Swimming was written there too about swimming in Gull Pond (where my cabin was) and is really the first poem alluding to my Parkinson’s which was formally diagnosed a couple of months later:

Slowly I wade into the shallow lake,
pale silt flowering between my toes,
a pike-fright of pondweed brushing my calves

I’d known since the beginning of 2015 that something was wrong – a weird ‘foot drop’ when walking and a stiffness in my hands affecting my playing – but didn’t know what.

 I tried jogging it off running through the woods on the Cape – and this gave rise to the image in Aquatic Ape where I got lost running through the woods and ended up down on the beach:

Lungs expanding I dive down from the light
To meditate through flickering shoals.

In September 2017 I went to Nashville with the band Wildwood Kin who my wife manages. They were performing at the Americana festival with several other British bands.

I wasn’t playing – merely helping out – and wrote a few poems about it on my return.

In fact Nashville Brits refers to a back yard grill party the girls played at in East Nashville. There was a wonderful black British singer (and overall force of nature) called Yola with her band and I name check her in the poem:

At the backyard grill Yola wails a blues.

Yola Carter’s now a big star of course but back then we were all just doing our thing on a sunny afternoon in Tennessee hoping for a break…

I flew back alone via Detroit and this triggered thoughts about my father’s time in the States as a travelling salesman and the stories he told – which turned into Shining Planes.

In October 2018 I went to California to take up the offer of a writer’s residency at The Wellstone Center in the Redwoods near Santa Cruz.

I had the intention of writing about my parents’ six year stay in the USA in the late fifties early sixties – what it meant to them as war children going through bombing and evacuation and growing up with rationing etc – then escaping to the ‘promised land’ of glamorous 50s America.

A continuation of the theme in Shining Planes:

I thought of you and how you flew around
The wide mid-west in the crooning fifties.
What kind of plane transported you?
A polished glamorous Dakota?

Also my own fascination with America – I nearly went to live in San Francisco in my early twenties to try and play music in the scene that was occurring there around that time.

I did write a sequence about my parents which I’m still working on, and I also wrote a poem about going to San Francisco all these years later but now suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s – dealing with that bucket-list thing I suppose.  That poem is due to be published shortly in Parkinson’s Life magazine around World Parkinson’s Day (April 11th).

In addition to those poems I also came back with several poems on the theme of the homeless in California. The good climate makes it something of a Mecca for the homeless and there is this strange two tier community – the affluent in expensive houses and a street community which seems to be quite settled and accepted – although clearly there are issues.
G: Do I have any favourites in Hide Songs?

M: It’s a collection that spans several different phases in my life so it’s hard to say. Beyond Broadwoodwidger was first published back in the early 90s when I was working for the NFU in North Devon – when it used to feel really remote (as I know you know) – so that has a special place in my heart.  And at the other end of the book Revival – which is also a few years old – has always pleased me with its little last line twist.  Finally Distance Swimming has a poignancy that to me is special for the reasons mentioned above.

I hope this is ok – let me know if you need anything else – although I fear I’m already in danger of spilling out my whole life story!

G: Thanks so much Marc, for your very interesting, informative and moving responses – it’s fascinating to see how your life and poetry are so interwoven. You have been very generous in your replies and I’ve really enjoyed finding out about you and your work, as I’m sure our readers will be. '

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

San Francisco

I was very pleased to have received 2nd prize in Parkinson's Life International poetry competition for my poem San Francisco. Written during my writing residency in Santa Cruz last October and referring to my own recent diagnosis of Early Onset Parkinson's Disease.



 
  
 
 
 
 
From Parkinson's Life:

‘San Francisco’ by Marc Woodward

 “It’s an odd thing but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.”  – Oscar Wilde

Sundown sets the painted ladies dancing
on the eastern side of Alamo Square.
Clustered below Monterey cypresses
silhouettes watch dime-and-quarter fog
read bedtime stories to downtown suits.

I eat at the Absinthe bar in Hayes –
tomato bisque and a yellow Sauvignon.
The hipster barman shakes cocktails
like he’s summoning a djinn.
Like he’s wrestling the palsy.

At  two a.m. I awake to a siren
and lie jet-lagged, cramping.
I recall years back in Manhattan
all-night sirens attention seeking
through the sodium limbo
and a high wall of windows
blinking on and off
– as if the whole building was trying its luck
in a giant game of tic-tac-toe.
I think about chance and odds.

San Francisco is quieter, calmer.  Steadier.

At nineteen I wanted to move here,
play mandolin in the New Acoustic scene.
I bought Grisman LPs, a guide to the city,
studied bucket-shop flights in the Sunday papers.

Instead I stayed home, went to work,
married and made a family album.
And though I never doubted how right that was
being here at last eases an old pain.

I’m staying in a tall, bay-windowed Italianate
owned by a thin guy called Mike
– and Willy, his lilac poodle.
Mike has a harmonium and a baby grand.
They smile toothily at each other
across the Victorian drawing room
like the two gay lodgers who appear for breakfast
passing coffee back and forth across the table.

We chat about the downtown homeless and trams.
I sit on my  trembling left hand.
The one which stumbles on frets where once it flew.
Insurance money in my jeans, I plan my last day in town.

Tomorrow I’ll drive south down Highway One,
find a seafront bar where a side road ends
and watch the sun drop like a slice of lemon
into the shivering gin of the Pacific.