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. '

Fire River Poets, Taunton and Word Command, Exeter: May readings

Big thanks to the lovely people at Fire River Poets in Taunton who were so supportive of my reading for them on the 2nd May - despite it nearly being cancelled due to a wretched kidney stone!
Half the day in A&E, some super strong pain killers and the show must go on...

Next up: Word Command at the Barnfield theatre in Exeter for Creative Culture South West on Wednesday 15th May.
Great line up - should be an excellent evening! Tickets available through Eventbrite.

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.

Spring News

I was delighted to win the inaugural Hillstead Trophy for the best 'eco-poem' at Teignmouth Poetry Festival for my poem The Surfer King's Last Wish (see further down the blog for this poem).

It was an excellent weekend all round with a superb reading by Roger McGough and a brilliant performance by Martin Figura amongst the highlights.

This festival is fast becoming a significant event on the poetry calendar and I'll definitely be there next year - if only to defend the slam title which, ahem, I also won! (Sorry I'll stop bragging now...)

Google the Teignmouth Poetry website for details of their various events during the year and announcements about next year's festival.

The wonderful people at Caught By The River have just published The Seven Whistlers on their excellent site and I'm also honoured to have my poem Jump in the latest copy of Prole Magazine.

In March my ekphrastic response poem Grip was published at Visual Verse.


Thursday, 14 March 2019


Winter's passing and I'm looking forward to Summer.  I'm looking forward to an end of the squabbling over Brexit too (although my preference would be to remain...) but at the time of writing that seems unlikely.

Anyway, Summer promises some readings, gigs and various activities, and work continues on a new book.
If you want to keep up with my activities please have a look at my Facebook artist page where I list gigs, publication news, etc.

I'll be reading at Big Poetry! in Torquay with Liv Torc and others on the 14th March, then at the Teignmouth Poetry Festival over the weekend of the 23rd March (see FB for details).

I'm doing a headline reading from my book Hide Songs for Fire River Poets in Taunton on the 2nd May and again at Word Command in Exeter on the 15th May
The Woodward Brothers will be mixing poetry and music at Artizan Gallery in Torquay on the 15th April;  Prussia Cove in Cornwall on the 2nd June; and in Moretonhampstead Church for Moreton Music Day on the 23rd June.

Meanwhile here's a link to an interview I did for the Wombwell Rainbow. Paul Brookes who runs the site has created a really interesting resource by interviewing a great many of the poets and spoken word performers active nationally - and I'm flattered to be included in the list.

The Surfer King's Last Wish

Happy to have this poem published in Prole Magazine and subsequently illustrated by artist
Mark 'Sparx' Hughes as part of a project to raise funds to help the homeless in North Wales.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Luigi finds a home...

Delighted to have this poem published in Acumen January 2019.
It was shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Prize, so I'm very happy it's found a home in such a respected journal.

Luigi's Calendar

Thin Luigi stands next to me and points
at the sun's red arc settling on the ridge,
clocking out of its daily labour 
in the hot factory of summer.
He says that in the long days of June 
it sets further towards the Gran Sasso
then, as each day passes, creeps its way 
south along the far Morrone ridge.
But today is Ferragosto and the sun 
still has much travelling to do.
For now I'm glad its hot eye is closing
on another sweltering afternoon.
I offer Luigi a beer which he declines, 
as usual, and in my poor Italian 
try to say how a calendar could be made
by putting markers on the hills 
according to the setting sun.
He smiles, nods and speaks again.
I smile and nod too, feeling sure
neither of us have understood a word.
We watch the quick descent of the sun
the top edge just showing now...
                                  ...and now gone.
The bee-eaters are still chirruping, 
but in the trees the last golden orioles 
have calmed their fluting song.
Thin Luigi sighs and says "Ciao Marco, 
ci vediamo..." and wanders off up the lane. 
His dogs are barking in their pen.
I shake a mosquito from my ankle 
then look back at the dark mountain ridge
and the house lights coming on in Serra.
If I were constant like Thin Luigi,
I could observe all the sunsets I'd need
to mark down and make that calendar
then use it to count the fallow days 
which fall between you and me
each one like a flake of snow settling 
on the slopes of Monte Amaro.


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Fishing for Mahseer

We took a boat out for Golden Mahseer,
fishing the greedy Ganges, casting flies
across its race as logs and rags spun by.
It seemed a futile hunt until - what luck! -
a charred body neared, fallen from a pyre,
preyed upon by a shoal of roiling fish.

As this hellish vision drifted closer
my angling friend reeled in his lure and line,
remade his tackle with a pink ‘flesh fly’
then cast into the froth around the corpse.
I looked away. On the bank women washed,
above the trees a little minaret
shone through the smog framed sun. What can be said?
We fished for fish which fed upon the dead.

First published in Riggwelter magazine January 2019

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

I can't go out in the rain

Now please don’t think I’m disrespecting
those who fought and died in our name
but candy floss hair is a delicate crown...
and I can’t go out in the rain!

I know the fake news will all have a go -
they’ll say I’m self-centred and vain -
but I tell you my hair is a sensitive wisp
and I’m not going out in the rain!

Of course I’ve been caught playing golf -
but I’m an athlete who’s true to his game -
and crying round gravestones isn’t my thing.
Others can look glum in the rain.

And what if a gust caught my hair, blew it off,
left me standing quite bald and ashamed?
Is that how America wants me to look?
No!  I shan’t go out in the rain!

Sure I’m sorry for the poor guys who died,
it was dreadful, dreadful - but I’m not to blame
they chose to enlist (I dodged the draft),
so i won’t risk my weave in the rain.

Now I’ve told you five times, I think it’s quite clear
please don’t insult me by asking again -
you reporters are just a disgrace to your job,
but not me -
I have candy floss, fly away, sensitive hair,
and I’m not going out in the rain!

This little satirical verse rather surprised me when I posted it on Facebook on Armistice Day and it went viral with over 2000 shares and many likes.
Not really my usual type of poem but I'm delighted it connected with so many people!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

October news - gigs etc

Back from a fortnight writing in California at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods - an amazing experience and much food for thought. My thanks to Steve and Sarah for inviting me.

I’m pleased to have made the shortlist for The Bridport Poetry Prize (one of the big ones) - although the shortlist is far as I got, but hey, that’ll do - after all there were well over 5,000 entrants!

In other news - two upcoming book launch gigs:

Stanza Extravaganza at Artizan Gallery, St Lucius Street, Torquay on Monday 29th October;

and  Uncut Poets, The Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter, Thursday 29th November;

Thursday, 11 October 2018


 On 21st September Hide Songs had its official launch at the Poetry Café in Betterton Street, London along with Green Bottle Press's two other new releases by Pamela Manche Pearce and Gail McConnell.
It was a lovely evening and we all felt honoured to see so many people there.
My thanks to Jennifer Grigg for organizing it all.

The following day I flew off to San Francisco to take up a two week Writing Residency at The Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, near Santa Cruz - which was a wonderful experience and gave me a chance to work on some editing and come up with first drafts of new poems.

Next up it's the Devon launch of Hide Songs along with my good friend Andy Brown's launch of his new book Blood Lines from Worple Press.

This takes place at the Oystercatcher's Café, in Teignmouth on Tuesday 16th October, 7.30pm for 8pm.
We'll both be reading and also playing a little music together. If you're around Devon please come along!

If you can't make it to any readings and would like a copy of Hide Songs please visit the Green Bottle Press website