Friday, 4 November 2022

Review in Acumen Literary Journal 9/22

Very pleased to see this review in Acumen’s September issue:

Acumen - Poetry Comment - September 2022

Shaking the Persimmon Tree is an attractively produced collection of poems by Devon poet Marc Woodward published by Cape Cod publisher Sea Crow Press. Those who know the poet will catch the poignancy of the title – it is taken from his poem ‘The Boar’, one of several in the book which reference the poet’s early onset of Parkinson’s Disease. In context, ‘The Boar’ is a very moving poem. Here are its final stanzas:

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.

In similar vein, ‘The Ribbon’ expresses the poet’s thoughts on discovering in a box a small purple silk sports ribbon. He wonders what he won the ribbon for:

But perhaps it was the three legged race?
Maybe I was hobbled and tethered
to another, a stronger person
who pulled me to the finishing tape?
I place the stuff back in the box –
not ready to burn it quite yet –
as my wife, steady handed as always,
crosses the line with two mugs of tea.

The collection contains four fishing poems, presenting what could be seen as four compass points of the poet’s mind. In ‘Fishing with Olivia’, the poet hooks a spring trout and contrasts himself ‘like an old fish’ with young Olivia ‘budding towards your perfect days of June’. In the grim but resigned ‘Fishing for Mahseer’ on ‘the greedy Ganges’, a friend casts ‘a pink flesh fly’ into the froth surrounding a floating corpse and fishes for ‘fish which fed upon the dead’. In ‘Faiths’, seagulls, ‘slaves to faith’, are snagged on baited hooks, ‘cruelty ... laid along the sea wall’, and a note of real anger has set in. Finally, in ‘The Thread’, a female figure casts her line out beyond the breakers only to hook ‘the seam where ocean and sky / are stitched lazily together’. The line snags; she ‘reels and reels and reels’, ‘until she’s gone with the sea and / the land and the great cloudy sky / following down into this hole / of her own persistence’. Her whole world has unravelled around her.

Knowing the poet’s physical condition, one goes looking for telling symbols and metaphors. Rain, for example, appears in a number of poems. ‘May the Fifth, 2020’ begins ‘There is no melancholy without rain.’ In ‘Inheritance’, ‘The roof is leaking’ and ‘The rain sings on the iron roof / above the animal shed. / It runs between the crinkles, / down the gutter to the trough.’ In the fine poem ‘Carpe Diem’ written for his parents, ‘rain [was] always around / the corner of the sky, / when we went to clear / out their cottage, / sorting, remembering, / facing their pasts, / and closer, our own.’

As well as a poet, Woodward is an accomplished musician. His poetry is correspondingly neat, practised, highly lyrical. The poems are singing, in a predominantly minor key, but they are a joy to listen to.

The persimmon tree in the east signifies longevity and good luck; we wish both for Marc Woodward.


Thursday, 15 September 2022

Budleigh Literary Festival, Quay Words, and Maureen

 I’m honoured to have a poem from my forthcoming collection Grace Notes included in this anthology from Quay Words (in conjunction with Literature South West). It’s an excellent selection of poems and short stories with work from a number of esteemed writers. This evening I attended its launch at the lovely Old Custom House on Exeter quay. 

Yesterday evening saw the start of Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival and I was pleased to read a few poems at one of the opening events. It’s always hard to choose what to read - usually I try to find something topical or seasonal. Nevertheless I often go along with a selection in mind only to change it at the last moment in response to something I’ve just heard. Speaking with other poets I know I’m not alone in doing this. Last night’s event was in a lovely cafe - the Brook Kitchen - which sparked the last minute inclusion of Maureen And The Redeemer from my book Hide Songs. It wasn’t a dreary day in November, no one was ironing, I wasn’t thinking of Rio - but I was in a cafe and I guess that was all I needed.


Monday, 8 August 2022

The Green Ways

I was honoured to see this poem published a little while ago in Poetry Salzburg magazine.
It’s now included in my new collection Shaking The Persimmon Tree

The Green Ways 

Old track-ways still score this land.
Thin trails crossing hilly pasture 
from one hedge break to another.
Paths trodden through nettle-patches;
stink lines laid by stoat and vixen.
The badger-barged under-brush.

Routes of rain and least resistance
running the ridge above the fall,
terraced by frost and slippage
where our slumbering planet
pulled on its soiled blankets,
shaking down bedbugs and mud.

Before the map and compass,
before the scratching of lines in dust,
before partition and hedgerow -
even before instinct and pointing
we wandered these animal ways 
guided by the nervousness of deer.

We lay down in hares' depressions
the forms where leverets once laid.
We cut through to overhung rivers,
the bright roads of brown trout,
blackberry bushes and the low 
sunny places where strawberries grew. 

Licking honeycomb and listening
we sheltered in dark holly-houses.
Bees were impossible at first
but all habits become clear in time
to the patient watcher, the hive hunter,
the egg finder, the salmon snagger.

It was settling that changed things.
Finding a hill-fort to call your own.
Possession - the mine and yours of it -
needs demarcation, diagram
then new trades of draughtsman, 
hedge-layer, henchman, lawyer.

I watch the birds arrive in spring.
The martins come back every year 
navigating over sea by air braille.
No shared map, no rights of way,
just feeling the face of places.
A river mouth; a head of hornbeams.

And here in this Devon garden 
itinerant rabbits come and go
between next doors' cabbages and mine
ignorant of deeds and boundaries, 
eating where they will, leaving their tithe 
of worthless currency behind.


Monday, 18 July 2022

Review in Tears In The Fence literary journal

 Delighted with this review - despite the typo in the publisher’s name (!)  and a couple of errors eg; it should be  ‘Ophelia’s cape/ billowing in the gravel and the cress’;  The Thread is about our responsibility for climate change; and Swimming With A Charm Of Vincent is a literal title!

Shaking The Persimmon Tree by Marc Woodward (Sea Cow Press)

Marc Woodward’s poetry is pretty traditional in form, including sonnets and a villanelle and hints towards the poetry of Hardy, Edward Thomas and even Louis MacNeice at times. His material shifts between celebration, of the countryside, of friendship and of travel but there’s a dark side underlying most of his work and even on occasion something slightly surreal, as in ‘The Thread’ which combines an interest in angling with a skewed comment on mortality which suggests a much longer time-scale:

          …..every fish bird, mammal,

          was attached to the same thread

          she’d been pulling since she was born,

          like all our generations dead,

          careless for the unravelling.

     Woodward has a way with endings, as in ‘I Dreamed of a River’ which has a mildly surreal, reverie sort of feel, lyrical and encompassing both observer and observed, meshed in synaesthesia yet with a darkness as in ‘Ophelia’s cape / billowing in the wind.’ If there’s an overall sense of pastoral easiness to these poems it’s always tempered, by illness, by an increasing sense of mortality and, as in ‘Inheritance’ the violence of an abrupt closing of life in a farming community. The bucolic has its downside and this one certainly creates a shiver down the spine: ‘Quiet in the hay barn, / warm enough out of the wind, / John hangs lifeless from the rafters, waiting, turning, for Fred to find.’ 

     Many of these poems are set in rural Devon or in Italy and mix nostalgia with something more searching and even in an apparently simple poem like ‘The Disappearing Places’ which combines childhood memories and wonderful evocation with a sense of loss we can feel echoes of A Shropshire Lad, something powerful and moving which you can’t quite put your finger on, an inarticulate longing which can nevertheless be suggested in words.

     In ‘Fishing for Mahseer’ we are at the Ganges, chasing the enormous, majestic river fish which also has a dark secret, that of feeding on the human bodies, inadvertently released into the river:

          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 fog framed sun. What can

          be said?

          We fished for fish which fed upon the dead. 

     With ‘The Bird Scarer’ and ‘The Green Man in Rocombe’ we are in the realm again of farming and country lore, the latter a sort of tongue-in-cheek suggestion of the otherworldly, the former a depiction of the creating of a scarecrow which combines something almost epic and symbolic with down-to -to earth yet beautifully painted images: ‘Then a banger went off, rooks clattered up, / and he left her to flutter in the maize.’ 

     In ‘Swimming with a Charm of Vincent’, set I think in Italy, we have again the evocation of a landscape, a hot place, hinting almost at D.H. Lawrence’s poetry of place, where Vincent, a friend or an imagined presence? also appears to be a reference to Van Gogh (‘Maybe he was troubled / by the lack of sunflowers; / perhaps just pining for France? / He wasn’t much of a talker’) so once again the poem works on two levels, a description of an actual situation with hintings at ‘otherness’, especially given the disappearance by drowning? of the eponymous Vincent. I even had the thought that this might be about Shelley though I admit there is scant evidence for this, just association. The final stanza adds a mythical element and the whole poem manages to combine something almost comic with a more suggestive direction:

          The persimmon sun sank down

          and all his whirling stars came slowly

          out and I thought of Vincent

          rolling with the pebbles in the sea. 

     There are 48 poems in this collection, mainly short pieces, which take in a range of subjects, from climate change and ‘the lockdown,’ to a concern with illness (Parkinson’s disease in particular), the death of parents, the landscape of the South West of England and travels in Italy. My taste in modern poetry is largely for more ‘experimental’ work but I thoroughly enjoyed reading these poems and hope you will too.

Steve Spence 1st July 2022

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Leaving Utah

I wrote this poem as a response to the recent overturning of the Roe versus Wade precedent by the US Supreme Court. 

As it’s a ‘political’ poem and of the moment, rather than sending it off to a magazine or journal for consideration/publication who knows when, I decided to simply share it on social media - where it seems to have been well received.

Obviously there’s a lot of strength of feeling about the SCOTUS decision - but rather than adding to the many column inches of opinion on the subject I’ll just say it’s a decision with which I disagree. 

America needs to be very careful just how much it lets religion - any religion - enter into the political and social decision-making - we need science, logic and social fairness, not dogma and intolerance. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Poem for a fallen tree

 The storms last February blew down one of a pair of old pine trees which stood by the river in a communal field. I was asked to write a poem for the tree as the village intended to have a commemorative ceremony and plant a new tree. So here it is: 

To a Fallen Pine

‘...trees don’t ache or weep or shout. 

And trees are all this poem is about.’ 

- Two Trees by Don Paterson

Two trees - tall, evergreen and fine - 

you and your companion framed 

this river, sky, and railway line.

Today the passing water’s calm, 

no ripples now recall the named 

and brutal February storms,

which snapped in two your back and boughs, 

left you horizontal, waiting

for our ministry of chainsaws. Now

teardrop clusters, scaly cones, 

are cradled in your fallen limbs, 

all asking to be carried home

by saddened kids to plant anew 

and so rebirth another tree,

a fir-cone seedling clone of you.

And what to do with all this wood, 

sawn from your trunk and canopy? 

A rustic arbour might be good,

a sheltered bench to fix the view 

which you, so steadfast, gazed upon - 

the flood and draw of tides, curlews 

with their shiver-song, the sea-pies 

banking left and right in unison. 

Those piping birds alight beside

your other half who on her own 

(like one of all old married pairs) 

must now face future storms alone.

To such a memorial seat,

made big enough for two to share, 

could be attached a plaque that reads:

You loved this spot, the river view; 

grew just as tall as you could do 

then fell to earth in twenty-two, 

survived by one who mourns for you. 

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Shaking The Persimmon Tree reviews

 In these searching, songful poems, Marc Woodward reflects on the ricketiness of life; of the body, and on the certainty of earthworms.   His imagery elevates the natural world to its rightful place; birds, sky and trees glimmer like new-found things­, while his pragmatism puts on its boots, picks up its keys and looks you straight in the eye.'

Helen Ivory, editor of Ink, Sweat & Tears; Bloodaxe Poet.

In this collection, which contains several prize-winning poems, Woodward seeks inspiration from Italy, Switzerland and India as well as places nearer to home. The collection begins and ends with poems set in Italy. Both poems offer memorable views: one from the great outdoors, the other from a hollow tower. In the former we sense the dissipating heat of a summer’s day, where Woodward paints an atmospheric picture of “the sun’s red arc setting on the ridge, / clocking out its daily labour / in the hot factory of summer” in the latter, we feel a cool down draught of air coming through the slit windows of a bell tower.

Plenty of animals inhabit these poems: there are “stag horn beetles”, “scraggy vixens”, “soft-lowing cows”, “stealthy deer” and badgers “stripe-snouting through [a] dahlia bed” to name but a few. The collection teems with trees, tracks and grasses, waterlogged paddocks, old tyres and rusting farm machinery. The descriptions of nature are lush but there is a dark undercurrent here as well: a farm suicide, a fatal road accident, personal loss and bereavement. ‘Dog in the Afternoon’, with its echo of Hemingway (‘Death in the Afternoon’), is a compassionate poem about the demise of an old grey dog which reminds Woodward of the death of the family’s old Dalmatian when he himself was just 12 years old.

In ‘The Hum’ Woodward sets our imagination running with auto-suggestion. Nothing is explicitly stated and yet everything is signalled as a possibility when it comes to the source of the sound. It is six o’clock in the morning and we are in the heart of winter:


     … by the front door I pause key in hand.

     I can hear The Hum. Faint, low and constant

     in the quiet of the unbroken dawn.

     Its direction: everywhere – but distant.


     A diesel warming up? Or staying warm

     the way idling engines run all night

     on northern driveways gripped by permafrost?

     High echoes from a transatlantic flight?...


The poem sets us on edge. It conjures up the atmosphere of a Hitchcock film or a piece of science fiction from the sixties.

‘Jump’ is proof enough that Woodward can coax a poem out of the simplest of occurrences and still make it sing. In it, a man is sitting under a cafĂ© awning when a torrent of rain comes. He knows he has to leave but he does not have his raincoat with him and there is no knowing how long the storm will last. We have all been there, caught out by the unpredictable weather, and so it is something we can readily identify with. But in Woodward’s hands it becomes intense and even more unpredictable:


     the glazed river-road, the vulgar torrent,

     the beating heart of thunder.


     Come back inside…she smiles,

     taking your hand, afraid you will jump.


Two poems that particularly caught my attention were ‘Rakinewis – The Capestrano Warrior’ and ‘Swimming with a Charm of Vincent’. In both cases, Woodward brings these characters, (the latter being Vincent van Gogh) back to life, momentarily, and has conversations with them in the present.

These searching poems, with their carefully crafted descriptions of the natural world, go deep. Philosophical, intelligent and compassionate, they offer us insights into life, living and being.

Neil Leadbeater, Reviewer for Write Out Loud


PR shots for the new book

Publisher’s PR flyers

Photos taken by me: whale watching boat off the south coast of Sri Lanka;

 wrecked tractor in a Devon timber yard 


Sunday, 13 March 2022

Poem for the Ukraine - Maggot

The sickening news, day after day, of senseless destruction - for what? 

Even the outcome we think Putin desires (but who can say..?) can never be good for him or Russia. 

Moved by last weekend’s news images I wrote this and posted it as ‘an emotional blurt’ on my personal Facebook page from where it’s started to spread. 

If we all pile our individual grains of pressure on the man maybe, just maybe, the weight will eventually be too much for him. A naive hope, no doubt, but what else can I do..?


March 7th, 2022

In cute dinosaur socks, 

a child dies on a gurney,

his inconsolable mother 

buckling at her knees.

The columns and crowds

of displaced and terrified,

pack platforms in stations

which no trains can leave.

A baby’s mitten, a child’s glove,

another, all dropped in the rush,

reach up from the sludge, 

as if the Earth is raising its hands.

Hunkered in bitter forests 

Russian boys with frozen rifles

make tearful videos on mobile phones.

Uninformed, misled, poorly planned.

The man with polonium eyes,

anti-socially distant and small,

so small, sits in a vast white room

like a maggot in a fridge.

His ridiculous table will never 

be long enough to bear all the names 

of the bodies in the graves he alone, 

with bare hands and buckled knees, should dig.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Where to get hold of my new book

 In case you’re wondering - my latest book can be bought/ordered through any good bookshop (including Waterstones), or through Barnes & Noble or Amazon (where it’s discounted from the full price), and as an ebook on Kindle. Of course you can pm me for a copy or buy it direct from the publishers Sea Crow Press

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Shaking The Persimmon Tree published today!

I’m delighted to announce my new collection is published today by Sea Crow Press from Cape Cod, USA. Mary at Sea Crow has been brilliant to work with and I’m delighted to join their roster. 

Searching, songful poems. -Helen Ivory, editor of Ink, Sweat & Tears

Here’s a post taken from the Sea Crow Press Blog: 

Sea Crow Press poet Marc Woodward blogs about his new collection of poems Shaking the Persimmon Treeavailable now wherever good books are sold. Read on for the story of how a formerly derelict house in Italy went on to inspire the beautiful words and cover art that make this volume truly special.

Many years ago I bought a tumble-down ruin in a remote village in central Italy. It wasn’t a lot of money and it had that sweet dereliction that the English in particular seem to find irresistible. 

The man who took me to the property and helped push through the brambles and bamboo, was a geometra, a sort of cross between an architect and a surveyor. He was quite forgiving and enthusiastic about the house — even when we barged open the broken door and little black scorpions fell from the frame — smiling confidently as he estimated how little it would cost to restore…

The Italians have a term for naive customers (the English mostly): ‘Pollo’ —chickens waiting to be plucked.  Ah well… roll forward several fraught years which involved cashing in all my meagre savings and stretching out my credit cards (I termed it ‘an adventure in spending’), and I had a pretty little Maiella stone house up a green lane looking across at a castle and a mountain and the roofs of the nearby village — and a thumping great loan.  Eventually, I met some lovely Americans who bought a share in the property and it all worked out okay in the end. 

And that’s how I got my bolt hole in Abruzzo — a place to write and read, to drink local wine and have long conversations during which I understand nothing but get to smile and nod a lot. See my poem Luigi’s Calendar  for an example of this. 

When I was compiling the poems for this book I felt it should centre around two themes: Italy, where many of the poems were written — or at least started — and my own recent diagnosis with early-onset Parkinson’s.  Of course, Covid came along, and naturally, I wrote some poems referencing that and thinking about health generally — including the health of the planet, a common thread in my work. 

But those two initial themes remained and came together in my poem The Boar from which the title of the collection Shaking The Persimmon Tree is taken.

There is a persimmon tree at the end of the garden, past the olives and the rustling bamboo. The fruit ripens very late and still hangs on the tree after the winter snow has crowned the far mountains of the Gran Sasso — the highest peaks in the Apennine chain. In my previous post for the Sea Crow blog I explained a little about the mythology and meaning of the persimmon and why it has significance in the context of these poems — please seek it out and have a read

We had previously taken a photograph with the ripening persimmon in the foreground and the white mountain in the distance, and I realised this would make the ideal cover.  I’d even used the image in a video reading of The Boar.

However the original photo was lost, all I had was a low-resolution copy buried somewhere in my social media.   Nevertheless, after much scrolling, I located it and sent it to my nephew Jesse, a very talented artist who paints gorgeous landscapes – check out – and he created the beautiful painting that now adorns the book. Of course, I must also say thank you to Mary Petiet at Sea Crow Pressand PopKitty design for putting the whole work together so beautifully. I’m delighted with the result and hope readers will enjoy both the poetry and the artwork. 

Marc Woodward is an Anglo/American poet and musician living in the rural English West Country. His writing reflects his green surroundings, often with a dark undercurrent and a hint of wry

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Sonnet selected for inclusion in the Poetry Archive

Confession: I’m not great at keeping this blog/website up-to-date – forgive me! 

Did I mention that back in November my video reading of my poem Sonnet On An Old Scarf Of My Mother’s was one of the winners in the National Poetry Archive contest and has been selected for permanent inclusion in the archive? 

Well here it is: