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 café 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


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