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.


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