The poet Macdara Woods' allusive style is to be treasured, as his eruditely mischievous and knowing Irish voice amounts to a type of poetic music that is increasingly rare. It is pointless to attempt to classify the poet in any kind of school, but reading him one cannot but think just a little of the biting nips of Paul Durcan's imagination, or the work of Woods' late contemporaries, James Liddy and Pearse Hutchinson. Like the latter two, there is the nearness always of the Gaeilge word hoard, and herein we find the poet's version of the ancient Irish poem, Cath Chéim an Fhia /The Battle of Keimaneagh.
Then there is the affectionate nod to Latin, the ease with a Meditteranean language or two, with ancient myth, a familiarity with the rumble of Beat, it's all here. That playful erudition is there in the first three short lines of the poem Grounded, which manages three languages in the space of eight words (how about that?) The poem begins with the standard 'You are Here' message of the public display map and follows with its translation into Russian and the Cyrillic script, followed by the French Vous Etes Ici. Thus, the poet enjoys an encyclopaedic, Joycean revelry in words alone (which are certain good.) He puts the occasional poem to song, like the ballad Salt Fields, written to the air of the traditional blues classic, St James Infirmary. Another poem is set to the melody of The Limerick Rake.
The final poem, a coda to the work, bears an Irish title, Ceangal - meaning tie or connection - a poem which slips almost blithely across the ice rink of frailty and ageing in a pair of rhyming-couplet skates borrowed from Austin Clarke.
As in the work of Paul Durcan, actual friends are mentioned by name, be they composers or writers, and you may find yourself Googling names to discover who's who. Such real names are always charming, and one feels, as it were, included in the drinks at the bar.
Right from the off, there is exuberant celebration of the carnal, specifically of female beauty and the poet is perhaps a disciple of Pablo Neruda in the moving introductory poem, I Dreamt I Saw Miz Moon Alive. This stirring three-and-half-page epigraph begins with the following lines: Thank you for the glory/Of your nakedness/So matter of fact/So wonderful a woman’s/Planes and curves. It seems somehow bold and brave of Woods to explore further on a similar theme in the curiously plaintive Disentangling Mars and Venus.
Throughout the 118-page work, there is that backward and forward motion, the lusts of youth keenly summoned from the mists of time, the sense of failing powers, typically mitigated with sometimes black, sometimes gentle humour in many of the poems. And Macdara in the middle of it all, travelling, poking fun at the realities of modern-day airline travel with its ubiquitous monitoring, screening, filming and questioning.
He may be in Logan Airport in Landing at Logan, or in the GPO recalling childhood actor days in Today I Joined the Company, attending a Winton Marsalis concert in Perugia, awaiting a ferry on the Black Sea, or strolling through Dublin in other poems. Yet in every case the poem's idea or motive somehow supervenes location, and focus is never lost. So there is no mere sketching for its own spurious effect, and the dramatic movement seems, to this reader, not so much to exist in spatial movement, as in those shifts back and forth through time. In sum, Macdara Woods has given us a refreshing collection, replete with riches.