Macdara Woods, The Hanged Man Was Not Surrendering

Padraig J. Daly
will appreciate my addition to their journey and all unbeknownst to myself
I have lifted the plastic bag to my head inhaling as if to clear a lifetime of asthma
bursting my lungs with the must of garlic
I am tunnelling beneath the platforms of Florence fiercely with my eyes shut
crushing wild garlic on the walls of my sett.
Or take 'Angelica saved by Ruggiero'. We begin by talking about a girl "from the filleting room at the back of Keegan's" and before we know it, Dublin and North Africa are symbiotically one. Who but Woods could validly talk of "the minarets of the Pigeon House" and transform our perception of them forever.
Or 'Death in Venice: Panicale, August 1989' - a wonderfully sustained metaphor. Or 'Miz Moon' which is strange and wonderful and should be read aloud and savoured on the lips; and understood as film or music is understood. Or the glorious 'Tavernelle' sequence that concludes the book with so much future promIse.
The most enjoyable poem in the book for me however is the longish 'Letter from Colle Calzolaro to Leland Bardwell'. The visual imagery of the poem is wide and various; the music deep and resounding. The poem is by turns serene, angry, anguished, despairing, stark, stoical; until the why of all our living finds partial resolution in "the love of a Summer child". Woods is not afraid of the big questions nor is he glib in his answers. Here is someone honestly himself - someone who can exult, who can hate, who can be hurt and will be hurt, a man redeemed from selfpreoccupation by his capacity for love. There is nothing macho about Woods though he is chockful of strength and passion.
I can't read the last act of 'King Lear' without pulling back tears, not because the play is sentimental but because the magic of the words transmutes the pain. In the same way, I defy anyone who reads poetry for pleasure (as distinct from someone who reads it as if it were a branch of mathematics) to read Woods' letter without the beginnings of tears. To hell with modern living and all the guards we put on feeling, why shouldn't poets make us cry, laugh, exult, make us want to rush out into the streets and shout that man, the artist, is greater far than the sum of his afflictions.
The 'Letter' needs to be read through as a whole; so I won't quote from it. Everybody who has ever suffered, everybody who has ever wondered about the why of life, everybody who has been hurt by the limited nature of human verdicts, will read it with reverberating heart. The careful people, the cynics (in the Wildean sense), the mathematicians who write about poetry for the papers will find nothing here.
That goes in fact for all the book. If you prefer a safe and careful world with feelings and emotions strictly controlled; if you have no wish to let your head be invaded by mindbreaking music and pulled apart by virtuoso imagery, stay away from Woods. If on the other hand, you are not afraid to shuffle the boxes of perception, if you are not afraid of real emotion and catharsis, beg, borrow or steal The Hanged Man Was Not Surrendering.
Page 101, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 28