Macdara Woods,
Artichoke Wine
(Dedalus Press, 2006)

Ten years after the publication of his New & Selected Poems, Macdara Woods is as prolific as ever. His new collection, Artichoke Wine, is the voice of a seasoned mature poet, comfortable in his skin but still in awe of the world that surrounds him. The collection includes two sequences written for performance with musicians: "In the Ranelagh Gardens" and "The Cello Suites." The other six parts of the book are given over to observational poems on life in Ireland, Italy, Paris and elsewhere on this planet of life.

"In the Ranelagh Gardens" was originally a performative collaboration with Irish composer Benjamin Dwyer. The composer was at the time looking for a body of poetry to work from (or "against," as Woods writes in his introduction to the suite). The eponymous park is situated across the road from the poet's house and became the inspiration for the poems. The completed work was first performed in 2003 and has been repeated a number of times since. Last year, the work was recorded and released on CD. But what of the poems?

Well, as a body of work, they are sublime, perfectly suiting and fitting, and segueing one into another. Like music, really. With titles such as "Voices," "Fathers," "Contact" and "Identity," there is an "everyday" quality about them, life captured in economical verse. The snapshots from the park and the outside street, are vignettes of life, a microcosm of modern living, at once immediately contemporary yet utterly timeless in their ageless themes. The philosophical "Fools" describes: "He wanders daily / in the park- / a thin dishevelment / With red moustache / red sun-burnt skin / and floating eyes / cane in hand / he tries to talk / to all the scattered limbs." It is this ability of Woods' to capture a moment and get to the heart of it.

Elsewhere, "The park again on Sunday / afternoon: / father and infant daughter / Beside the pond / in weekend access time / estranged not quite at ease." A moment loaded with chapters. The use of the adjective "infant" is a telling example of the writers' power of economy.

Where the "Ranelagh Gardens" pieces are floating lyrical, "The Cello Suites" is an elegant slow waltz. Named after their musical counterparts, the poems in this sequence were inspired by Bach's "Six Solo Suites," with which they were performed several times since being premiered in Harrisville, New Hampshire, in December 2003.

Musical and precise, the poems are trawled from memory. Situations from experience presented in perfectly choreographed syntax. "Courante" begins with "I crossed Ireland in the rain / last week of May / to see Anne Donnelly's paintings." Compressing expanses of incident into concise arrangements, the narratives are drawn from the poet's travels.

Amongst the remainder of the collection is the long-poem "Driving to Charleston." Detailing a journey made in the U.S., the work is full of anecdotal evocations. "Pedro Nazario / aged eighty six / fined for feeding pigeons / in Manhattan / Or the man in the Bronx / who was fined / for sitting on a milk-crate," "driving the backroads of Appalachia / with Bill Williams / following the Ohio river," "watching the moon come up / over the Black Shamrock / in Milwaukee," it is like an "On the Road' in verse with all the Kerouacian wonder and style. Woods' eyes hungrily lap in the sights and he transforms them into atmospheric word-pictures.

Artichoke Wine is a strong collection of poems, almost stately. Woods' cool architecture frames the portrayed experiences culled from the mundane, loaded with the significant. His strengths are clarity, elegance and musicality, his creations often sublime.

by Sean Walsh
7 October 2006

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