This is not so much a review of Macdara Wood's Collected Poems published by Dedalus Press in the poets' seventieth year, as a celebration and acknowledgement of his achievement. From his earliest poetry right up to his latest collection The Cotard Dimension (2011), what is really notable about this collection is that they have been chosen by Macdara Woods himself. In eight sections, reflecting the dates of publication of his previous collections, this layout allows the reader to reflect on the age of the poet when the poem was written and also what was going on not just in Ireland at the time but the world at large.
With his first book of poetry published in 1970, Woods recognises and comments in the preface that 'the I who wrote them is not the I who reads them today, but we have endless versions of a language in common. Dialects of the body cells, passed on from one lustrum to another, as stories and identities are passed from one generation to another.' Marvelous! the poetry even coming through in his language in this superb prologue to this new edition. It is even a beautiful book to look at , with the choice of Kerry artist Poppy Melia's Japanese style painting 'Heron and Trout' for the cover image.
The collection opens with seven undated poems, the first 'March 22nd Meant Love' speaks with a certainty of love, of adoration and also of politics; "I lay fallow before I dared to say/ the miracle of love to the riding light/ on the ships high stern." The first dated section, 1966-1977 covers Macdara Woods first two collections; Decimal D. Sec. Drinks in a Bar in Marrakesh (1970) and Early Morning Matins (1973). 'Decimal D. Sec. Drinks in a Bar in Marrakesh', the title poem of the first collection, written in 1969, is a long meandering poem of dialogue and description, tastes and sounds of the exotic city in Morocco; "Decimal moves through the cedar wood/ - red wool clacking on the loom - / and arm in arm they stroll among the souks." The assonance and alliteration all add to the atmosphere and music of the poetry.
1987-1994, a very productive period, takes in the poetry books Mizz Moon (1988), The Hanged Man Was Not Surrendering (1990) and Notes From The Countries of Blood Red Flowers (1994). with great titles in this period such as 'Street Scenes: The Perpetual Launderette' and 'Long Day Short Night She Dances' and who could not love the irresistible 'The Paradise Sexy Shop' named after a shop in Umbria. But it is the understated muted voice of 'Distance and Funeral: Meath, December 1991' that I particularly like, with its questions of identity and of belonging to place; 'I am no longer part of this/ but was I ever - did I ever fit/ into my memory of how it was'.
The final dated collection is 1995-2006 which includes poems from Selected Poems (1996) and 'Knowledge in the Blood: New and Selected Poems' (2001, 2007). In this section I was drawn to the thoughtful contemplation of age in 'Stephen's Green: February 1998' as the speaker sees himself there as a child, at twenty-one and today.
Selections from Macdara Woods last three poetry collections make up the final three sections bringing the reader up to date; The Nightingale Water (2001), Artichoke Wine (2006) and The Cotard Dimension (2011) to present. The Nightingale Water collection is very spare in style, short and sharp with sometimes one and two word lines putting across the message in the minimum of words - an intense and powerful discipline in the choice of words and no less, maybe even more, powerful for their brevity. 'Coffee at The Cafe Rimbaud' from Artichoke Wine is a memory of the Argentinian invasion and Margaret Thatcher, "Metal curls declaiming/ Down her barricaded nose/ That we are right and we will do" that occurred while the speaker was in Umbria, hardly able to believe the unfolding news and when told "There that's your Prime Minister" replies "Not my Prime Minister no/ Nor of any of mine alive or dead/ Sono Irlandese io Signora". This memory is set off by another invasion, this time involving Bush and Blair. Closing the collection with the poem 'We Have Given Up on Hills', Macdara Woods most recent contemplation on the effect of ageing, is touching, accepting, and not without humour, "all downhill from here/ it looks/ but downhill we can walk forever."
The beauty of this collection is, as stated, that they have been chosen by Macdara Woods himself. You can see the development of themes, the building of repeated subjects such as those poems set in Ranelagh and Umbria and the subject matter of Rimbaud, and the reader can follow the changes in his writing style. Readers new to Macdara Woods' poetry here get the benefit of the cream of the crop and for those who are already fans this is just a great collection to sink into, to re-read favourites and to discover new unpublished gems.