Launches of the new collection of poems by Macdara Woods, Music From The Big Tent, together with the latest from Paddy Bushe, On a Turning Wing, are among the many events that make up the annual Strokestown Poetry Festival which takes place over the May Bank Holiday Weekend, in one of the most welcoming and celebratory gatherings in the annual poetry calendar.
Music From The Big Tent is Macdara Woods’ first volume of new poems since Collected Poems (2012)
From the opening poem in which a bird falls dead at the feet of the strolling poet and his son, to the closing which references the well-known song ‘The Night Before Larry Was Stretched’, in this latest collection of his poems Macdara Woods looks, with unflinching eye, beyond the certainties and consolations of the here and now.
In a book which charts his own recent ill health and recovery, he celebrates “the courage and / The wonder / Of the naked body”, not least at a time “when the financiers / have poisoned all the blood banks / and the drug companies / have rendered us venomous”.
Though his subjects may be illness, frailty and dissolution, the insistence on witness and clear-eyed expression animates these poems with a defiant and by times exuberant energy. Poems such as ‘Big-Top Music’ and ‘A May-Day Aisling Skazka’ (“Here’s where the rhythm in the rhyme / Turns slower (as will yours in time)” tap in to a long tradition of playful music imparting dark visions, and add a new and captivating dimension to Woods’ ongoing dance in words and ‘In the open space between / The words”.
Paddy Bushe’s latest collection of poems opens with a stirring suite on music and art, seeing them not as rarefied experiences but as fundamental and nourishing encounters for both their makers and their audience. The distinction between here and elsewhere is blurred, and the playing of an Irish piper seems echoed by that of other musicians in far-flung parts where the poet’s enthusiasm for travel and hill-walking takes him. The transition from such open, light-filled spaces to the more uncertain areas of Irish political life makes perfect sense in Bushe’s work, the poet’s freedom bringing with it a responsibility to engage. And Bushe’s defence of a local arts centre is lifted far above what might have been a parochial dispute into a passionate argument for access to the arts beyond favouritism or political interference. On a Turning Wing contains some of Bushe’s finest sketches of the natural world, as well as touching lyrics on the birth of a grandchild and the joy and consolation of companionship and love.