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Review: A Cure for Woodness, by Michael Haslam

Pleasures and Normalities

I love Michael Haslam's A Cure for Woodness. It made me feel as though I'd plunged into a tidal race but given sufficient buoyancy and confidence to enjoy being swept along on the changing currents of strong words It's an exhilarating even intoxicating read, quite unlike any other volume of poems that I've read, though it is the third part of a trilogy entitled Music. This collection is mesmeric with musicality. The language is lush and sensuous an erudite mix of the sublime with northern dialects, well grounded in natural history:

With secret joy the plumbing lapwing wreaks its call.
The sike is feathery with spate. Each bird with a
Cloaca maculates. Erosion riddles banks.

It also pulses with associations and is uninhibited about playfulness and punning:

Let old men drink. Just give us one last spirit
Wing-twist, neck the bottle, top to cap,
Ah pluvial, I do remember thee, as once
with nasal rank in ramsons, young leaves burgeoning
however poor a beauty, I played the young fool
with the masking-face of bluetit. Please absolve me
or ablute it.

from Old Hall Down In The Hollow; Spring Up Sunny Bank

Haslam's interesting introduction on the subject of 'woodness' starts: Wood is a dead word for Mad, well-rotten, nigh forgotten.

I'm wary and frequently scornful of attempts to justify or explain poems, so I read this essay after the poems proved they could live without support. It gives fascinating insights into the poet's thoughts and practices. Research into 'woodness' takes him back:

The poetic record, between Chaucer and Shakespeare, turns out to be rife with wood and woodness... Most affirmed the primacy of anger and rage, but I found enough with such senses as sad desperation, stupidity, eccentricity, and crazy sexual elation, to save my adopted word.

Despite this preoccupation, I find the volume overall to be a testimony to, a rich robust existence in exuberance. Haslam doesn't flinch from roving over the full range of the feelings of woodness but there is much delight in expressing experiences in words and music. There is philosophical weight behind his experimentation with language. He never abandons his creations to his 'unconscious' or degenerates into vacuous word-play.

Energy and a sense of fun are saving graces and among the cures for woodness.