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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzlingly inventive and original, 9 April 2010
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Woods etc. (Paperback)
It took me a while to get into, but once I did, I was knocked sideways by this dazzlingly inventive and original collection of poems. I can't recall reading anything quite like this, ever. It may be an odd comparison, but reading Oswald's poems is a bit like exploring a place you know well, but in the hands of an expert guide who helps you see it (or more accurately, sense it) for the first time. Right from the first `Seabird's blessing', which somehow manages to resonate perfectly with a centuries-old Celtic spirituality, you're treated to an almost `from the inside' perspective on the natural world and wider universe, its wonders opened up and explored, the power behind it sung (`Leaf', `Excursion to the Planet Mercury') and celebrated until it awes us to silence (`Woods etc'). At times the writing seems so `elemental' that it seems to burst the bonds of language, and you sense Oswald searching for the words to construct something new, perhaps especially with lines like `a looked at thing' (`Ideogram for Green'), trying to express the almost inexpressible, hammering the insubstantial into the shape of language.

Even where the focus shifts to the human, that sense of the wonder of it beyond words, remains, especially in the poems about Oswald's children: `Poem for Carrying a Baby out of Hospital' is a remarkable description of how it feels to be responsible for a new, fragile and vulnerable life, something I don't think could be captured more perfectly. There's a variety of tone, too, with an almost elegiac mourning of how wild nature passes us by as we are absorbed in the mundane (`Another Westminster Bridge', `For Many Hours there's been an Old Couple Standing at that Window' and `Sisyphus'). Don't let this collection pass you by - superb.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying mesh of old and new, 6 Nov. 2012
J. J. Ward (Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Woods etc. (Paperback)
I wasn't quite sure about this volume when I first received it (from my wife, for my forty-sixth birthday), because it wasn't like any poetry I'd read before, but I quickly warmed to it. One thing that struck me is how much many of the poems are both visual and auditory experiences. "Tree Ghosts", on page 42, for example, includes a run through the alphabet in emboldened font, although you probably couldn't hear it as such at a reading (for example, the letter "a" occurs in "ballad", written "bAllad", with the "A" in bold). The same poem also contains FOOTNOTES, a reduced-font continuation of the poem itself. In "A Star Here And a Star There", the next poem in the book, Oswald makes effective use of font-reduction to mimic the wonder involved in gazing at the universe. Here you CAN imagine an aural equivalent, a kind of awed whisper. Elsewhere, the author plays with putting lower case letters where we might expect upper case, and eccentric spacing between sentences and parts of sentences. If this makes the whole thing sound gimmicky, have no fear. It isn't gimmicky at all: it works to produce an worthwhile effect.

What is that effect, I hear you ask? Oswald is a nature poet and the net consequence of her style is to restore a sense of strangeness to the world around us. There is something very traditional and very modern about this. In fact, Oswald's poetry feels a bit like what the Victorians imagined pre-Christian paganism to be like. I don't mean to disparage the Victorians or the poet herself here. Think of Hardy; think of Manley-Hopkins; think of the pre-Raphaelites. Now think of them as just a little bit less conventional, just a little bit more attuned to the Green Man.

Behold, you have Alice Oswald.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Luminous Poetry, 13 Feb. 2009
LittleMoon (loving my life in the rain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Woods etc. (Hardcover)
Oswald's simply titled 3rd collection is a slim volume of luminous poetry.

The collection itself draws on Oswald's strong connections to nature, and includes many poems that echo the songs of the woods, of owls, of the moon, of stones and rainbows. There are other poems too, slightly more philosophical in content, such as the rich and sweeping "Various Portents"; a Christmas poem filled with ancient wonder and modern light:

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and or water, snowflakes, stars of frost ...

Elsewhere, her poetry juxtaposes the natural and the synthetic to glorious effect, words that you hear rather than read (from Owl):

an owl elsewhere swelled and questioned
twice, like you might lean and strike
two matches in the wind.

Sometimes I think I can hear Ted Hughes in the distance, not borrowed from, but almost pre-supposed. In his well-known poem, The Horses, the world appears to the light of the sun as: "Slowly detail leafed from the darkness." It seems Oswald's "Woods Not Yet Out" are behind it all:

the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air
and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there

Oswald's poetry is intelligent and fresh. If there is any hope in this world for poetry, then surely here is one of the poets who carries it. Oswald is a poet of such sensitive intensity and quiet skill, that every subject she touches upon is made finer by her words.

Readers looking for poetry with delicacy, confidence and individual flair; poetry that echoes nature, and poetry that is distinctly contemporary in craft, will find this book a treasure.

[FYI: This book was awarded the 2006 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.]
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awake so long, with only dark to feed on..., 31 Dec. 2011
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Woods etc. (Paperback)
Alice Oswald asks questions continually in her poetry, striving to understand the world:
what is water in the eyes of water
loose inquisitive fragile anxious (Sea Poem)
Elswhere she gives us extraordinary structures:
A song that assembles the earth
out of nine notes and silence (Birdsong for Two Voices)
And my current favourite of her poems Owl - a poem that can only be rendered in its whole form:

last night at the joint of dawn
an owl's call opened the darkness

miles away, more than a world beyond this room

and immediately, I was in the woods again
poised, seeing my eyes seen,
hearing my listening heard

under a huge tree improvised by fear

dead brush falling then a star
straight through to God
founded and fixed the wood

then out, until it touched the town's lights
an owl's elsewhere swelled and questioned

twice, like you might lean and strike
two matches in the wind.

Other poems I loved in this collection include: 'The mud-spattered recollections of a woman who lived her life backwards', which is amazingly literal and heart-breaking. And especially, 'Various Portents' - just that, exactly, and an encapsulated history of the world. 'Tree Ghosts' is a ballad, chiefly about Clifford Harris, the last man in England to see a red squirrel. I loved also 'Another Westminster Bridge' and the poem following it, 'Hymn to Iris', which includes a "three-moment blessing for all bridges" and ends thus:

And may I often wake on the broken bridge of a word,
Like in the wind the trace of a web. Tethered to nothing

Her poetry has a gorgeously flowing feeling to it, like the rivers she writes about, nothing if not adventurous and swift-paced, tightly rhythmic, pastoral and thrumming with the natural world's sights, sounds and a profound understanding of how nature works on our feelings.
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Woods etc.
Woods etc. by Alice Oswald (Paperback - 4 May 2006)
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