Always Die Before Your Mother

book review:

Always Die Before Your Mother

Poetry is an elaborate vessel; so much so, at times, that one may forget where it is going or why it left port. But Patrick Woodcock’s Always Die Before Your Mother arrives with force at its meaning, heart­wrenchingly so. Of course, such a landing need not preclude the quality of the craft that carries us, as is the case here. This is travel poetry; it goes the world over but journeys just as far inward, confronting the traveller’s role as witness. Watching a procession of old, weary Russian women, he asks, “who am I to drift/ Through their history while still shaking from last night’s excesses?”

That being said, Woodcock avoids being overtly moral or philosophical. Instead, the poems tend to be detached because there is a personal journey throughout cloud­ing the speaker’s observations. But he works through that, blending his personal pain with what he witnesses, especially in “Gull” and “Swimming with Pink Dol­phins and My Dead Mother.” The latter poem is a stunning display of grief, a wail, casting a sharp light on the struggling ob­scurity that precedes it. Woodcock exhib­its a feel for both closed and open forms and mixes them effectively. He also makes good use of recurring themes and builds a layered structure that is neither obvious nor, in the end, obtuse. It’s a heavy book for sure, but so good and heartfelt that it’s well worth the trip. (Ted Nolan)

by Patrick Woodcock $16.95, 96 pgs., ECW Press, 2120 Queen St. E., Suite 200, Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2, ecwpress.com

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