This is Just to Say: John Woodall, Offa's Press

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The title of this pamphlet collection is a nod to the well-known poem by William Carlos Williams which goes under the same name. Woodall’s poem, which echoes several of the lines found in the one by Williams, substitutes those plums that were raided from the ice-box for a pair of pants taken from an underwear drawer “which you were probably saving for tonight”. A curious, if not eccentric, take on one of America’s most iconic poems.

Several titles in this collection bring with them an echo of something else. The opening poem, which is called ‘Would You Like to Come Up and See My Stamp Collection?’ is a cross between Mae West’s “Come up and see me sometime” and a chat-up line that has an 1890s fee about it and is definitely corny. Woodall deftly makes fun of it in ten lines concluding that “philately will get you nowhere”.  ‘Fifteen Shades of Black Country’ – a brilliant take on Fifty Shades of Grey - is a 15-line romp of side-splitting originality in which the names of Black Country towns are used as substitutes for the erogenous zones and sexual parts of the human body. It ends with the words “Together they reached an earth-shaking Bilston.” I am still laughing at its vulgarity. ‘Have You Seen My Keys?’ is written in a style that is not too far removed from some of the early poems of Brian Patten. ‘Going to Waitrose with Robert Frost’ picks up on Jane Seabourne’s poem ‘Going to the Co-op with Allen Ginsberg’ where she writes “Next week, I am expecting Robert Frost.” Woodall plays on some of Frost’s themes and compositions when assembling his own. I particularly like his reference to ‘The Road Not Taken’ when he writes:


     Undecided which one to take

     [he] stands for ages looking down two aisles

     But what difference will it make,

     I say? He shakes his head and smiles.


Woodall’s work, which shuttles back and forth between Hull and the West Midlands, is very much in the spirit of performance poetry: immediate, accessible and entertaining with occasional serious undertones. ‘Taking Back Control,’ for example, could be viewed as a poem about immigration framed in the guise of a lexicographer’s high-handed attitude towards loan words:


     We’re taking back control.

     We’re letting no more in.

     We’re sending them back home,

     words of foreign origin.


     The O.E.D is full.

     Some words will have to go.

     We’re drawing up a list.

     We’re ready. We’re gung-ho!


‘Alternative Haiku’ is a test of one’s IQ in terms of how many ingenious ways one can find words to rhyme with haiku while at the same time matching the traditional three line 5-7-5 syllable sequence.

In ‘Wolves 2, Villa 0’, cunningly written in the form of a villanelle (no doubt a play on Villa nil), Woodall achieves a chant-like effect with his repetition of “Wolves ay we. And we’re playing like Brazil.” For me, the line that stands out is the one when he boots the ball out of the ground and into the literary arena with “We are just poetry and they’re just prose.” 

Finally, an effective counterblast to cloying sentimentality is employed in ‘The Good, Soft, Gushy Warm Stuff,’ where a farmer makes use of his manure spreader to draw a gigantic heart with an arrow passing through it for his wife on Valentine’s Day:


     Any manure will work,

     but the good, soft, gushy, warm stuff works the best.

    It melts the snow.


This is a very entertaining debut collection from a poet who knows exactly what his audience wants and delivers it in spades. The wit and humour that he brings to his poems will make you laugh and brighten your day. Recommended.


John Woodall, This is Just to Say, Offa’s Press, £5.95



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