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This review is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

IN THE DARK WOOD GREGORY WOODS, The District Commissioner's Dreams (Carcanet) £8.95

'The verbal flourish of erotic candour [...] is an echo of the body's signs, an articulation of the flesh' wrote Gregory Woods in his 1987 study of male homo-eroticism and modern poetry. His first poetry collection, We Have the Melon (Carcanet, 1992) flourished those signs in poems of great formal dexterity and it was precisely this dextrous use of prosody that made the 'violation of tact' - always the result, as Woods notes in the same study, of articulating love between men - so acute and so acutely welcome. In one of the twelve-liners in that collection the spit used to lubricate a fisherman's nipples is described as 'conceited' and the book's overall effect, playing deft vignettes of sexual encounters off against the clotted textures of the longer poems, illustrates a baroque vision of desire and sensuality. This was given a darker twist in his second collection, May I Say Nothing, which emphasised the undercurrents of violence that weave through society and relationships. His third, The District Commissioner's Dreams, also displays its fair share of arrestingly formulated images but here the best of them work ferociously hard for the poems they serve and not just for themselves. Two, taken from different poems, brilliantly develop in similar ways the principle obsession of the collection as a whole. In 'Then', a cock is 'grabbed [...] in as tight a fist / As I'd inflicted on the handlebars of my first bike, / Unable to relax my grip for fear of losing ...

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