This is the second collection from Chris Woods following Recovery. In Dangerous Driving, he continues to observe, looking inwards as well as out.
In his pared-down style, Woods journeys using unassuming vocabulary. The reader is a happy passenger: has a feeling of being in the safe hands of someone who is confident of his vehicle and is a skilful driver – this is the world with which he is familiar. But by subtle shifts, Woods changes words and they take off to present a different perspective. The ordinary is made extraordinary. He transcends the domestic to see the wider horizon.
By astute observation of the human condition he spotlights the minutiae of life so that they become immense: stars that glow with insight and truth. It is as if he uses a pinhole camera: with such economies he opens up whole vistas. You never know what you’re going to get. The images have unlimited depth and often a surreal quality. From Knocking Through which describes the renovation of a home:
We take shape inside this cocoon.
We ask old stone for new direction.
He often communes with nature, and there are references to the sea in this book; about the currents of life ebbing and flowing, as does his mood, his interpretation, his quest for understanding. In An English Holiday and its inevitable inclement weather he describes:
. . . a murderous mind
breaking the backs of the waves
grinding them into the sand.
but as the weather improves, his mood changes gear, and he goes onto describe a final moment
. . .of froth and liquid light.
His imagery is eye-catching. One from White Walk is particularly delightful:
. . a whitish labrador
hunting for a hole in the ice.
We can hear the muffled bounce, breathe in the sharp air. He acknowledges his own wonderment at the end of the poem:
I waded through whiteness,
up to my knees in dazzle.
He stands back, with gracious hospitality, and invites us to share: and we do – remembering long after we have seen it.
The nuances aren’t always so upbeat. In The Illuminations he describes:
Mums and dads, wrapped up
like their fish and chips,
glance at lights that once upon a time
burned brightly inside them.
He presses the buttons of recognition so personal they almost hurt. A fleeting moment is transformed into a milestone.
As he drives, Chris Woods is an explorer: of life, and all his selves in it. The final lines of Monster describe:
I am tired of the shadows,
but all I can ever do
is write about them,
created never to be whole,
a monster of spare parts.
We identify, and from the insularity of the mind of the poet, are rendered unalone. From the same poem he considers
Perhaps my own writing
is only talking about all this
trying to understand.
He is most successful in one major respect: as we read these poems we are made to empathise with his quest. And perhaps that satisfies the conundrum of the title. It is his awareness of the dangers that makes the journey all the more profound.