Poet Battles Immigration to Speak at UMass

Poet Battles Immigration to Speak at UMass

Carl Brooks

Speaking to a dedicated crowd on a dreary Monday afternoon, Irish poet Macdara Woods returned to UMass Boston to read his homestyle poetry at the Harbor Art Gallery. Hosted by the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, Woods’ visit was a hasty gem prised out of the grasp of a red-tape boondoggle.

The Joiner Center regularly brings speakers and artists from overseas and filed Woods’ application for a visa six months ago, normally plenty of time for a visa application to be processed and granted, especially for a distinguished poet like Woods. However, due to recent upheavals at the federal level and the generally uncertain tenor of the times, Woods’ application and visa were torpedoed and the Joiner Center wasn’t notified until it attempted to make the final arrangements for Woods’ travel plans.

Many complaints about red tape and bureaucratic black holes have been reported sine the Immigration and Naturalization Service closed its doors and re-opened as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The BCIS has been consolidated into the mammoth new Department of Homeland Security to help the federal government keep closer tabs on potentially dangerous immigrants and visitors. It was unclear where a distinguished Irish wordsmith falls under the new regulations.

The Joiner Center, learning of the unforeseen change in required paperwork, worked frantically to bash together the new permit applications and spent an undisclosed sum to fly them to Dublin in time for Woods to meet his itinerary. Woods is taking an international tour this spring, reading at colleges in New York, the Berkshires and Moscow before returning to his home in Dublin.

Despite the brouhaha, Woods read well, interspersing his poems with anecdotes and memories, creating a congenial, intimate atmosphere. Echoing the classic tradition of Irish poetry, Woods told the audience he aimed “to make the ordinary extraordinary; to watch the miracles around us.” After reciting a charming lyric about finding a secret collection of tribal relics under a brick in his old country cottage, Woods, with a smile, related how a woman stormed out of a reading in 1975, indignant that Woods should make reference to Ireland’s rich tradition of folklore and superstition

He read an affecting memoir of his son, “Winter Fire and Snow” and touched on his life-long love affair with Italy, calling himself a “refugee from his land in either place,” making reference to the violent political histories of Ireland and Italy. He finished the reading with a new piece, part of a musical collaboration finished early this year entitled “Ranelagh Gardens” after the Ranelagh section of Dublin, where Woods makes his home.

Woods has been writing poetry for 40 years, and has thirteen collections published in twelve languages. He currently edits the poetry journal, Cyphers, with his wife Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. They both live among friends and cabbages in Dublin, Ireland.