Book Review: On the Wing by Ros Woolner

Book Review: On the Wing by Ros Woolner

Crystal vials with tiny stoppers,
swan-necked flasks of cobalt blue,
frosted jars and squat decanters,
amber flacons, demijohns
labelled in erratic script

Stormkeeper, Ros Woolner, On the Wing


On the Wing, by Ros Woolner, is a pamphlet filled with prismatic language nestled into every poem. Each stanza invites the reader to take a closer look at the objects and persons described and witness their alchemy.

When A Tree is not Just a Tree

First came the sparing —
one seedling left just off the path,
the rest uprooted with the weeding fork and binned.

Silver Birch, Ros Woolner, On the Wing


Woolner takes us through this life cycle of a tree and alongside it, human life. Built as if in a simple timeline, the poet begins each stanza with an indicator of stages. However, within three compact lines, so much is said. This is not a poem about a silver birch. This is a poem about a silver birch.

The last stanza speaks of the swelling of the tree. It splits and is rough and pushes into the sky. This reminds me of sudden growth and how painful it can be. As the poem indicates, sometimes the growth is just happening, slow and quiet. It’s easy not to notice this type of growth. At some point, nature takes over and a combination of weather, circumstance and timing demands that the tree rush to sky. I have felt that way recently. Creativity tends to stir around and brew in my brain, sometimes without me noticing it. I take in images, listen to conversations. I collect words and colours, until suddenly the idea won’t let go and it must spill onto paper or canvas. I spill skyward, just like this silver birch.

Letting Words Fly

common nouns peacock
into splendid modifiers,
strut their colours before
cabbage-white idioms,
stressed syllables flit
from vowel to vowel,
vulgar slang swigs nectar,

Words on the Wing, Ros Woolner, On the Wing

From the time I began reading as a child, I understood the power of words. Letters on a page, combined in an almost magical sequence that sent me to far off places in my imagination. As I grew older, I started to understand the way that words could be used as tools to explain ideas. The written word, or in today’s manifestation– the typed word, is something that has not lessened in its ability to either bring people together or pull people apart. Social media, and Twitter in particular, are a testament to the choice of words mattering within character limits. Without care, these words can become just part of the ether, floating into the unknown of the internet. The ability to think about nuance and choose words with precision is more important than ever.

Woolner puts on a brilliant display in this poem, wherein we are challenged to think of what we consider common or bold and turn those words on their heads. She breathes a new life into “nouns” when she describes them as peacocks, which aside from the strutting is a noun that is frequently used as a verb. In some way I can sort of imagine this noun as: nOUn; the feathers unfurled as it struts along the page. The ‘vulgar slang’ becomes a bulk that swigs, no sipping allowed. And yet, what it sips is ‘nectar’, which feels almost too sweet. In this way, the poet uses language to surprise and turn the prism once again. Can vulgar slang swill dainty drinks? The juxtaposition of something vulgar next to the sweetness housed deep in the petals of flowers is stunning. It creates stronger images and the idea that nothing is all good or bad, that so many emotions can co-exist and still remain valid.

In Conclusion

Though it was the more imagistic poems I pulled for this review, there are equally as many stunning character portraits within these pages. On the Wing, by Ros Woolner is an accomplished lens of verse that allows for magnification of the smallest details. These poems invite the reader to hold the prism of each stanza to the light and ponder each multicoloured facet. Her deft skill with language is both accomplished and full of light touches that breed ‘aha!’ moments. Lines from these poems will linger in my mind and bring me back to turn these pages in the future.

On the Wing, by Ros Woolner is available for purchase through Offa’s Press.


About the Author

ROS WOOLNER was brought up near the River Thames and now lives in Wolverhampton with her partner and two teenage children. Her poem ‘Sack of Night’ came in second in the inaugural Wolverhampton Literature Festival competition. She works as a translator and is member of Cannon Poets, Bilston Writers and Blakenhall Writers.

About the Press

OFFA’S PRESS is “dedicated to publishing and promoting the best in contemporary West Midland poetry and poets. It will do this through a series of publications and performances where the watchword will be ‘good on the page and good on stage’.

Offa’s Press is eclectic in range. It receives some development funding from Arts Council England and is run as a co-operative by a number of regional writers and poets with Simon Fletcher the Editor / Manager.”