Born in 1966 he studied biology and chemistry and worked for a period as an industrial chemist. He subsequently was awarded an MA in poetry (Lancaster University) under the direction of James Simmons. Widely travelled, he lived and worked in Kyoto, Japan in the early 1990s and travelled for long periods in Asia, in particular China and India and later Latin America.
He was Director of Poetry Ireland, the national organisation for the support and promotion of poets and poetry from 2001 to 2013. He moved with his family to Yangon, Myanmar in the summer of 2013 and they lived there until December 2015, post democratic elections. Woods now lives in Harare, Zimbabwe with his family. He has published three collections of poetry and for his first, Sailing to Hokkaido (2001) he won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. Dedalus Press reissued Woods's first two poetry collections in one volume entitled Cargo (2010) and published his third collection Ocean Letters (2011). Translated into Hungarian by Tomas Kabdebó, Ocean Letters was awarded the Irodalmi Jelen Prize 2013, presented jointly to the author and translator.
He co-edited with Irene de Angelis Our Shared Japan (Dedalus Press 2007) an anthology of contemporary Irish poetry concerning Japan. He has edited numerous other poetry publications and more recently co-edited with Gerard Smyth, The Poetry Project, a web anthology of visual artists and filmmakers interpreting selected poems. He is consulting editor to the Irish poetry journal Cyphers.
In 2014 Woods was a recipient of the Katherine and Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship and in 2016 he was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary towards his fourth poetry collection, forthcoming from Dedalus Press in 2018.
He has read widely and selected venues and festivals include, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Clifden Arts Week, Dublin Writers’ Festival, Medellín International Poetry Festival, Marché de la Poésie, Paris, Irrawaddy Literary Festival (Mandalay), Iowa Book Fair and Ubud (Bali) Writers & Readers Festival, Irish Arts Centre, New York; Marina Tsvetaeva House, Moscow; Nabokov House, St. Petersburg
- Sailing to Hokkaido, (Worple Press 2001)
- Bearings, (Worple Press 2005)
- Cargo, (Dedalus Press 2010)
- Ocean Letters, (Dedalus Press 2011)
- Our Shared Japan, (Eds. Irene de Angelis & Joseph Woods, Afterword by Seamus Heaney), (Dedalus Press 2007)
- Philip Casey. "Author profile". Irish Writers Online. Retrieved 10 July 2014.