Inventory of Friends – Jack Underwood
I run through the grass-topped lives of my friends:
I would like to have his body that is so slender
it looks sponsored by a company from Switzerland,
or that guy’s gliding youth, his hopeful wardrobe:
I could use a transfusion of shyness to my voice.
I know ten people who are blessings: good people
for long car journeys, good people for talking to
on steps outside before we go in; or that twentieth
century seriousness that he has: I’d like a slice
of proper prowess. And I try to imagine having
her mind: funny, smart and odd as twenty
emperor penguins filing through the door
of a black limousine. But with a predictability
that would be cuteness if it weren’t honest first,
my thoughts turn to you and what it might be
like to be so quietly impressive as a morning, or
a factory in the distance; what it might be like
not to have a great clumsy self always knocking,
what it might be like to be you, coming home
in four hour’s time with no inkling of the way
my insides groan and click like a tired, old
galleon when you take off your coat like that.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jack Underwood and taken from his first full-length collection Happiness, published by Faber this year. I read the collection when I was on the train on the way to the airport last weekend. I normally like to speed-read through collections at first, and then go back to them a couple of weeks or months later and take my time reading through them. When I really like the poems though, I end up having to stop after I’ve read one and let it sink in, so the book lasted me all the way to the airport and then for another couple of hours while I was waiting for my delayed flight to take off.
I love the idea behind this poem and the impetus behind it, to write a poem to celebrate the qualities in your friends that you admire. Implicit in this poem is the unspoken assertion that the speaker does not posses these qualities, of course, so as well as telling us something about the friends, it tells us something about the speaker. There are some lovely observations about people in here: ‘I could use a transfusion of shyness to my voice’ and ‘I know ten people who are blessings’ – as soon as I read that, I thought, yes, I know people who are blessings as well, although I’d never thought to describe them that way. Also implicit is the fact that we can’t know what it is like to be another person, we can try to imagine it, but ultimately we fail: ‘And I try to imagine having/her mind: funny, smart and odd as twenty/emperor penguins filing through the door/of a black limousine’. The strangeness that you find in this poem can be found throughout the collection – they are often funny but also wistful. It’s one of my favourite first collections that I’ve read this year, although I seem to think that when ever I read one – the year seems to be full of fantastic first collections.
Jack Underwood was born in Norwich in 1984. He graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design in 2005 before completing an MA and PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. He co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives and reviews for Poetry London and Poetry Review. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2007. If you would like to buy a copy of Happiness, head over to the Faber website.
This week I’ve been pretty busy – on Monday I was running the first in a series of workshops with Dent Primary School in association with The Wordsworth Trust and Tullie House. I spent the whole day in Tullie House musuem with a lovely group of kids from Dent Primary writing poems about objects that they’d seen in the museum. This is the first in a series of three workshops that I’ll be running with the same children so it feels very luxurious to have this amount of time with the same group.
I also wrote my judges report for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition as the prize giving is coming up very soon, and read the poems entered for the Nantwich Words and Music Festival Poetry Competition and sent the results through to the organisers. I’m judging one more competition this year – the Maryport Literature Festival Poetry Competition which is still open for entries. *competition now closed!*
My lovely friend Mark Carson, who featured recently as the Sunday Poet had the launch of his new pamphlet on Thursday. My brass quintet played and Mark read poems, sang with a local choir, Braddyll Friends and played his guitar and sang a song! There was also lots of food and a huge cake. A cake baked by Jo Stoney will soon be compulsory for any book launches in Cumbria! There was wine as well of course but I didn’t partake as I was driving back and working the next day.
It is a slow business breathing life into a poetry festival, but it feels that Kendal Poetry Festival is slowly staggering to its feet, and looking around the room. We’ve got a venue, we’ve put a small application in for some local funding, and we’re now part way through applying to the Arts Council. We’ve got our dream list of poets drawn up that we’d like to feature, and I just have to write to them now.
Today I’ve spent the whole day watching Orange is the New Black in my pyjamas. I’m driving to Leicester tonight and staying over at my mum and dad’s and then I’ll be driving from there to Norwich tomorrow to read at Cafe Writers. Sadly it will be a flying visit, as I have to be back in work at 9am on Tuesday morning to do my trumpet teaching, so if you see me looking a bit rough next week, you’ll know why!