An afternoon with poet David Underdown

Launch of David Underdown’s second poetry collection: A Sense of North.
17th March, Corrie and Sannox hall.

If you didn’t make it to the launch, you can still read the book. It’s not like a party where if you missed it, you missed the whole shebang.
Having said that, it was a very enjoyable afternoon with a good crowd of people waiting eagerly to listen to a selection of new poems.

But first Tim Pomeroy gave us a bit of an introduction to David the poet, David who only started writing seriously after going to Alison Prince’s Creative Writing Class many years ago now, although he had, throughout his life, always put pen to paper.

After we had heard David read, Tim fielded questions from the audience, questions which reflected the close attention paid to the reading.

Image Josephine Brockhuizen

The poems themselves. I’m sure people who went to the launch will hear David’s voice when they read the poems later and this is one of the very positive things about experiencing readings. David’s poems, like his voice, are very measured and you need to slow your mind in order to resonate with his. Sometimes you are keeping in step with a grandson, trying to understand clocks: Logan discovers Time: ‘Not quite two, he’s in a dream/The tick-tock never stops./The hands are moving/ but they do not move’; sometimes reaching into the life of a frog which has hopped into the kitchen by mistake: Naked: ‘bringing with you a pattern/from the spaces between/tall stems and stalks/the dark marsh grass/behind the shed’; sometimes delving into the experience of a blind man skating: Or any other Safety ‘…trusting the space ahead/that is no longer dark but ablaze/with the glint of all the lost light/he feels streaming round his face’; sometimes, imagining being part of the wind and the sea and what flows with them: 9.30a.m. Monday,October11th:‘Everything’s leaving, the whole sea sucked south/so let’s go too, wherever they’re heading/catching up with everything, taking it with them, …’

So, resonance, aliveness, enthusiasm — these are attained through very close observation which manifests as care and love for such varied aspects of the world. Take In this Wood, in which a forester tells us about a doomed wood where, although the trees have fallen in storms, there is still life. The twenty-two lines of the poem are one sentence which spells a wholeness, a rightness: ‘the fallen ones live another sort of life/accommodating creatures, and fungi that blossom on their boughs /or mycelium that consumes the dying xylem cell by cell’. The poem is breathless, image upon detailed image till we have a complete picture and with the forester, can breathe again.

The focus is often on something very small and domestic as in Charlotte Bronte’s Boots. We start with the physical appearance: ‘chiseled toes/capped with black leather, soft/as human skin might be’ but then the poet slides from the fingers lacing the boots to the ‘fingers that held the pen’ and finishes with another picture of holding: ‘Who would you trust to feel the space/between each toe. Or hold that instep in their hand?’

Image Josephine Brockhuizen

I am amused by the deadpan humour of The Psychology of Paths where each stanza speaks of different types of path: ‘Even a sheep may know its own way,’ and ‘Always choose a path by its cover’, ‘A secret path leads to the spot marked X’ and, my own favourite, ‘Are we nearly there?’
There is also a wider canvas. Bothy Lands is a lament about the chronic disruption of nature: ‘Birders scan the empty shorelines\toting top Swarovski bins./Sharks sieving thinning seas for plankton,/thresh accusatory fins.’ It is the detailed imagery that brings home the point, shows us the care felt.

Image Josephine Brockhuizen

Words are important, especially when they delineate an empathy with the whole planet — human, vegetable, domestic, political and all the elements we are made of. Thus David makes a singular contribution to our understanding of the world.

Sadly, this occasion was also a Goodbye, as David and his wife, Claire, are leaving Arran shortly to make a new home in Hebden Bridge. Let’s wish them the very best of luck. They will be missed.

Cicely Gill.