Making a Halo Round the Ordinary
March will be an important milestone for local poet David Underdown who launches his second poetry collection in Corrie Hall on Sunday 17th. David has been living – and writing – on the island for over twenty years. He says he always had a plan to make more time for writing after moving here in 1997 but back then never imagined that what he would end up doing would be writing poetry.
“I’ve Alison Prince to thank for that” he explains. When, soon after arriving, he joined her writing group it was to write short stories that he hoped might one day lead to a full length novel. Then, after a while, he decided that story telling wasn’t his thing and that what he really enjoyed writing was poetry. “Perhaps it’s the perfectionist in me” he says. Writing a poem is about trying to distil things down and express them in the most powerful and concentrated way that you can.
Those of us who have read his 2011 collection, Time Lines, will remember the diversity of subjects and their strong feel for the natural world. We asked if his new collection had any particular subject or theme. He admits to still finding what makes a good poem a bit of a mystery. While novels often concentrate on a particular issue or situation he finds it difficult to write ‘to order’. “People will often say ‘there must be a poem in that’ but what sparks a poem is very unpredictable. I don’t believe Coleridge decided that one day he would write a poem about an ancient mariner or that Wordsworth woke up and decided that it was Wednesday and therefore it would be daffodils.”
So although he loves Goat Fell and the Arran hills they aren’t mentioned specifically in his book. Instead you find a rather weird selection of subjects that range from, for instance, a meditation on an old shirt and the migration of painted lady butterflies to what it might feel like to be a lugworm or the vagaries of footpaths. Sometimes the chosen subject can seem quite mundane and yet, as David Constantine remarks he is always seeking ‘to make a halo round the ordinary’. What binds his poems together is their intensity and a particular way of looking at things.
He sees the title of his new book, ‘A Sense of North’ as being in part a recognition of the influence of Scotland where he has spent over half his life. The book has been a long time coming, over seven years in fact. David explained that his publisher, Cinnamon Press, is a small cash-strapped independent based in North Wales. There is a limit to how many books they can publish each year. When he sent them the manuscript the reply was ‘We love the poems, but you will need to wait three years.’ He is hoping that it will have been worth the wait.
You can hear David read a selection of his poems at the free event in Corrie and Sannox Village Hall on Sunday 17th March at 2.30 pm.