About Jack Underwood

Jack Underwood is an active presence across the British poetry landscape: as one of the first four poets as part of the Faber New Poets pamphlets scheme in 2009, as Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, tutor at the Poetry School, regular reviewer for Poetry London and Poetry Review, and founding editor, with Sam Riviere in 2005, of Stop/Sharpening/Your/Knives, an influential anthology series. His debut collection, Happiness, is published by Faber in July 2015.

Underwood’s poems are characterized by an endearing buoyancy and frankness in their open interrogation of emotional concepts that never assumes definitive conclusions but, rather, encourages the active imaginative participation of the reader in the act of framing questions. This is made explicit in ‘A man is dragging a dead dog backwards’, a poem which might stand as a deconstructivist ars poetica, and serves as a profound reflection on the act of reading (or listening):

‘why not try 
to understand this thing that you are doing: how the dog came to be dead 
and you came to be dragging it, what this means to you and where is it 
that you are going?’

Happiness, he writes, is ‘not always usual’, but ‘various and by degrees’ – much like his body of work, which often playfully sets itself out with a provisional use of ‘if’, ‘when’, ‘could’ and ‘let me say', and yet will still assert emotional transaction, like the ‘the thought of our life / together, yet to come', even if it’s configured fugaciously as a ‘beam of dust’. As with the speaker of ‘My Steak’, the poems ‘weigh’ and ‘unpack’ the objects and categories to which we assign value in our world, often with a self-deprecating humour. Certain poems (‘Your Horse’; 'Weasel') are noticeable for their ability to couch (quasi-)philosophical problems in fabulist or skewed-domestic, surreal situations. Many are fascinated by the layering of ideas (and onions), of thoughts and feelings swallowing their own semantic tails, and probe continuously:

'God as a dead robin; God as the eye of a dead robin; God as your barely visible reflection in the eye of a dead robin'.

In these recordings one can hear in Underwood's voice a considered optimism for the possibilities of participation that a poem might contain; reflecting a belief in an empathetic, social discourse. In this way his poetry could be said to share the aims of Michael Donaghy, an influence for Underwood, who wished for his ‘work to have a life of its own and, if it works, [to be] as much “about” the reader’s life as about [the author’s]’. To read or listen to many of Underwood’s works is to witness a poem ‘coming on’ (like the summer in ‘My Sister’), discovering itself, and moreover to feel party to such an event.

This recording was made for the Poetry Archive on 17 February 2015 at Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

 

Dear World and Everyone In It, Bloodaxe, 2013

Buy

Happiness, Faber and Faber, 2015

Buy

Faber New Poets 4, Faber and Faber, 2009

Buy

Prizes

2007 Eric Gregory Award

2009 Faber New Poets Award

2014 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (Shortlist) for 'Thank You for Your Email'

Recordings

Jack Underwood Downloads

1Certain

£0.89

2Toad

£0.89

3Happiness

£0.89

4Poem of Fear for my Unborn Child

£0.89

5My Sister

£0.89

6William

£0.89

7Sometimes your sadness is a yacht

£0.89

8Maths

£0.89

9Some Gods

£0.89

10The Spooks

£0.89

11Love Poem to Myself

£0.89

12Second

£0.89

13Spring

£0.89

14The Good Morrow

£0.89

15I promise when I lift your egg

£0.89

16A man is dragging a dead dog

£0.89

17The bomb

£0.89

1813 Say

£0.89

19The Ashes

£0.89

20Solo for Mascha Voice

£0.89

21Letter of Health for Mascha

£0.89

22My Steak

£0.89

23Theology

£0.89

24If guns

£0.89

25Wilderbeast

£0.89

26Weasel

£0.89

27She Loves You Like

£0.89

28

£0.89

29Your horse

£0.89

30You Are Definitely Coming, So Why Not Now?

£0.89

31Reading the Milk

£0.89

32Thank You for Your Email

£0.89

33Sally and Rina

£0.89

34Inventory of Friends

£0.89

35Accidental Narratives

£0.89

Books by Jack Underwood