A Year in the New Life
This new book of poems finds fresh, spirited ways of navigating a time of continual surprise and uncertainty.
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SHORTLISTED FOR THE T.S. ELIOT PRIZE 2021
POETRY BOOK SOCIETY RECOMMENDATION
‘Jack Underwood has developed an utterly clear lyric that rebukes moral obviousness, drives against false certainty. It’s as refreshing as it is instructive . . . Underwood has become one of my favorite poets.’ Kaveh Akbar
Jack Underwood’s poetry debut, Happiness (2015), was celebrated for its unconventional and daring tone: ‘conversational, arresting . . . weird, singular’ (Guardian). Such qualities are on accomplished display in this anticipated new collection, as the poems mature and move on to a wide range of preoccupations, including imminent societal collapse and public unrest; the limits, myths and complexities of masculinity and fatherhood; and uncanny, often amusing scenarios, such as serving drinks to a gathering of fifteen babies or group kissing in Empathy Class.
Throughout, incongruous and domestic subjects realign in skewed lyrics and thought experiments, intimately expressed in ‘a new language / of the familiar’ (‘The Landing’). All is presented with a generosity and tenderness that makes the poet so unmistakable – and indispensable for the strange times in which we live.
‘I was done in by these poems, but I really lived as I read them; each one holding life and time in a balletics of stress and flow.’ Holly Pester
In his 'superb' second collection A Year in the New Life, 'Underwood has the playful wisdom of Frank O'Hara, a Keatsian dedication to finding and worshipping joy, and a knack for giving frivolity, play and silliness a degree of serious attention.'
Jack Underwood demonstrates in A Year in the New Life that he’s one of the most innovative imagists and thinkers writing in the English language. The poems work as multiform inward pieces which sustain a deep sense of their social and cultural positioning. Subjects range from parenthood, age, locality and political rallies, right through to the complexities and intimacies of love. The poems move to establish their own distinct archipelago, balanced and populated by vibrant discursive metaphors which rove the landscape of the private world, while still maintaining an affinity to a wider global consciousness.
I was done in by these poems, but I really lived as I read them; each one holding life and time in a balletics of stress and flow. Technically beyond much else around, Underwood’s measured life-matter, humour and Creelyish syntax capture what’s hardest to capture: love, new love, its growth and fret. A simple day at its most cruel and hilarious is clearest when witnessed like this.
Jack Underwood has developed an utterly clear lyric that rebukes moral obviousness, drives against false certainty. It's as refreshing as it is instructive. Honestly, A Year in the New Life’s title poem is itself worth the price of admission. Confusion, fear of joy, the story of the mind. It’s ludicrous, really, how good this book is. Underwood has become one of my favorite poets.
Jack Underwood's poems are exceptional in how they surrender to their own music, each one a kind of expertly controlled free-fall. In this tough and tender time, we need these poems of tenderness, of toughness, and of time.
Objects are taken apart and their emotional significances examined. Moral philosophies, ethical complications, nothing is dictated or decided upon; Jack Underwood’s writing is into a necessary ambivalence, the descendent of many moral poet-philosophers before him, but with an aesthetic twist. The glorious abundance of Jack’s wayward absurdism and imagism creates intellectual plot-points felt like dreams, a way to think about logic in a different way, a way to think about things and people and life in a different way, which is the intention of poetry.
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