Poetry - A Year in the New Life

Plain rose-pink book cover with name in yellow and title in white

Tony Cross is reading all the books shortlisted for this year's T.S. Eliot Prize. Here are his thoughts on A Year in the New Life by Jack Underwood...


‘I’m a very tough architect.
Don’t fuck with my angles. I am precise and I sell
tenderness every day.’


I listened to Jack Underwood read this collection whilst I read along, which is the best way to use audiobooks for me. You can't drift off that way. It also really helps you to 'get' the rhythm of a poem. A good example here was The Landing (for Nancy Agnes) which I was almost chanting along with by the end.

I have said before that although I read a lot of poetry, I'm not sure I have the technical knowledge to explain what it is I like - or don't like - about a poem. Sometimes I'm not even sure I understand what a poem is trying to say but I like it because it works on some level I don't understand. Like a spell. I found that with a few of Jack Underwood's poems. I was entrapped by the language even when I struggled with the meaning. Some of these poems I will have to come back to.

And, to be honest, I don't think that is a bad thing. Not everything needs to open itself up straight away. There is a joy in cracking something you have let bubble away in your mind. Sometimes you might never understand it. Again, that doesn't make it bad. Somethings are elusive.

A number of the poems in the collection begin with lines from other poets that he then picks up and runs with. I enjoyed those a lot.

I loved "Fifteen Babies in My Garden", "Blood Clot in a Winter Landscape", "The Novel", "Empathy Class", "This time", "A Greyhound Levitates across the Street", "There is a Supermassive Black Hole Four Million Times the Mass of the Sun at the Centre of Our Galaxy and You are Pregnant with Our Daughter", "Alpha Step ", and "Breckland."

When I read other people's reviews of poetry collections - often written by other poets - I feel like a bear of very little brain. They see things that I cannot see. For fear - or hope? - of sounding like them, what I think Jack Underwood does is look at the normal/ordinary road and give it a twist. Like one of those 'this is the picture of an everyday object, but can you tell what it is' quizzes. Where they take a photo of a stapler from a strange angle. Once you know what it is then it is obvious. I think Jack Underwood does that with people, events, and emotions.

His poems about the impending birth of his child are interesting because they're not straightforward. The same can be said of love.

"...Love has always been a loss
of risklessness, like a new sky installed,
huge and ceramic, an orchestral silence
behind each door..."
from Breckland (p47)


I don't know if I've done this collection justice, but I do know that I'm interested to read his first collection, 'Happiness' and that I look forward to re-visiting this one.

Sometimes I wonder if these are even reviews.


Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71 [and tell him that these ARE reviews - Ed]




About the T.S. Eliot Prize

The T.S. Eliot Prize, for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2021 in the UK or Ireland, is run by The T.S. Eliot Foundation. This year's shortlist "celebrates ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment" and includes one debut collection; work from six men and four women; one American; one poet from Ireland; as well as poets of Zambian and mixed-race ancestry, including Jamaican-British and Jamaican-Chinese.

Raymond Antrobus - All the Names Given (Picador)
Kayo Chingonyi - A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus)
 - Read Tony's Review
Selima Hill - Men Who Feed Pigeons (Bloodaxe) - Read Tony's Review
Victoria Kennefick - Eat Or We Both Starve (Carcanet)
Hannah Lowe - The Kids (Bloodaxe)
Michael Symmons Roberts -    Ransom (Cape Poetry)
Daniel Sluman - single window (Nine Arches Press)
Joelle Taylor - C+nto & Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press)
Jack Underwood - A Year in the New Life (Faber)
Kevin Young - Stones (Cape Poetry)

The winner of the 2021 Prize will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Monday 10th January 2022. For more on the shortlisted poets, including videos, readers’ notes and reviews, visit the T.S. Eliot Prize website.

Image - Amazon