After a peripatetic childhood David Underdown, a Mancunian by birth, has spent most of his adult life in the West of Scotland, including twenty years on the Isle of Arran.
Following a sometimes incoherent career as an Inspector of Taxes, corporate planner, and adviser on international gas contracts, he now concentrates on walking, gardening and writing poetry.
His poems have appeared in various anthologies and journals, including New Writing Scotland and The North. His first collection, Time Lines, was published by Cinnamon in 2011 followed by A Sense of North in 2019. A third Cinnamon collection, Jigsaw, will appear early in 2022.
For seven years he was an organiser for the McLellan Poetry Competition, and he has also been a teacher in Africa, a smallholder in Lanarkshire and a sporadic runner of marathons.
He now lives in Hebden Bridge with his wife Claire and is enjoying the deep valleys and Pennine moors.
‘Each fragment searched for and found’, David Underdown writes of a broken bowl and its repair in ‘Kintsugi’, ‘each crack traced out in liquid gold’. He might be describing his own poems. Damage and loss resonate through Snig in quietly devastating details: paintings discovered after the painter’s death, a room splintered through cut glass, a barren rock pool that once teemed with life. But Underdown finds restoration in attentiveness to the shared world in which we make our home – in standing still, or getting down on hands and knees, to watch and listen. In these precise, observant poems, small creatures – birds, spiders, a woodlouse – live their unknowable lives with fierce intensity. Children learn and grow. Drought ends with rain and a ‘confusion of fruitfulness’. ‘Starting over / is what you do.’
In Finding the Word, the second poem of David Underdown’s new collection, the versatility of language, and of English in particular, finds an emblem in snig, and all its semantic and grammatic shifts: from noun to verb to adjective; from eel to hook, from snag to shuffle. It’s an apt opening into a multifarious collection which takes you from the sluicing tides of Crosby Beach to a sequence of Shakespeare’s women via the poet viewing his infinitely multiplied reflection in the windows of a train stalled in dark countryside, the conjunction of planets, and images refracted by delicate old sherry glasses. The poet snags your attention with precisely noted phrases.
From Shakespeare to climate change, from anxious adults hovering over small children to the rhythms of migration, these poems step neatly from the preceding ones like a sophisticated game of Consequences. This is a rich and varied collection which will take you to unexpected and memorable places.
Finding the Word
(In lifelong gratitude to the OED)
I’ve looked up snig, noun, late 15th century,
a young or small eel,
and discover it’s a doing word as well:
verb transitive, late 18th,
to drag a heavy load, especially timber.
by means of ropes or chains –
origin, it says, Australia.
And I think of blue haze,
cool eucalyptus scent
and men with weathered skin
wrestling the singing chains.
Then snigger, verb intransitive, early 18th,
is not just that half-suppressed laugh,
the one that hangs on in the mind, just won’t go away,
but, transitive, late 19th, to catch salmon
with weighted hooks and, in only fifty years,
a noun: the grapple poachers use,
waste deep in dark water,
a stifled curse as the metal misses its mark.
Long before, mid-17th,
men sniggled (verb intransitive)
for eels with baited hooks or needles
thrust into their burrows, crouched low,
intent beneath the bank
to trick them to their deaths
as England fell apart in civil war.
And here, another sniggle
from my own life’s time:
in a game of marbles
to shuffle the hand forward unfairly
and I’m seeing the early sun
shine through the lemon swirl
of my prize taw,
dobber, bumbo, shooter, masher, tourer, biggie, tronk.