Part 14 of Joy and Tranquillity digital guide

Raymond Antrobus reads a poem

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When I think about this idea of happiness and pain and how one can't exist without the other, I think about the poet Kahlil Gibran, who has a poem called ‘On Joy and Sorrow’ and the opening line he says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”

And he goes on to build this kind of comparison between how joy and sorrow, if they don't exist, if you don't make space for both of them to exist in your life, it's not possible to live fully. When I thought about what poem of mine would I choose to read in relation to this, I thought of ‘I Want the Confidence of’, which is in ‘The Perseverance’, because I think it's a poem which, in a way, acknowledges both of those things.

Everything that's happening within the poem, the movement, is almost, kind of is, acknowledging a kind of darker, harsher reality that's underneath all of the exuberance that's in it. So I'm going to read this poem, ‘I Want the Confidence of’. I hope you enjoy it.

 

I Want the Confidence of

Salvador Dali in a 1950s McDonald’s advert,

of red, gold and green ties

on shantytown dapper dandies, of Cuba Gooding Jr

in a strip club shouting SHOW ME THE MONEY,

of the woman on her phone in a quiet coach,

of knowing you’ll be seen and served,

that no one will cross the road when they see you,

the sun shining through the gaps in the buildings,

a glass ceiling in a restaurant

where knives and spoons wink

a polite pint and a cheeky cigarette, tattoos

on the arms, rains that blur the whole city without delay.

I want the confidence of a coffee bean in the body,

a surface that doesn't need scratching;

I want to be fluent in confidence so large it speaks from its own sky.

At the airport I want my confidence to board

without investigations, to sit in foreign cafés

without a silver spoon in a teacup clinking

into sunken places, of someone named after a saint,

of Matthew the deaf footballer who couldn't hear

to pass the ball, but still ran the pitch,

of leather jackets and the teeth

of hot combs, rollin’ roadmen and rubber.

I don’t want my confidence to lie;

it has to mean helium balloons in any shape or colour,

has to mean rubber tree in rain; make it

my sister leaving home for university, my finally sober father,

my mother becoming a circus clown.

There is such a thing as a key confidently cut

that accepts the locks it doesn't fit.

Call it a boy busking on the canal path singing

to no one but the bridges

and the black water under them.

 

About the speaker

Photograph of Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus is a British poet and educator. His work includes the books ‘To Sweeten Bitter’ (Out-Spoken Press, 2017), ‘The Perseverance’ (Penned In The Margins/Tin House, 2018), ‘All the Names Given’ (Picador/Tin House, 2021) and children’s picture book ‘Can Bears Ski?’ (Walker Books/Candlewick). In 2020 Raymond was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 2019 he became the first ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre. Other awards include the Ted Hughes Award, PBS Winter Choice, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2019, Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian Poetry Book Of The Year 2018.