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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
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.