There are three days until I launch my first collection of poetry, Milk Fever, (Salt Publishing) and I am afraid. In fact I am so afraid I keep looking in the mirror with some kind of perverse wish to see just how, exactly, this kind of terror manifests itself on the face… and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. Blood shot eyes? Check. Grey-blue bags under said eyes? Check. Nervous twitch on the lips? Check. Harry Potter furrow on the brow? Check. New white hairs? Check.
It’s not so much the nerves, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel them. I am not the most confident public speaker, but I have done enough readings now to understand how to manage them and for me, preparation is everything, key to my own enjoyment and possibly also to that of the audience also. I had set aside today and tomorrow to write a thoughtful, intelligent and witty speech. I had set aside Thursday to buy shoes and tights, to get my hair done and to pick my sister up from the station…
…and then Reality flounced in and hip-nudged Fantasy right off centre stage. After two nights of bed-hopping, bed-wetting, nightmares and very little sleep, my youngest was diagnosed with mumps this morning (despite being up to date on his immunisations). He is very poorly and would like to spend the entirety of his quarantine snuggled up to his mummy thank you very much. Out goes the shoe shopping. His big sister was sent home from school this afternoon with an ear infection. My plans are one by one being thwarted and it’s hard not to panic.
Anyone who’s known me since I was six will tell you that I used to dream about a book launch the way most little girls dream about their wedding day, so maybe this anxiety is nothing more than the poet’s equivalent of a ‘bridezilla’ attack – maybe I am ‘Poetstein’? Things going wrong suggests I have some idea there is a right way to do this. The truth is, I have no idea. This much I do know, however: come Thursday, I have more friends, family and colleagues joining me at my favourite bookshop (Heffers, Cambridge) than I ever imagined would say yes. All I want is to get there and celebrate my gorgeous-covered little book with my special people – and if that means I have to do an Anne Sexton and read barefoot, so be it. It’d be a huge honour for me to be considered one of ‘Her Kind’ anyway.
HER KIND by Anne Sexton I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. I have found the warm caves in the woods, filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves, closets, silks, innumerable goods; fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves: whining, rearranging the disaligned. A woman like that is misunderstood. I have been her kind. I have ridden in your cart, driver, waved my nude arms at villages going by, learning the last bright routes, survivor where your flames still bite my thigh and my ribs crack where your wheels wind. A woman like that is not ashamed to die. I have been her kind.