Most poet friends that I bump into at events and readings know I have a collection in gestation and along with their much appreciated congratulations, they ask me the above question. I answer that ‘The Sun Bathers’ is due to be published in November.
The next thing people say is ‘you must be very excited.’ But I haven’t been – at least not until I started to write this. Now a strange sensation has begun to affect my midriff; not quite butterflies, more a chrysalis. And suddenly, as Nina Simone once sang, I’m feeling good.
Summer had disappeared this week under a blanket of cold rain. But today the sun is out; such is the nature of the English summer, and it seems to me, the nature of being a poet.
Kind friends have told me I’ve done well. And it’s true; I think that about eighty of my poems have been accepted for publication by magazines since I started sending them out in 2009. I’ve won competitions. My pamphlet was beautifully printed and we had some lovely launch events. It was well received and has almost sold out its print run in a year. And now I have a book coming out, a book which is becoming more real to me every time I write this sentence. (Thank you for indulging me.)
But all feelings of success are of course transient. And all ‘success’ in poetry is relative. None of this (the book, magazines, pamphlets, learning to read in public with confidence) is a smooth continuum for anyone, even if it appears so. After all, this is poetry we’re talking about and no-one gets an easy ride to begin with or sustains any kind of profile without hard work.
Part of the job involves receiving rejections. In my case I’ve agreed with a few on reflection, after deciding the work wasn’t as good as I first thought.
Last week I could be observed waiting eagerly to be informed I had won a poetry prize. I was ready to graciously accept my invitation to read my poem and enjoy meeting everyone. But nothing arrived, and I suspect that like most of the other thousand poets who entered, for a while my poetry world got very cloudy.
I have days of doubt and brood about the quality of my work, but I’ve come to recognise that these periods will pass. I’m not massively neurotic – this just seems to be part of the condition of being a poet, and like most people who write poetry, I have times when I wonder if I will ever write again. Either that or I read some older stuff of mine and think ‘yeah that’s good. How did I write that? Where did it come from? I wish I could write like that now.’ This sort of thinking too, will thankfully pass.
Generally I feel lucky to be acknowledged at all and to have been picked up by a superb publisher. And today, at least, the sun is shining and I’m and proud of all the poems in the draft of my book and of the work that’s gone into it. It feels like a gift that I am looking forward to giving. By the end of summer that chrysalis in my stomach might even turn into a butterfly.