In the same way my first instinct is to close my eyes and not open the attachment when poetry proof pdfs arrive in my inbox, when The Real Books arrive, I have a kind of stage fright/envelope-opening phobia. To be fair, once I did open a box of handsome hardbacks to find there was an almighty clanger of an error on the dedication page (which was actually all my fault, but that’s another story…).
So when the envelope arrived yesterday, with the very superior ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ Mariscat cat logo on the back, I hesitated – what if the last typo we caught, wasn’t the last typo after all? What if I have writer’s remorse (too late, the die is cast, the printer’s ink has dried…). But the enigmatic cat did not disappoint – and my publisher Hamish Whyte and designer and typesetter Gerry Cambridge have done a beautiful job of The Leonids. I hope others agree. I sat on the sofa yesterday stroking the lovely creamy end papers and looking at the spacious pages as though they were someone else’s words given space to breathe. I love the way words can fly through the ether and reach people all over the world in our connected age, but there’s still nothing like the beauty of A Real Book (even if this is a short one, officially a pamphlet or chapbook, without a spine, but slim and light and bright and mine). The Leonids has vivid nasturtium orange covers, the colour of the flowers my mother grew outside the kitchen at Number 42 (a house that looms larger in the book than I realised till I did actually read those proofs…), and the exact same shade as my mother’s orange dress which features in the first poem ‘Notes Towards Nasturtiums’. And there are nasturtiums trailing down the Hermanus cliff path in ‘Roman Rock’ at the end. As you may guess, I’m rather fond of them.
We have no nasturtiums in our garden here in Cambridge (I tried once, but the aphids had a ball, and I’m better at flowers on the page than in the soil, or at least I hope so…), but I realised a favourite photo of my father and mother, around whom these poems turn, has similar shades in it: the warm red and saffron of cardigan and winter sheets, as they wake from a Sunday nap, some chilly Karoo afternoon way back when. So here they are, Ann and Harwood, with my little bright book – though not quite in the same realm any more. I like to think they would be pleased: my mother had heard or read several of the poems before she died last year and seemed not to mind – indeed perhaps she wanted – people reading poems about some dark times in her life. The Leonids has sad subjects in it, but I hope people see the light in it too. At heart it is a celebration of the beautiful complexity of family, and I hope it does them honour.
Thank you Hamish and Gerry, and my lovely sisters and wonderful sine qua non Jan and his family too, and the precious poets who helped me as both friends and editors. And to my mother’s family and the friends from Umtata and Graaff-Reinet who were so good to her, and the carers, official and unofficial who looked after her… So many kind people who loved Ann, Gogo, Mrs D. I thank some by name at the end of the book, but not enough, there are many more who deserve gratitude.
So I’ll be raising a glass in Scotland this Friday to Ann and Harwood (a Scotsman who would have relished an Edinburgh launch, though he wasn’t so much a man for a dram) and to friends and family far and wide. If you’re in Auld Reekie, come and join us at Blackwells, all welcome and the details are here.