I'm not sure I ever elaborated on the launch party I attended in London, and as I very kindly get invited to a great number of these, and probably manage about one a year, I really should tell you more because if there is one thing I like to do it is share the bounty and the good times with you all.
Carol Ann Duffy's most recent collection The Bees released into the world via a wonderfully warm and vibrant (oh alright then, buzzing) event at Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court, just off Charing Cross Road in London. If you know the area then you will know those little walk-throughs lined with bookshops on either side, and I don't know about you but I tend to window shop and browse the tables outside whilst feeling a bit nervous about going in, knowing that I am unlikely to be able to afford what I find.
All I can say is don't hesitate to go in and have a browse around Goldsboro Books.
Such a warm welcome, the most fantastic selection of beautiful books, and a bookseller who didn't flip and panic when it transpired that a bowl of olives had somehow upended itself and drizzled best oil over best books. The rest of us meanwhile were having kittens and using the nearest posh frock to mop it up.
Carol Ann Duffy was in fine form, talking to everyone and generously sharing bottle after bottle of her stipend, the Laureate's Choice sherry.
I was given a full bottle to bring home for Bookhound (now slightly less full) and an empty as a souvenir of a really enjoyable evening with plenty of great conversation. I clunked them home in one piece on a packed train and they now have pride of place in the Poet's Corner of my Bookroom.
From the label on the bottle this...
'From 1619 the Poet Laureate received as payment a Butt (720 bottles) of Sherry from the Crown. The custom ceased from 1790 until 1986 when the Sherry Shippers of Spain revived the custom for Ted Hughes, to mark the centuries old link between Sherry and the United Kingdom.
Carol Ann Duffy, 22nd Poet Laureate and first woman to hold the title, was invited to sign her Butt of Sherry in Jerez, where she wrote this poem...
Who wouldn't feel favoured,
at the end of week's labour,
to receive as part wages
a pale wine
that puts the mouth in mind of the sea...
and not gladly be kissed
by gentle William Shakespeare's lips,
the dark, raisiny taste of his song;
bequeathed to his thousand daughters and sons,
the stolen wines of the Spanish sun...
or walk the cool bodegas' aisles -
where flor and oxygen
grow talented in fragrances and flavours -
to sniff, sip, spit, swallow, savour...
And finally I have heard and seen Carol Ann Duffy doing a live poetry reading, because most appropriately she read At Jerez, and the Spanish Ambassador was there too, equally proud of his country's contribution to the evening because Carol Ann had actually had to do two tasting trips to Spain before she could make her final decision about her choice.
Meanwhile The Bees my runaway favourite poetry collection of the year. This is the poetic equivalent of a honey-laden hive stacked out with supers, and I feel sure I will never reach the limits of my understanding or my interest ... there will always be more to find here. If I was only allowed one book this might be it at the moment. I've had it months, been reading it frequently in that time and I'm barely a third of the way through.
Once a poet offers me the gift I grab it with both hands. It becomes mine to invest in as I please, and with each read of The Bees... perhaps only one poem repeated many times over several days, I accrue a little more interest and can withdraw some of the benefits, but so much left in reserve waiting for when I may need it. Each time I return I take away a little bit more as the poem yields its secrets...and it was only as I read the poem Hive aloud to myself this week that I became acutely aware of the carefulness (please can I have that word...it fits) of Carol Ann Duffy's choice of words. The 'v's that rushed me through the busy-ness of the work of the hive, then the long lazy 'nectar-slurred, pollen furred' and the 'milky, waxy caves' that slowed me down to a langorous, sleepy pace, me as drunken on the words as the bees were on their pollen.
And then there's Achilles and I have dwelt long on the mix of contemporary and mythical themes here whilst wondering what readers will make of this one in a hundred years time... and there are copies of this out there online so I'm hoping it's alright to snaffle it for here today.
Myth's river - where his mother dipped him,
fished him, a slippery golden boy -
flowed on, his name on its lips.
Without him, it was prophesied,
they would not take Troy.
Women hid him, concealed him in girls' sarongs;
days of sweetmeats, spices, silver songs...
but when Odysseus came,
with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield,
he followed him to the battlefield,
the crowd's roar,
and it was sport, not war,
his charmed foot on the ball...
but then his heel, his heel, his heel...
Will readers in 2111 know that the 'slippery golden boy' is David Beckham and that
'Without him, it was prophesied, they would not take Troy'
an overt reference to the fact that the England football team, without their star player nursing his injured achilles tendon, probably wouldn't stand an earthly in last year's World Cup. The nation mourned what might have been before it had even begun and not happened (rightly as it turned out of course). What will Class of 2111 make of that little reference to the 'sarong' which he once wore, or the 'days of sweetmeats, spices, silver song...' which harks of his marriage to Victoria Beckham, Posh Spice of the Spice Girls.
Will those 2111 students scratch their heads and wonder what this is all about??
And whilst I can't really share the Sherry with you unless you come to visit, I have managed to secure something a little less likely to break in the post, and it marks a celebration of our own of sorts and one worth toasting.
Now I just sit here in my slippers and write this, it's you who all have to commute your way across the crowded interwebs to read it and leave comments, and some time today one of you will take the dovegreyreader stats counter past the 1.5 million page view mark since it all began. So please accept that every single one of you is a very special 'one in one and a half million', thank you for reading and visiting, and what better way to mark a golden day at the end of a golden week than with gifts of honey-laden poetic nectar, so please do scroll down...