A year on from publication of her collection Wild Persistence, poet Katrina Naomi reflects on her experience of publishing a book during the pandemic.
A year ago, when I realised I couldn’t hold the launches for Wild Persistence that we’d planned in Cornwall and London, I’ll admit to having a few tears. Daft but I felt that Wild Persistence was the best book I’d written and I really wanted to get it out there. Book shops were closed, as was pretty much everything else. How the hell was this new collection going to find its audience?
I remember talking to Amy, my editor, about possibly shifting the launch back from June 2020 to September 2020. I’m glad we didn’t; with hindsight, nothing would have changed.
Seren said: ‘How about a virtual launch?’. I’d never done anything on zoom before, I barely knew what it was. In short, I was terrified of it. How would I get any connection with people via a cold screen; there’d be no feedback, and no drinks (and no cake), and no nattering afterwards? Can you tell that I hated the idea? But it was all that was possible.
I did a trial run with Seren, tried to pretend Zoom was where it was at, and that I was looking forward to the launch. I didn’t trust or understand the technology. The morning of the launch, I practised my poems in the park, in the mizzle, reading to a friend, us both sitting well away from each other, as though we’d had an argument. That evening, to try to get over my terror, I wore one of my favourite outfits, a red and white ‘40s suit, wore the new shoes I’d bought for the original launches – even though no one could see them. But I knew I’d got them on. I dabbed cologne on my neck and wrists, and put a flower in my hair. I was as ready as I could be.
I remember how sick I felt, I hadn’t been able to eat, until I saw that over 100 people were waiting to be admitted to the launch. People attended from France, Canada, the US, as well as friends from up my street. It gave me a wider audience than I could have imagined. I really, really enjoyed it.
Since then, I’ve been doing readings at events across the UK, and in the US. All from my little room, with a glimpse of Penzance harbour between my neighbours’ roofs. It still feels slightly unreal but I’ve come to love performing into my screen, remembering to prop the laptop on two dictionaries and to speak into the camera, marked by two lion stickers either side of the camera’s wonky dot.
But I didn’t get to go to Mexico to work on a project, (environmentally, this might not be a bad thing), and it seems people don’t buy as many books at online launches and readings. Still, I’ve been doing lots of radio and podcasts, which has been great. Seren say the book’s been doing well. And I’ve been selling signed copies of Wild Persistence via my website all year, reusing recycled envelopes so I’ve only a handful of copies (and envelopes) left. I recall one woman buying a copy of Wild Persistence, then ordering another 30, ‘to give to my friends’. My local bookshop, The Edge of the World, has been reordering and I’ve signed three or four batches there, since they’ve reopened. I haven’t been further than Cornwall, I’d love to know that my collection’s in other bookshops in other towns and cities. But I don’t know if that’s true. What’s been great has been people (particularly people I don’t know) posting photos of Wild Persistence on Twitter; I’ve seen my book propped up on garden steps, or next to a mug of tea with breakfast, or in an artist’s studio, and, once, on the end of an Essex pier. I’ve loved that.
But I’ve missed seeing people. I haven’t been able to do a single reading, live, in public, in a room, with people. I miss seeing people’s reactions – whether they’re bored or excited by a particular poem. It’s harder to gauge which poems work online, you don’t hear the collective hush or the poetry ahhh, or get a laugh or an intake of breath when a poem hits home.
A year on and I’ve just had my first festival ask if I’m willing to read live, in a room, with people. I hesitated for a moment, and smiled. Though they couldn’t see that. But I’ve said yes. Yes. Yes. And I’ll probably wear my new shoes.
Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.
“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else… joyous.” – Helen Mort
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