I was contacted recently by Summer Palace Press, who published my first poetry collection, Black Wolf on a White Plain. The launch of that book, way back in September 2001, was delayed by 9/11. I had exactly four copies left and had assumed that the book was entirely out of print. Not so. Kate, one of the press’s editors, told me there were a couple of boxes left of the original print run of 1000 books. Would I like to buy them (for an amount that included an extremely generous author’s discount) with the proceeds going to a charity for humanitarian aid for Ukraine? Of course I said yes.
It feels strange that this book has been bracketed by two wars, as it were. Its launch was marked by event that sparked the so-called war on terror; and a new war in Europe has prompted its final copies to come home to me.
Nevertheless I am very glad to have them. I wrote this book with so much hope and desperation, and out of the need for change in my life. I had no idea of all of the changes that would come. Many were good and have contributed to the extremely satisfying shape to my life today. I achieved what I wanted. My life is defined by writing, and far from losing touch with the biological sciences, my writing incorporates them, especially through The Country Diary. I use the experience of the (school) teacher that I was back in 2001 in every aspect of my facilitation and tutoring work. I have finally finished the novel I started way back in 2004. I also had the opportunity to do a Masters and redeem the 2ii that I was awarded for my first degree, a grade that scalded me for years (I got a Distinction in my Masters, so that kicked that well out of the water). That achievement led to my PhD, which had its necessary difficulties & hardships, but overall was sheer joy.
But. Getting hold of these remnant copies of Black Wolf also reminded me of some of the pain. How my poetry was thwarted for years by eldercare and financial issues involving the Office of Care and Protection. How a tremendous amount of time was stolen from me by circumstances outside of my control. How my love for my parents, and my labour and availability were exploited (I’d gone part-time, with the support of my partner, to devote more time to writing. That didn’t exactly work out, to put it mildly). It’s not an exaggeration to say that people I should have been able to trust nearly destroyed me. When my second poetry collection, Tribe, came out in 2008, it was almost a non-event in terms of progressing any nascent writing career. My father had just died and I fled to my Masters in Animal Behaviour. Retrospectively, I feel enormous gratitude that I had the means to do that, and ultimately it was the right decision. But it was also a decision prompted by my inability to write poetry any more. Events had driven out of me. Years would go by before I was able to come back to it.
In receiving these copies of Black Wolf, however, there is a tiny little feeling of redemption. God knows, it’s hubris in the extreme to compare with what I went through in the noughties to what the people of Ukraine are going through today; nevertheless, some emotional resonance feels true for me. How a life can be thrown off course by events that are entirely outside of one’s control. How you can be left bewildered, shocked, grief-stricken, utterly disbelieving at how structures suddenly collapse and the people responsible are blithely, callously, disregarding. Possibly even gleeful. Because you had a nerve expecting to be treated differently.
So I hope that the funds that Summer Palace Press are donating to the people of Ukraine make some small difference. Things will never be the same again – lives and dreams are smashed irreparably. But change will come. Lives will be rebuilt – differently shaped. The rest of us must be ready to help.