It began: ‘You are about to do something you have never done before.’ It boasted a missing person, murder, deception and a tough, unforgettable streetwise female P.I. ‘You will find yourself reading the crime thriller of the year.’
Excellent. Exactly what I was after. But I had read selectively. I had missed all the clues – and they weren’t hiding: ‘It’s poetry. It’s unlike any poem you have ever read.’ I did not see these words. I’d never heard of a verse novel. It was crime fiction. End of story. I bought the book. It fell open at page 4.
‘It’s poetry.’ I think I said it out loud. I looked around furtively to see if the bookseller had registered my disappointment. Then I read the poem on the page it had opened to.
I'm not tough,
droll or stoical
I droop after wine, sex
or intense conversation
The streets coil around me
when they empty
l get scared.
(from The Monkey’s Mask, Dorothy Porter, Hyland House 1994)
She had me at hello.
Some years later I went to a lecture by Dorothy Porter. She said there were four things you must do before reading your work in public.
4: Be fantastic.
It sounded like life-lessons. She read her work. She was fantastic.
Afterwards, I felt like I was wearing red shoes and had clicked my heels together. I skipped and swooped past the fountain in the Carlton gardens. I was the kind of student who wore my cynicism on my sleeve, and Dorothy Porter had inspired me to skip, at night, through the park; she showed me what poetry could be.