Yesterday evening we launched 'Slantways' an anthology of prose poetry written by a group of MA students at the University of Kent. Their tutor, Patricia Debney had been teaching them about prose poetry two and a half years ago when her son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Patricia took some time off but the MA group carried on writing and then decided to put together a book to raise some money for JDRF - the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One year ago just as they were beginning to formulate what they'd do and how to go about it, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Patricia and I already knew each other as I'd graduated from the same MA course some years earlier. She was also the first person I contacted when R was diagnosed because I knew she'd been in the same place eighteen months before when her son was exactly the same age as mine. Within a couple of months I'd also been asked to contribute to the anthology - I'd already had some prose poetry published and it didn't take long for me to sort out some other pieces to add to it.
Finally last night we had the launch at Waterstones in Canterbury. The plan was to read one poem each and we'd go in alphabetical order - making me first up.
So far so good.....
Except that 22nd March 2010, exactly one year before to the day my son received his diagnosis and instead of me going to a reading of Scarlett Thomas's latest book I was in the William Harvey Hospital on the Children's Ward with him. In the past year R has been in hospital three times - the first on diagnosis, then six months ago he was readmitted because his blood glucose levels were so unstable and then he was transferred to UCLH where he remained for another few nights. He has gone from being a normal boy who plays rugby, enjoys meeting his mates, goes mountain biking, rock climbing and swimming to a boy who has only had about two weeks of school attendance since September and whose life has temporarily taken a back seat to this horrible condition. There have been two big positives in the last year - R was given an Insulin Infusion Pump which means that he no longer has to inject at least five times a day and we found a wonderful website and email list called Children With Diabetes and through that we've all met the most amazing families whom we're proud to call friends.
So, back to the book launch....Patricia said a few words to 'open' the reading and launch and then I was up. I'm used to standing in front of some very unfriendly groups - I've taught Ritalin repressed primary school children right up to hung over undergraduates. An audience of supportive poetry lovers should have been a breeze. I'd planned to explain how I'd come to be invited to contribute, how pleased I was to see everyone there and then finally tell them how the poem I was about to read, 'Beachboys' was written all about my twin sons who were both in the audience.
What actually happened was that I walked up to the front, faced the audience of about forty people, said thank you to them for turning up.....and then completely lost my nerve and almost began to cry. I turned not to 'Beachboys' which I knew would now make me blub like a hormonal teen in front of Justin Bieber, but instead I went to 'The Seahorse' and was about to begin to read before someone pointed out that I hadn't said who I was....
I read 'The Seahorse' despite my voice, my hands and my legs shaking. I didn't cry but I did look terrified, I didn't feel terrified, instead I felt very sad.