Emily in action

Last night I went to a book launch, the first I’ve ever attended (although hopefully not the last, or this blog is a smidge redundant).

The book was Banana Me Beautiful, the author is Renaissance woman* Emily Dodd, and you can buy it off the internet for a fiver, most of which goes towards supporting mental health charities.  It’s only available in eBook format just now, with the paperback version coming out in about six months, and it contains art and poetry.

Now, until a few years ago I was the sort of person – along with an awful lot of The Great British Public – who claimed I was ‘not that into poetry’.

This wasn’t because I didn’t understand it (I studied English until second year of university; I could hardly avoid poetry indefinitely) but more due to the fact I only got really enthusiastic about nonsense poems or stuff aimed at kids (think Spike Milligan, Edward Lear, Kit Wright, John Hegley).  I felt any conversation with a srs poetry enthusiast would probably leave me looking like a pranny; and proper poetry was not for the likes of me.

Then came 2009’s Carry A Poem campaign. I was working for the library service, so had to find a way of bigging up poetry to our readers.  I found I knew and liked far more ‘grown up’ poets than I previously thought (Dorothy Parker, Seamus Heaney, Wendy Cope, Primo Levi, and of course William ‘that piece of Dundonian scenery is very fine’ McGonagall..).  I also found myself making displays to show young people that poetry can be good, incorporating song lyrics and poems with bad sweary words (Philip Larkin, etc) to try and get their attention.

The interesting thing about Banana Me Beautiful is that it caters to the childlike silly side, the somewhat morose teenage side, and the adult reader all at once.  This is because it is presented in three parts – poems written by 9 year old Emily, poems by teenage Emily, and poems by the author as a young woman. Plus dramatic scenes of anthropomorphic bananas and a comedy song about a horse.

The launch included reading from Young Dawkins, Sara Sheridan, Juliet Wilson and the author herself, and they were all very vibrant and funny.  There was no inkling of the aforementioned notion of poetry being serious business or not for the likes of us; it was very inclusive and utterly engaging.

It was also held on a boat and included mountains of cake, which I gather is not the norm (although all present agreed it should be).  And it provided an opportunity to put lots of Twitter names to faces, which was a little bit weird but good.  I’m not at my most confident when it comes to networking so I’m trying to make myself practice, but going up to strangers and saying “hey, I’m the 12 books in 12 months girl!” feels trite, not to mention slightly presumptuous. Although Emily did very kindly name-check me as ‘prolific Edinburgh blogger Ali George’, so maybe it would’ve been acceptable…

Except then there’s the fact that if you follow people on Twitter you occasionally get little insights into their lives, tricking your brain into thinking you know them better than you do. This makes you tempted to ask questions that are probably inappropriately personal, based on information relating to them being in a bad mood two months ago.  Then there’s the fact that not everyone looks in life like they do in their tiny wee avatar, so you find yourself staring at strangers trying to work out whether you follow them online or not.  Social media is a social minefield.

Still I had a great time, over thinking notwithstanding.  Aside from meeting lots of people** (and successfully managing not to upset any by dredging up memories of angry tweets past), my favourite bits of the night were the insights into the terrifying world of poetry slams, the song about the horse, and the part where the owl decided to take matters into his own hands. Or should that be claws?  Anyway.  You’ll have to get the book if you want to find out to what I am referring!  I was also relieved to discover I’m not the only one who used to write little poems and stories for my friends as a kid.

Far more succinct summaries of the evening are now available on the pages of Helen Caldwell and Juliet Wilson and you can read Emily’s personal highlights on her blog.  Meanwhile I’ve been inspired to go off and plan the launch of book seven, possibly in a dinghy on the lake at Inverleith Park.

*her CV is bloody amazing – writer, artist, scientist, educator, photographer, environmental campaigner, multimedia whizz…

** @byleaveswelive, @anonpoetry, @craftygreenpoet, @allytibbit, @milomclaughlin, @sarasheridan, @EdinSpotlight and of course @auntyemily herself!