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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Helen Moffett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The first time

I’ve been in the book business forever, but I’ve never experienced anything like this before.

There is a stack of velvety-black, pink and red books by my bed. I wrote them. Two dissertations, four books and a whole whack of academic stuff later, this feels utterly new, different. My first poetry collection. I hear Rustum’s voice, and Arthur’s, and many more in my head. They’ve already been here. They tell me that this weird cocktail of excitement and dread and anticlimax is normal.

I sneak quick looks, but can’t read the poems, taking only sidelong glances.

Colleen called me this afternoon. I thought she had received advance copies; it was a shock to see the piles the printer had delivered in her office. I felt as if I was coming down with flu: cotton-wool legs, and Colleen’s voice sounding far away as she made me tea with spices from Uganda.

It’s comforting to be among my sisters-in-verse: I collect my copies of poems by Fiona Zerbst, Joan Metelerkamp and Sindiwe Magona. I am in very good company; two vastly experienced poets, plus two writers who’ve been around the block – but never published a poetry collection before.

On the way home, I stop off to buy real champagne. I feed my joybundles, clean the house, send a few e-mails. After an hour, I start reading Sindiwe’s poems, but they make me cry. I try Fiona’s, but can’t concentrate.

The first person to call is Rustum, the first to send a congratulatory mail is Shabbir Banoobhai. The first person (after Colleen) to see them is Sven, who runs over (we’re currently neighbours) to help me anchor myself. We drink ginger tea, he makes me laugh. I feel a bit more normal.

Next, I take the champagne and a copy over to my GBF Keith, who lives nearby. The poem “Blessings” is for and about him. He and his partner Leon do all the right things: kisses, photos, toasts. They offer me food, but I can’t eat.

They read some of the poems on the spot, something I’m unable to do. Keith reads aloud a funny poem I’ve written about my oldest friend, whom they know extremely well and love very much – they call her the Princess and themselves her fairies. Leon has to leave the room to fetch a hanky to mop his eyes.

Keith knows everything there is to know about me – on Africa Day, 25 May, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the day we didn’t get married, a date we always commemorate – “Darling, it could be yesterday,” he said when I rang to exchange felicitations last week.

Leon, however, needs me to explain the poem addressed to my daughter. “How did you know she’d be a girl, not a boy?” he asks. With the recklessness of two glasses of champagne, I tell him I’ve seen her, I still see her. He asks me what she looks like: “Slight scattering of freckles, prominent facial bones, a bump at the end of her nose, light-brown hair, beautiful Cupid mouth, her father’s chin,” I rattle off.

There is quiet for a moment. To my surprise, I am dry-eyed. I have unexpectedly reached the end of tangle of string I’ve been winding into a ball for years.

Now home, on a tide of bubbles. Still can’t read the poems, but content. I know what they say.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    June 3rd, 2009 @08:42 #
     
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    "To my surprise, I am dry-eyed. I have unexpectedly reached the end of tangle of string I’ve been winding into a ball for years."

    Read it again.

    Reason #12 why we write. Reason #7 why we read.

    Congratulations, Helen. On the collection, on your bravery, on the end of this particular tangle of string.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    June 3rd, 2009 @08:53 #
     
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    Helen, I love this. Makes it all worthwhile for me as publisher. It's such a roller coaster ride this crazy publishing thing, especially publishing poetry. So glad you like the look and feel of the books.

    http://www.morridesign.com/blog/ - Here's Hannah Morris, the artist who did your cover 'bragging' about your cover and giving Modjaji covers and design a little toot. Very nice. Thanks Hannah.

    Also, please send Shabbir Banoobhai's email to me - he has paid for books and I don't know how to get them to him.

    Mazeltov and enjoy the wobbly, heart palpitating, dizzy feeling.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    June 3rd, 2009 @09:12 #
     
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    Lovely piece, Helen. Enjoy the dizzy upness and downness of it all.

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  • ar
    ar
    June 3rd, 2009 @09:47 #
     
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    Absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. When's it going to be in the shops, and which shops? Merde, Helen - may your bookchild stir the air with a fingertip.

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  • <a href="http://poetsprintery.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Amitabh</a>
    Amitabh
    June 3rd, 2009 @10:05 #
     
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    I dont have Helen's number, otherwise I would have called much before Shabbir.
    I understand this feeling
    Actually I banged my car on my gate as I was going to pick up my books from the printer.
    Heartiest Congratulations
    Dont forget your next book booked

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    June 3rd, 2009 @10:54 #
     
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    Amitabh, that's very sweet. Louis, I wondered as I lay awake last night if the feeling would last. It has. For all of you, your generosity and kindness, great thanks. You make this weird business of making books feel like a shared enterprise. And thanks to Hannah as well (click on Colleen's link) for her transcontinental congratulations and beautiful work.

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  • <a href="http://wgt.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ndaba</a>
    Ndaba
    June 3rd, 2009 @11:24 #
     
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    Well done. Strange Fruit is an attention-grabbing title. And congrats to the other sisters in verse(l liked the phrase). Next you comment on our works, I’ll respect the remarks/suggestions/observations with a greater measure of keenness because these are derived from certified authority!

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    June 3rd, 2009 @11:34 #
     
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    Currently the book is available from me only cdhiggs at gmail.com - Will be taking some to Blue Weaver and the Book Lounge later on today. Will post details of the book as I have them.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    June 3rd, 2009 @12:49 #
     
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    Beautifully put, Helen. I wish I could articulate that new book feeling as well as you. I'm feeling a vague sense of unreality at the moment with the first advance copy of exhibit a safely in my sweaty hand. The cat's been lying on top of it all night, so it's lost that freshly printed sheen.
    I sense much champagne to follow.

    Hannah's work is incredible.

    Amitabh - I share your pain and excitement and need to rush for that first look, got a hefty speeding fine fetching my book from the post.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    June 3rd, 2009 @13:30 #
     
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    Sarah, that's great news! And what is this mysterious thing cats have with writers and their books? Yours has taken possession of your brand-new book, Rustum can't type 'cos Couscous is resting her head on his hand...

    Oh yes, sympathies to you and Amitabh re yr book-induced vehicular woes. Perhaps if you'd been driving Richard's dad's Volvo...?

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    June 3rd, 2009 @13:38 #
     
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    All this talk of cats lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the term "book chat" or, as they say in France, "chat de livre".

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  • <a href="http://kathrynwhite.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    Kathryn
    June 3rd, 2009 @14:25 #
     
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    Seb is pissed off with me because i tried to feed him Beef with Gravy when he has flicked his tail enough times for me to know that he does NOT like it anymore. He is nowhere to be seen. So, today i am writing with no cat, but WWF on in the background... i have honestly never watched it properly, but my new domestic worker is watching while she irons, so .. er... i guess we are watching. it is very rough i must say. this one guy has a broken arm - in THREE places - and he is hitting someone with his cast.

    Helen! Congratulations again and again. And Sarah congratulations and congratulations too! I never got excited for my first copy, I think it was too surreal and i never actually got into it. It was all too fast for me i think. Lux Perpetua (my first MS) put aside while Emily Green ran to the printers faster, determined to be out there.

    (There is a Mac Washing powder ad on at the mo. There are taking ducks; they are saying "Mac, mac, mac, mac, mac". Genius.)

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  • <a href="http://kathrynwhite.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    Kathryn
    June 3rd, 2009 @14:25 #
     
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    Talking ducks ...

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    June 3rd, 2009 @14:30 #
     
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    It's strange how no matter what else you've accomplished in your life or your writing, that first real heart fruit (keeping with the theme of the title) renders you an elated, vulnerable, emotional mush.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    June 3rd, 2009 @14:31 #
     
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    Is there a french term for that, Richard?

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    June 3rd, 2009 @14:54 #
     
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    Congratulations to you, Sarah too. Can't wait, so many wonderful books to read.

    Couldn't get near the Book Lounge when I went today, because of the State of the Nation speech and the pouring rain. Sigh. Will try again tomorrow.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    June 3rd, 2009 @15:19 #
     
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    Lauren, you are soooo right. Am still waiting for Richard to come up with chic French term for my state of mush. Just went to a client meeting, and couldn't concentrate, ran up and down their stairs shrieking like a loon, lost my keys. And in ten minutes, I have to talk sense to a UK author.

    Ndaba, that is very kind! but I'm definitely not an authority on anything except what to feed finickity cats (Kathryn take note).

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    June 3rd, 2009 @18:53 #
     
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    Because my French is actually "tres pauvre", I slapped a couple of terms into Babelfish and, hey presto...

    You can now claim to be in a state of (cue French accent): "abandon détrempé".

    Mushy helplessness.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    June 3rd, 2009 @21:47 #
     
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    I love it! Just in from drinking more champagne, more celebrations, so this describes my state very well.

    Abandon detrempe all ye who read this book?

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  • Maire
    Maire
    June 4th, 2009 @02:33 #
     
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    The State of the Poetry Nation is in fine form - many congrats Helen. I'm so looking forward to reading SF. And congrats too to Colleen and Hannah - what a team! It's raining poets and possible prizes today - who gave Modjaji a new watering can?

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    June 4th, 2009 @08:57 #
     
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    Michelle McGrane's post of "Another Country" is up on her blog. Check it out here: http://peonymoon.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/helen-moffetts-strange-fruit/. Very beautiful poem.

    And yesterday Michelle posted a poem of Fiona Zerbst's on her blog http://peonymoon.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/fiona-zerbsts-oleander/

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    June 4th, 2009 @11:04 #
     
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    I am so honoured to have had a sneak peak at these truly glorious poems as well as to hear a reading at the FLF. You must be giddy with joy.

    Super-uber-congratulations-well done

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