Last year Penguin asked my sister, Laura, if she would put together and edit a poetry anthology for them (she used to be their Classics editor but left a couple of years ago to work at a smaller start-up publishing company). For a whole year Laura immersed herself in poetry; spent weekends in the British Library, scribbled down notes as every person she came into contact with told her of their own best-loved poems, read borrowed and bought poetry books on the bus, in the gym, and lying in the park, and found that she had unwittingly become a poetry advisor to friends or family who were doing a reading at a wedding, a funeral, or who were just having a bad day.
A couple of months ago I was having a really difficult few weeks myself, waiting for the results from a health scare (that thankfully turned out to be fine), I was feeling rather like the ground was about to pulled from under me...and as if she could sense quite how much a visit from her would give me a boost that I so needed, Laura made a four-hour round trip, just to surprise me by popping her face round the door and staying to spend an hour or two with me. That morning in London she had been making up little presenty parcels for me: lovely buttons, a CD with a handmade cover, full of old music that we had danced to when we were young (Tracy Ullman -click the link and prepare to bowled over by the sheer fabulousness of it! We soon had that on at full volume, with the new addition of Zebra-girl joining us in our dance routines)...and finally the most lovely package of all. A copy of her recently published book, Poems for Life. I think I may have cried when I opened it.
As siblings of course I'm insanely proud of everything my sister does, but it really is such a very beautiful and lovely book, that feels so special to hold, and even with all the bias that I know to be mine, I feel I can say with certainty that it is truly wonderful. It is cloth-bound in dark green, with the most beautiful and thoughtful cover design (Coralie Bickford-Smith), its' four corners reflecting the themes inside (life, birth, love and death) and a lovely green ribbon page-marker. It feels substantial and traditional, yet the selection of poems inside is anything but stuffy. It is a sparkling, delightful anthology, and to me, has the very essence of Laura's personality running through each and every page, for in nearly every poem I came to, I could see why it would particularly have appealed to her and made her believe it was perfect for inclusion. So how lovely to find that she had included Spike Milligan's 'My Sister Laura', which feels like a poem put in there specially for me.
Last year my husband wrote the poem out for me to have in a frame on our bathroom wall above this picture of me and Laura, taken when we were small.
There are poems in there that have made me feel sad, made me smile, or sigh with the amazement that comes when someone perfectly captures a familiar feeling in one short sentence. Others that are new to me that I have enjoyed reading and re-reading and then this that chilled me, for so many times I have seen women in the park with their children looking as though they may be feeling this way - this poem will stay with me. The Betjeman and Keats that I studied and loved at A Level I have enjoyed meeting with again and others from childhood, where I can hear my sister's voice in my head, exactly as she would have read it to me. I have also found poets that I'd never heard of before and gone on to seek out more of their work. Here is something by Lemn Sissay that he recently read on Radio 4.
However, my favourite is one that has made us, and many of our friends, laugh out loud on reading it; A Puppy Called Puberty, by Adrian Mitchell.
Last week my sister sent me an email saying that her book was going into it's second print run...I had been sure that it would, but was utterly delighted for her to have it confirmed. Can you tell that I'm just a little proud?