It was wonderful to hear Cindy Arrieu-King again. Thank you, Cindy, for coming in from Philly to read with me. Your poems are beautiful and brave. They confront the horrors of our contemporary world, not in some far-off war-torn country, but right here among our daily struggles. Softness, you remind us, is a form of kindness. Your soft touch is born of great toughness.
I have so many people to thank for my book. Last night, I had the chance to thank my New York friends, in particular. Below is what I said from the heart:
I’m very pleased to be reading for you tonight from my new book "Steep Tea." The book bears my name on its front, but it owes its life to many people. I am very grateful to Michael Schmidt, the editor of Carcanet Press, for his belief in my work. I first came across his name in Singapore when I was studying for my GCE ‘A’ Level Examinations at the age of 17. He was the editor of the anthology "11 British Poets," which was an examination text. That anthology changed my life. After my encounter with Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and R. S. Thomas in it, I wanted to be a poet too. By publishing my new book, Michael has made me a poet twice over.
Before leaving Singapore for New York, I submitted a manuscript to Carcanet. It was duly rejected, for the poems in it were bloodless things. It is New York that gave me the needed blood infusion. I am so grateful to friends here who have supported my writing over the years. I’m sorry that Eric Thomas Norris cannot be here. As an editor, he has championed my work. As a poet, he gave me superb advice on a draft of "Steep Tea."
I also want to thank my dear friend and colleague Tara Neelakantappa Safronoff, who is here tonight. Over a series of early mornings, before her children woke up, she read a draft of my book. Her warm and honest response helped me cut down the manuscript from 160 pages to 60. I was so pleased when Tara told me, after reading the published book, that it had no filler!
I owe so much to another dear friend and colleague, Helaine Smith. She has been an invaluably keen reader of my work. Her detailed comments on individual poems in "Steep Tea" made them better. She saw, just as Paul Muldoon did in a workshop that I attended, that the opening poem “Eve’s Fault” did not move forward sufficiently from its first line. Helaine’s ingenious suggestion, offered so tactfully and gently, was to remove the first line. So now the collection begins with the word “God” and not with the word “Though.” So much better!
Most of all, I want to thank my love, Guy, to whom the book is dedicated. Guy has supported my writing in big and small ways, all significant. He advised me on my writing career. He threw parties to celebrate my books. When I needed someone to manage the reception tonight, he stepped in. We celebrated our fifth anniversary this year. The last five years have been a time of personal growth for me, as I learn what it means to love another person. I’m so grateful that he allows me to write about our life together, both the darkness and the light. It is a profound mark of his trust, and I can only hope to be worthy of such loving trust.