Last week we launched my book of poems – The Death of Music Journalism. This week I’ve just found out it’s the # 1 best-selling title at Unity Books for the current week (thanks of course to that wonderful launch). So here I share the speech I gave at the launch…
I’m rather overwhelmed by this all. And I’m thrilled you could be here and presumably wanted to. Or if you felt some sense of obligation because we worked together years ago or you just wanted to see there actually was a launch after to far too many social media posts…also GOOD!
There are a few things to mention in backstory about this book. My first collection of poems. Firstly, this book came about I think, really, last December. Mary McCallum, my publisher and co-editor, had invited me to be part of a Cuba Press reading with a few of the published poets from her growing stable. Michael Fitzsimons, Mary MacPherson, Nicola Easthope and Mary herself all read beautifully from their recent collections. And then I hulked on over with about 37 printed out A4 pages, dropping them as I read with a blatant disregard for anything I’d just said until finally I caught myself out halfway through a poem – the second page of it was printed on the second page of any other piece of paper rather than the one I had in my hand. So I just called it the fail that it was and pressed on with about 19 other poems, thinking if I jammed them into the 5-minute allocation it wouldn’t matter.
Mary took me aside after and quietly, politely said, “That’s it, that’s the last time you’ll ever fucking embarrass me in public. Your punishment will be a book that we will apublish next year! So there. That’ll stop you dropping your stupid pages like a dumbass.”.
I’m paraphrasing slightly. But you get the gist.
Mary and Paul at The Cuba Press have been amazing. They asked to see about 30-40 poems, so I sent them 287. You know, just to be safe. This was the beginning, in my mind at least, of a multi-volume deal. My first book of poems, unpublished, by court order, and written in 1993, was called If Not For You. An obvious lift from Bob Dylan. Maybe it was going to be time to see that out in the world. Finally. Or what about 1994’s all too swift follow-up, Forgotten Man, with its catchy subtitle “Poems, Stories, Diaries, Drawings and other thoughts from the pen and mind of Simon Sweetman”.
Mary and Paul said they were prepared to go up to around 100 pages for this debut collection. And I said, “oh, so it’s just going to be a chapbook. Fair enough!”
Mary and Paul at The Cuba Press have been amazing.
They thought of a name for the book. And without even listening to the end of their sentence I politely said, “fuck no, we’re calling it The Death of Music Journalism. So there”.
They said, oh, okay. Um, cool…? And then one of them said, well you’ll need to get a decent cover image I think. And there’s always a limited budget for things like covers…
I said, don’t worry about that. My friend Matthew Couperv is an amazing artist. He lives in Las Vegas. But he is a Kiwi. And he is one of my best friends. And we have known each other since we were 4. And we are now 44. And so even with my shitty maths I know that it is a 40year friendship. I once wrote a catalogue essay for Matt and he thanked me by giving me one of his paintings. You can’t put a price on a friendship like that. Which is why I basically facebook messaged him and said “Do me a cover eh?” And since you can’t put a price on a friendship like that I hoped he might also not put a price on doing an extraordinary piece of work that makes the collection sing, that gets to the heart of me and these poems and that celebrates not only the madness of my obsessions but the brilliance of Matt’s mind and work.
He not only didn’t put a price on it – he sent me the actual painting!
Sarah Bolland, Creative Director at the Cuba Press, designer, then made that painting into this brilliant cover. She made it sing a whole new song!
The Cuba Press people are brilliant. Did I mention they have been amazing? They’ve had a great year of busyness in this curveball of 2020. They continue to put out poems for all ages and books that connect writers and readers. Some that win prizes and some that blow minds and receive wonderful reviews. They’ve done all of this and they’ve worked with me this year too.
They have been (mostly) fine about me and my dog walking into the office and arguing that the swears all need to stay because they are just how I fucking speak. And that the glib poems are actually meant to be glib. They are intentionally glib actually. So. There.
And when they’ve found out that I might be on the bill with a musician that I’ve given a bad review to or reading with a poet whose work I don’t think is much chop they have enjoyed me saying, “You knew what this was when you got into it!”.
I know they’ve enjoyed it. Because they haven’t said a thing. They’ve just sat there. Enjoying it.
Thank you Mary, Sarah and Paul.
Paul won The Young Publisher of the Year award a month or so ago – and he is kind and funny and wise and well-read and passionate and multi-skilled, so to me it was an absolute no brainer that he win this award. And I expect him to win this every year until he is old enough to just win Publisher of the Year. Or Senior Publisher. Or whatever comes next.
The Cuba Press is brilliant. And their energy is lovely. And kind. And warm. And I feel very lucky.
This book was originally going to come out about 20 years ago. But there was a problem. And that problem was that it was going to be quite shit. You see, I pivoted to poetry when I was 13 and have been writing it ever since – and lots of it – and when I was in my early 20s I thought I deserved a book. I had been to many launches, bought a lot of books and even opened a couple of times for Sam Hunt. Those earlier poems are not here tonight and are not collected in this book. And all I can say is thank fuck for that.
When you start naming names you start forgetting names. I said that in the acknowledgements – and then of course I did name some names. And I’m sorry if your name isn’t there and you think it should be. I actually suggested to The Cuba Press that we leave the Acknowledgment page blank but for a line in square brackets that simply said: [WRITE YOUR NAME HERE IF YOU THINK IT SHOULD BE HERE].
They were still having such a good time laughing at my “You Knew What This Was When You Got Into It” like that I think they thought I was still probably joking. So I wrote some names and apologized for not naming everyone.
I want to thank Chris Tse for including me a couple of years ago in his LitCrawl event. It was frightening to be on a stage in-between Pip Adam and Tayi Tibble. Pip had just won the award for The Best Book Ever or whatever it is called, and rightly so, for The New Animals. Tayi had won the award of best new poet or just best poet or whatever and again it was fair and correct. And then I turned up as the thorn between the roses. But I think that event made me feel confident or legitimized in some way. Like I could actually revisit the idea of making a book.
Emily Writes, who is a good friend and a kind soul, did an amazing charity event here at Meow earlier this year, back when our only concern was the fires that ravaged Australia. No disrespect to Australia but oh for those times again eh…Emily extended the charity work over to including me on that bill – and again I think that experience was a fun one and a worthwhile one. And people take you way more seriously as a poet when they know you have a book or are about to have a book. After that event, in January, I stood out there in this very venue and met so many people all suddenly very interested in the idea of me as a poet. Of course I was standing in the doorway. And the conversation just came up…like a toll to pay. Call it my gatekeeper training from those early days of making no friends or money as a music reviewer.
So I’ve been pretty focused on the poems this year. More so than any other year. And this book has been the great project to reward that and to create the focus too.
Katy and Oscar are the loves of my life and they are in these pages and in my heart always. And I must be in their heart because they didn’t seem to mind me never stopping to ask if they minded being in these pages. I’m even on a list of Oscar’s favourite authors, he told me just the other week. And it includes Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, David Walliams and Stephen King. So that’s a pretty good list!
And the book is dedicated to Katy and Oscar –
I also need to mention how blown away I was by the Boosted Campaign support; the crowdfunding we initiated to help with publishing. The success of that not only enabled the book but this launch, these great people involved in entertaining you. So a round of applause to all the Boosted supporters, some might be here – and thank you. And of course a round of applause for your musician and poets you’ve heard from already.
I’m also really grateful for the reviews of the book so far. Amazingly, they’ve all been positive. Even more amazing really considering I’ve been the one writing them. I’m aware I have a bit of a reputation. So I don’t take the praise at all lightly. And when I get through this launch process I might be able to focus on writing a few more glowing reviews of The Death of Music Journalism. Since apparently I’ve never ever written a glowing review of anything else ever.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me. And I have to assume I will not get out of here without reading you a few poems. And I’d also like to do that. So here we go…
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