‘Aren’t you going get the phone?’ I say. ‘It won’t be for me.’
With a little groan the book heaves itself from the sofa and picks up the phone. It stands next to my desk, nodding, without speaking.
‘It’s for you,’ the book says. ‘The Guardian want an interview.’
‘Is it April 1st?’ I say.
‘Straight up. The book desk,’ the book says. ‘They want to know all about me,’ the book says in a stage whisper.
‘You do the interview then,’ I say. ‘I have nothing to say.’
‘Are you sure?’ the book says.
‘I am sure,’ I say.
The book turns away from me, speaking in a low voice into the phone. I catch the phrase ‘could do it now’ and ‘no time like the present’, followed by a nervous laugh. I glare at the book, but the book does not turn round to face me. It shuffles instead to the sofa, where it spreads itself out, all arms and legs, as though holding court at the press conference of a louche film festival. I notice it is wearing a Fez.
‘Oh, yes,’ it says. ‘Absolutely. But, I think, too, you’d need to mention Eric Morecambe, the Two Ronnies, and the football results. Only after that came Heaney and MacCaig. That ‘Who watered the wicket at Melbourne?’ kind of thing. But mostly I go back to Eric Morecambe coughing ‘Arsenal!’ Or Terry Wogan doing Eurovision. Situationist prime-time TV. Mainstream, the two fingers hidden in plain view as it were. The Chuckle Brothers meets Endgame.’ There is a pause. ‘Is the kind of thing you need?’
The book gathers pace again, gesturing with its free hand. ‘Oh, quite. But then it hits you: ‘I actually know nothing!’ I can remember it quite clearly. I was reading Katherine Mansfield on a bus to Nottingham. I had just finished my degree and saw, right there and then, that I had wasted it completely, mainly because I wasn’t curious enough. I also realised, though maybe this came later, that I was exhausted and needed to crawl into a hole for a while. I think those have been the twin impulses, or tensions, rather, out of which I have operated, the constant sense of time running out and of needing to replenish myself as the years progress.’
There is a long silence as the book sits nodding. It begins to flick the tassels of its Fez.
‘Well, that didn’t help of course. But it was also remarkably freeing. Suddenly there were no emails to answer! The days opened up, like driving across France at night. All I had to do was take my son to school, shuffle back to the house and sleep. And I realised that stuff can emerge out of that, even when you are completely exhausted (for real this time), with all of your certainties suddenly up for grabs. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it brought a certain perspective. The competitive nature of everything, even poetry. I found myself wanting never to go near another poetry book, and to devour it all completely, both at the same time. I’ve never told anyone that before.’
There is another silence. I notice the book is now lying down on the sofa. The Fez has migrated to the floor.
‘I honestly don’t know the answer to that,’ the book says. ‘Maybe. I don’t know. In a sense nothing has changed, but then I think… I only want the next poem. Which feels as far away as Mars at the moment. That’s it. Just one more poem. ‘Would that be too much to ask?’ It dawned on me the other day that this might really be it. I don’t know. Ask me something else.’
The book closes its eyes.
‘It’s kind of you to ask, but I wouldn’t presume,’ the book says. ”Ignore everybody’, that would be one. And ‘Absorb everything’, that would be another. I think living in the tension of those two impulses, the hermit crab versus the circus clown, is the ground I stand on. ‘Don’t drink and drive’, of course. And ‘Wear sun-cream.’ And ‘KBO’. If in doubt, KBO. That’s it. The work is all there is.’ There is a long silence, the book sitting motionless. ‘You are very welcome,’ the book says. ‘Let me know when it’s out.’