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A Book Launch In The Time Of COVID-19

Sun 17 May, 2020

During the Covid 19 crisis the traditional book launch is impossible. So how does a virtual launch compare - is this the new normal?

‘Launch’ is a word of immediacy, of physicality. Poems call to be recited out loud, not merely read. How then does a book launch - of a new anthology - work in lockdown?

Carcanet Press put on a celebration to mark the launch of Rory Waterman’s third poetry collection,“Sweet Nothings”. The elephant in the Zoom is that all attendees were assembled together, apart. The portal used enabled not only the reading of his poems but also Question and Answers, those poems to be placed on screen, and ‘to and fro’ between our host, William Ivory and the poet.

Though not sure whether to describe the experience as one of being ‘on the outside looking in’, or perhaps the other way round, the event had about it a satisfying intensity. During the readings – sensibly divided into two sections - what you see, all you see, is the poem being read and the poet. Whilst the former takes up more of the screen, the human inclination to look at the person is, I suspect, never really overcome. In Rory’s case, the added reward for doing so was his facility of delivery with the dialogue and inflections that animated numbers of the poems he chose to read us.

I had heard one of those poems, “Like Father”, read by Rory at Five Leaves bookshop in Nottingham some months before. On this second encounter, it had lost none of its power for being listened to remotely. That may be a testament - I am sure it is - to the power of the piece (and the raw force of its subject-matter) but attending to it ‘via monitor’ did not dilute or diminish. Indeed, at one level, it became all the more concentrated.

“ Would folk have flown in from Minnesota or Venice to be there had this launch occurred conventionally? Now, at least, they could be ‘here’ (whilst still there).”

The question and answer sessions had a conversational life to them, even if one could not hear the ripples of laughter that the sardonic asides and light-touch self-deprecations from both Rory and William would have earned at a live event. At the start, William Ivory (an energetic host) noted “this is so weird” but then - for the good of the event - moved passed that initial truth, so that it became altogether less so. I do not know what ‘dress rehearsal’ there may have been - I suspect more advance ‘sketching out’ might occur, than with an ‘in person’, face-to-face encounter – but, with contributions made also from the attendees (their questions being deftly weaved in by William) Q & A was never stilted.

Snagging the poet’s signature on the inside of the book will just have to wait, but the collection is one I shall be seeking out from my local bookshop (or the publishers, using the discount provided when registering for the event).

Did it feel like a celebration? I hope so for Rory, even if typing “Applause” into ‘chat’ does not have quite the same impact. For this attendee, the answer is “yes”, even if you have to bring your own cheese and wine - those staples of the bookshop, book-launch and miss out on a good mingle afterwards. Two reasons in particular for that positive response.

First, there was something uplifting about knowing that different people from different parts of the world were watching in – a silver lining of sorts. Would folk have flown in from Minnesota or Venice to be there had this launch occurred conventionally? Now, at least, they could be ‘here’ (whilst still there).

And then, secondly, this. For me, a particularly resonant poem of Rory’s was ‘Nottingham Nocturne’. It ends with the words “Never Stop Listening”. There we were – not stopped from listening. That is hopeful.

"Sweet Nothings" can be bought direct from Carcanet here. You can get 25% off before 28 May by ordering from Carcanet using the code WATERMAN25 at checkout.

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