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A book launch to remember

Welcome to my book launch, 5.30pm April 30th in the Spark Room at Tūranga Central Library Christchurch. Rata Ingram my amazing daughter not only designed the cover of my book and did the illustrations, she made a terrific PowerPoint to introduce the order of events. Unfortunately Rata was literally struck down by an ear infection as we set up the room. She lay down on the floor as the show began, unable to even lift her head. I thought I might join her. This was crazy. After writing poetry for ten years, my first collection was being launched, Contents Under Pressure, and what pressure it was. How would the book stand up under scrutiny? How would the launch go? But there was so much to do and happen, I had to perform.

First, as people entered they were greeted and mingled to a mix-tape we'd put together featuring No Zero hip-hop artist aka Fergus Ingram, my talented son. Here's a sample of his creative flair.

Eventually, I was to open my speech with, "It takes a village to raise a book." And I should have added "and to run a book launch!" I didn't realise how much was involved. My stunning sister Phoenix Renata of Phoenix Cosmetics is an experienced Event Organiser in the fashion world. She imagined and set up this 'grazing table' before people arrived. At least 70 people turned up so the grazing table was well and truly grazed. But a new standard had been set for book-launch nibbles.

And here are more of my helpers! My handsome husband and biggest supporter Mick Ingram was on the selling table. There are my books and postcards! And on the right is my Mum and Clara before the crowds flocked in. I'm thinking I am the only person to have their two Mums and two Dads at a book launch. Mum and Dad, who brought me up, came up from Fairlie where I grew up. And Fern, my birth mother, and Ross, my birth father with his wife Renai had come from Auckland for the event. Clara is Phoenix's daughter, my niece by birth. She helped set up the book table for me. See her darling three year old mischievous brother Cayden beside her.

And then the people streamed in. And bought books. And I signed. And the piles of books shrunk down. My friend Joanna Preston had told me to bring a nice pen and to have some phrases ready, perhaps quotes from the book. I liked that idea, and I'd written out some possible choices, such as "Create your own fuzzy pathways" or "I wuz here" or "Paint the bloody town red". It was fun choosing who might like what. But at the same time I was on Planet Floaty, my stomach churning in fear and excitement, the voice in my head saying over and over "This is me at my book launch, I'm signing my own book, this is me, this is it, I'm doing something I have only ever imagined, and how long I have been dreaming this and it's really really real, and I'm doing it, look, look, look, take notice, don't forget."

The business end of the evening started. The amazing Karen Zelas of Pūkeko Publications who had taken on my book when the big publishers didn't, welcomed and thanked everyone for coming. We showed "The Canvas", a video of my award-winning poem from the book, and then Karen introduced Bernadette Hall, who I was not only lucky enough to have as my poetry tutor at Hagley Writers Institute back in 2008 but is one of New Zealand's most esteemed poets with the NZ Order of Merit for Services to Literature, the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement and nine astounding and beautiful poetry collections to her name. I had sent her the manuscript a couple of months before to read and she'd agreed to launch it. But now was crunch time. What did she really think of it?

She started her speech with a quote from Janet Frame, New Zealand's best poet! "I take in my arms more than I can bear to hold". She wove her experience of reading Contents Under Pressure around these words. She saw the protagonist, the graffiti artist, as hilarious, brave, tragic, feminist, going into places you don't imagine middle-aged women going. She said things like "this is an intelligent book", and the poems were "well-crafted" and "full of striking images", and "a lot of thought has gone into the presentation and production," and she commended Karen for publishing it. She read "She's going to de face a public place" which seemed to take on a gravitas for me with Bernadette reading it. Not only because she was Bernadette the well-known poet, but also because she was someone outside myself, so that the poem was now indeed in the world. You can read Bernie's speech notes here.

The whole moment of the speech felt surreal. Bernadette had read my book so deeply and well and was commending it so highly. The joy of that would have to wait for later. The show was in midflight.

Now it was for me to respond and perform. Not only the poems I had practiced, but then to take it out into the world, the shops, the libraries, other readings. I explained a little about my inspiration and the process of writing, then I read "Inspiration: at the beginning of broke, a flyer offers a seed of hope", "You can tell a woman by the way she shops" and the title poem, "Contents Under Pressure". Rata was to read "Black Hole" but she was still on the floor. I'm just so glad she was there. This indeed was one launch that I will never forget.

Contents Under Pressure is available at Scorpio Books, Take Note Ferrymead and other good bookstores and libraries, as well as on my website here.

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