I got lucky in 1971. In that year’s Booker prize I came 2nd, or so Saul Bellow, one of the judges, said. Coming 2nd, of course, was like coming 102nd; nevertheless it boosted my ego, which got a further shot in the arm when the International Biographical Centre, based in Cambridge, wrote and said they would be pleased to include my entry in their International Who’s Who in Poetry. I was flattered, but there were two problems. The book cost £18, which I didn’t have. And I hadn’t written a line of poetry.
But it seemed a shame to let them down, so I got to work on their entry form. Immediately I ran into problems with Education. My record looked pretty flimsy, not at all the sort of schooling you expect a top international poet to have had. So I spiced it up with a spell at the Spanish Academy in Vienna. That’s where they train those Lipizzaner horses to prance on their hind legs, and I’ve always fancied a couple of terms there. Next came Positions Held. I couldn’t write: ‘None’. So I wrote: ‘Self-employed travelling blacksmith, Somerset & Glos., 1968–’. Not enough poets are out in the countryside, practising the noble art of the farrier, getting their soft hands dirty, dreaming up rhymes for ‘horseshoe’.
Then I hit Published Works. Tricky. I summoned up all the creative juices but the cold hard fact was I hadn’t published any poetry. At that moment, my wife came in and said, ‘If Teresa King calls . . .’ The message was complex, and I wasn’t listening. If Teresa King Calls was just the sort of daft title a poet would give a slim volume of verse. I entered it, added a few more bits of tosh and bunged the form in the post.
The International Biographical Centre gratefully printed the lot. I was now a registered poet, still without £18 for the book, but I managed a fiver and bought their Certificate of Merit (‘For Distinguished Contributions to Poetry’) and hung it in the loo where it covered
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