Looking back through my files, I find the first typewritten draft torn from the secondhand dot matrix printer I bought not long after arriving in Almendralejo. A creature of habit, I've only ever dated poems once they move from notebook to screen, so here it is: January 1998. The title is different, of course, as is the layout of the stanzas, but the poem has been born.
I must have gone back to it in a couple of months later, as there are handwritten corrections all over the sheet and a note: "Rev' March '98". Of course, I'm sure to have thought it was finished at that point. How wrong I was.
A few weeks afterwards, I returned to the poem. There's another typewritten draft, which indicates more extensive revisions back in my notebook prior to a second visit to the dot matrix. However, frustration must have set in: "UNF" for unfinished is scrawled across the bottom.
Later on that month - April '98 - I had another go at polishing off this awkward, obstreperous bunch of lines. I must have been reasonably happy with the result, as I sent it, with a shiny new title, as part of a submission to Evangeline Paterson (a fabulous, understated poet and editor, much missed) at Other Poetry. She published it that autumn.
At this point there's a pause, although I recall having posted it that year to a dear friend who died in a mountaineering accident not long afterwards. It was hidden among many failures. She chose it as her favourite.
Come 2009, I was preparing my submission to HappenStance Press for what would become Inventing Truth, my first pamphlet. I picked this poem up again, reread it and realised I could improve it, change the flow of the stanzas, tweak the title. Helena Nelson, my editor, wasn't fully convinced. She sidelined it to a list of possibles in early 2010, so I went at it again. Still she put up cogent arguments against its inclusion. It correctly lost out a couple of months before publication.
I knew that poem was important, not just because of its journey, but because it highlighted a specific facet of my verse. Nevertheless, I also knew it wasn't quite over the line. Every few months, I continued to chip away at it: November 2013, August 2014, May 2015. My first full collection was the aim.
Until today. It's still in my manuscript, holding on for dear life. This time, in adulthood, over eighteen years after its birth, it's going to make the cut. When might the book appear? More news on that in due course...
International open competition founded in 1973. Poetry Category: 1st prize £5,000 / 2nd prize £1,000 / 3rd prize £500 plus ten highly commended awards of £...