Andrew Motion was the star of the 16th Peirene Salon. It was one of our best.
53 guests listened to an exclusive taster of his forthcoming Selective Poems. You could have heard a needle drop on the carpet. But the evening got even better with the Q&A. Andrew was asked how he judged his 40-year long poetic career. He replied that he was embarrassed about how little he had achieved. The audience was flabbergasted. ‘You’ve produced such wonderful poetry,’ one guest objected. ‘The finished poem is never what I imagined in my head,’ he answered. ‘So are you ever happy with your work?’ someone else wondered. He smiled. ‘Sometimes for 4 or 5 seconds straight after finishing a poem. But the feeling never lasts.’ An amazed silence followed. Eventually Andrew alluded to Beckett’s famous quote, Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again.Fail better. ‘And that is what keeps me going,’ he added.
Sleep is usually what keeps me going. But in the last couple of weeks I have often woken at 3 or 4 am with a racing heart, worrying about Peirene.
Since the summer we have increased our Roaming Stall presence. Initially the decision proved to be a wise one: in September we made a profit, in October we broke even. November was a disaster. We had a single good sales day. Of course, November is a difficult retail month even at the best of times. The pre-Christmas lull and storms and gales keep punters away. However, I persuaded myself that we should raise awareness of our books in readiness for the Christmas rush. And, sure enough, Jennifer chatted with many interested people and distributed stacks of Peirene flyers. But few people bought and I have started to doubt my decision.
Last night, after the salon, I slept like a baby. When I woke at 9am, I wondered why my anxiety hadn’t disturbed me. Then I remembered Andrew quoting Beckett. Fail better. Perhaps we just haven’t yet found the ideal location for our Roaming Store? And anyway, I should only judge the success of our strategy by the end of December.
Peirene, too, had a glow about her this morning.
‘Andrew said I am doing a heroic job with the sort of books I publish.’ She told me. A happy Nymph tidies up quicker than an unhappy one. We returned the house to order in just three hours. Well done us. In fact the whole Salon was not so much an example of “failing better” but a rare case of an outright triumph.
Image by fENZOMANI.