This poem was a long time in the making. It was written in Durham, following racist abuse in the street and bullying at work: experiences from which my wife, Jenny (this is a sonnet from a book of them, written for her) helped me recover. But the metaphor first came to me years earlier, in Oxford. I was walking to the library when a car drove past and I was yelled at (these racist incidents often take the form, in my life at least, of ‘drive-bys’) and a bottle got chucked at my head. The weird thing was, I didn’t feel dismayed in the aftermath, so much as elated. I’d gone to the library to write on one of my favourite poets, Andrew Marvell, and this bizarre creative energy seemed mine for the taking.
I tried to write a poem about this which actually didn’t mention Mario, but Sonic the Hedgehog (whose games also feature the ‘mercy invincibility’ effect). I wanted to capture somehow that period of perhaps compensatory intensity which can follow painful events – before we accept their reality.
Jenny and I love playing computer games together: a form of escapism less stupefying than television. I found that the poem I hadn’t quite been able to write for years rearrived as a lyric not solely about me, but about the two of us. In those intervening years, I’ve become slightly wary of the poems of straightforward empowerment which minority poets are, it can feel, rewarded for writing. I didn’t want, any longer, to write a poem about how something bad happened, before I rose above it. I wanted, instead, to make it quite clear that this wasn’t possible without the help of the person I love most; and, also, that when we bounce back, there can be something unconscious and uncontrolled about that psychological kip-up. Which isn’t, exactly, a victory to be proud of, but just another part of the complex emotional to-and-fro of our lives.