I’ve often wondered about shame, in all its various allotropes and guises, and about its connection with my poetry. This is because it looms larger in my experience, I think, than for many people. As a child I was cripplingly shy, embarrassable and highly susceptible to tears – I could find myself blushing furiously and my eyes watering at nothing more than having to walk past someone in the street, humiliated by a sense of vulnerability to their gaze and their physical closeness. That hypersensitivity extended to the more usual sources of shame. As a rank conformist at school, I largely avoided punishment, but when it did happen, in an era of corporal punishment, it would reduce me to a quivering, pink-faced wreck. I could easily have believed back then, with Edmund Talbot in William Golding’s Rites of Passage, that it is possible “to die of shame.” This intensity of response was matched by the variety of forms shame could take, at my parents asking about a film (“Lord Jim”) my friend’s parents had taken me to (it had a brief topless episode, which I hadn’t even noticed), or in sympathy at my Mum’s mortification when a shop refused her check, or at Enid Blyton’s toe-curling use of the word “dear” (“her dear red shoes”). In each case, a powerful, involuntary physical response – flush, trembling, blushing, tears – would accompany the emotion.