Towards the end of my treatment for cancer in 2006 I had one of the most profound conversations of my life. It was with my friend the poet Jean Sprackland, who had travelled across the country just to visit me for the day. She brought stationery from Muji. I still think of this as an act of great kindness and affirmation, not just because of the expense involved, but because my confidence in my writing was at an all-time low.
Shuffling along the Exe at a snail’s pace I told her that along with most of my immune system my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments seemed to have done a pretty good job of nuking any lingering literary ambition I might still have had.
To give her credit, Jean did not collude with the premise of my complaint.
She looked at me: ‘Except we’re not really ambitious as poets are we really? Only for the next poem. The rest is meaningless.’
Each time I feel myself about to spiral into a funk of panic about my deep lack of profile and my extreme lack of fame and wealth, I remember that walk by the river with Jean, wheezing though I was, and taking smaller steps than before.