Losing my ambition


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.

You can read the full account of my treatment for cancer in Love for Now, in paperback and on Kindle


  1. I don’t know Jean but I love her poetry, and I love her more than ever for this comment. Ambitious only for the next poem. Yes! It’s the work that matters more, and stupidly easy to forget.


    1. Hi Sarah. It was a game changing moment for me, truly. Whenever I hear myself whining about how underrated/unfamous/unprizewinning/unreviwed etc I am I remember these words. Most of the drivel I allow myself to engage with is meaningless and exhausting and this reminds me to keep in mind what is really important. As ever with best wishes, Anthony


  2. Sometimes it’s so hard to see through ambition and all the ‘drivel,’ as you say, to what really matters. I know I struggle with this. I think most writers do. That’s why it’s so great to be reminded of what counts…thank you.


  3. Hi Ant,

    I am going to download your book might just be what I am looking for presently. I love that you went for a walk and your friend inspired you and encouraged you by buying some expensive paper, which shows support, respect and inner thumbs up from a fellow colleague.

    Well done Ant once again a pleasure to read your wanderings

    Liked by 1 person

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