2013-06-30 15.21.16

I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you.

Raymond Carver (‘For Tess’)

A kind, wise man once said to me: ‘The main thing is that the main thing remains the main thing.’

I have thought a lot about that simple-sounding statement this week. The catalyst for this was an invitation to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate Contemporary British Poetry on Tuesday.

My first and lasting reaction was one of great surprise. Delight, yes, and gratitude. But mostly surprise.

The roots of this tentativeness were formed in my treatment for cancer in 2006. Since then I never take anything for granted. The good news that comes my way, as well as the bad. By the same token I refuse to bring ambition into the force-field of emotion I carry around with me about my work. I am useless at entering competitions, for example.

By temperament and in practice I abjure the notion of a ‘career’ in poetry. There is a poem, and another poem, and if I am lucky and work hard, another poem after that. Then maybe a book. Then some readings. If I am lucky. Then I disappear for a bit, into silence and anonymity and hurt, by which I mean the long and painful waiting for more poems to come when there are none.

No one can see this nothing-happening going on, only me. I am nobody. I vanish.

All of this came clear to me one day towards the end of my treatment walking by a river with my friend Jean Sprackland. She corrected my misplaced aspirations. She reminded me: ‘Except we’re not ambitious, are we, Anthony, not for ourselves. It is the poems that matter. The process is all we have.’

As Anne Lamott says, I think this may have changed me. Permanently.

This all came to mind as I typed my reply to the Master of the Household. Yet I was reminded, too, of all the poets I to whom I owe a debt of gratitude on account of their kindness, great and small: Peter Carpenter, Siân Hughes, Andy Brown, Ann Gray, Maura Dooley, Jean Sprackland, Michael Laskey, Christopher Southgate, Naomi Jaffa, Rupert Loydell, Lawrence Sail, Jo Shapcott, Roger McGough, Michael Donaghy, Michael Symmons Roberts, Mandy Coe, Sue Dymoke, Ann Sansom, Peter Sansom, Hugo Williams.

And that was why I went, to say thank you.

So, pinching myself and grinning and giggling like an idiot, I chose to spend Tuesday evening saying thank you to as many people as possible. To the poets who make amazing radio programmes. To the poets whose work I love. To the poets I have known forever. To the poets I have discovered only recently. To the poets from Twitter who make life fun. To the poets who put on festivals, working in backrooms, unseen, like Sylvia Plath’s mushrooms.

To the poets who have said kind words. Especially those.

I left with one regret, that I did not thank Hugo Williams. I never quite caught up with him.

In the summer of 1986, when he was poetry editor of New Statesman, I sent him Every Poem I Had Ever Written, omitting to include a stamped addressed envelope. It should have gone straight to the bin. Instead, he wrote back to me taking two poems, an act of kindness and grace for which I will never stop being grateful. As Raymond Carver has written, I felt his acceptance was ‘casually, generously given to me. Nothing remotely approaching that moment has happened since.’

Not until Tuesday night.


  1. I read a piece and wondered if you were among those invited, my gut saying you were!! Congratulations and more importantly congratulations for soaking up the moment, every snippet of it. Moments count, each one a lifetime of their own. Even the bad ones, but of course the great ones, well, they are universes of their own! Thanks for sharing with us!!!


    1. I’m so pleased you saw this and thank you for your kind words of encouragement.
      I did indeed enjoy every moment. There was so much to take in, and I am still processing it, not least my luck. As ever, Anthony.


  2. Thank you Anthony. Everyone else I know who was invited has just said how pleased they were but you made me realise what a pleasure it must have been to see and meet and greet so many poets and you probably didn’t know them all personally, an event which didn’t necessarily need HRH except that I suppose half of them wouldn’t have gone had it not been at Buckingham Palace.


  3. Anthony what a lovely and generous blog. Thank you for being both humble and modest – stark contrast to a few not-very-well-known or especially (it seemed to me) deserving poets on facebook who have been moaning and endlessly victimy about not being invited. People like you make a difference. Was nearly sniffling over your post. Ro x


  4. Have a great day on Tuesday. I am grateful to all poets living and dead. Poetry has enriched my life since junior school. I am now in my seventieth year living in Wicklow still sad at the untimely death of Seamus Heaney. A verse or two each morning sets me up for the day. From Auden to Keats, from Wordsworth to Frost and all the struggling poets who enlighten and share their talent with us I m ever grateful. Poetry lover.


    1. I’m so pleased you found my post and that it encourages you. Poetry really is a lifesaver for me and it sounds like it is for you too. I had a great time on Tuesday. It was magical.yours as ever, with thanks, Anthony


  5. A wonderful post, Anthony, and from all I’ve read on you’re blog a more than well-deserved invitation. Thrilled that you enjoyed and savoured every second. You really are an inspiration and a life-saver in your own quiet way.


  6. Congratulations on the invitation, Anthony. For all the work you do to selflessly promote contemporary poetry and stoke the fires of poetic creativity in schools, as well as your dedication to your own craft, it is very well deserved.

    What I appreciate even more than your invitation is your response to it. Grounded, graceful and keeping it real, your choice to literally give thanks reminds me that it is the web of mutual support that keeps us all afloat. I’m grateful to you for the reminder. Cheers, Rionach


    1. Thank you Rionach for your kind words and support. It sounds easy to say, having been there, but I still have the pulse of surprise in my veins. It was magical. And to whoever got me invited, thank you thank you thank you. With kind regards as ever, Anthony


  7. Thank you to Roselle, who directed me here, and to you, Anthony Wilson, for expanding Rionach’s “web of mutual support that keeps us all afloat”. Gratitude is a true life-giver. It lights up the life of the person who feels it and radiates out into the world like a big smile. It gives us strength to persevere when things get rough. It increases the joy of being alive a hundred-thousand-million fold.
    Thank you!


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