New Year Letter


Dear Anthony (I will never get used to calling you Tony)

Here are some words of advice from your nearing-fifty-year-old self, written from the future. You can of course ignore them, but please know they are written and sent with much love.

Your career in poetry (I note with interest you already distrust that phrase as much as I do) is still fledgling. You are scribbling away, in the dark, spending what meagre resources you have on books. I notice you are very precise in the way you construct birthday lists, giving precise instructions to your non-poetry family about the look, colour, shape and feel of the books you ask for.

It is hard to believe, but one day a machine will do all this for you.

You feel very alone. Get used to this. There will be periods when this will ease for a while. Mostly, however, you are going to do the bulk of what you later come to call satisfying work on your own, completely unconvinced that anyone cares or is interested. If I were you I would spend less energy worrying about this and much more on getting the poems right in themselves.

Your mother is going to find a stash of your poems in your bedside table. This is going to upset you for a while. But don’t worry, it is not fatal. Nor is it her fault. The fact that someone else in the world now knows that you have this passion in your life is no bad thing. Unlikely as it seems, her discovery is the first time you begin to take your writing, and your commitment to it, seriously.

The same is true for the rather uncomfortable Christmas afternoon you are going to experience when a notebook of your poems is passed round the family for inspection. Your grandmother is going to announce that it is ‘hardly Wordsworth, darling.’ This will upset you for a while also. Don’t let it. (She is going to say exactly the same about the books you will one day publish).

But do you see what is happening? All the time you are writing more, reading more, and taking what you do more seriously. That others do not get it or find the results appealing is neither here nor there. You should learn to see these moments as baby steps towards seriousness, not vicious attacks on your soul.

Do not use up energy bearing grudges. This is one of the most fundamental rules I will pass on. It wastes time for one thing, and kills what energy you have for good writing for another. This includes your English teachers, university lecturers and others you look to for early advice. That they did not tell you your poems were going to change the world is both kind and true. Choose to see that they have done you a favour. They all have one thing in common: they all encouraged you to keep writing (and reading) as much as possible. You could do worse and remember this on a card above your desk.

You are going to meet and hear from some people who do not have your best interests at heart, as well as those who are extraordinarily generous and kind. Remember that numbers of the latter will far outweigh the former. Learn to give thanks for this. Ideally every day.

It will help you to learn the rules of how to behave in poetry, things like sending your poems to magazines, where to sit at readings, how to enter competitions, how to give a reading. Remember that these things are important (you do need to include a stamped addressed envelope; don’t ramble on), but remember also they are not the main thing. The main thing is reading, lots of it, and writing, ditto, then acting on what advice you are given.

Find it in your heart to forgive The Wasteland. (Somebody had to do it.)

Quite soon you are going to discover Seamus Heaney. Take what he said to heart: ‘The fact of the matter is that the most unexpected and miraculous thing in my life was the arrival in it of poetry itself.’

As another poet said: it is good to remember that you love this thing because someone else loved it enough to make you love it. Whatever you do, whoever you are working with, whether it is reading to dying people or a hall of three hundred, give yourself to it completely. That is, don’t hold back, put your best stuff out there, and don’t leave anything out (while appearing to leave nearly all of it).

Above all, read everything, be kind, and don’t worry. Some bad things are going to happen to you and to those you love. But through it all you will have poetry.

Never forget that, whatever anyone else says, I will always be on your side.

As always with love, Anthony


  1. Ant
    Thanks for this. I enjoyed it and learned.
    What would we write if this was to our children? I have reflected a little on the difficulty of not sounding pompous or of pointing to a future that may or may not come about or of thinking I understand my three boys (when I don’t really). Is it a different sort of magic in looking forwards rather than backwards?


    1. Hi John
      It’s so kind of you to comment on my post. Thank you.
      Maybe I will write one for my children, who knows. I’m hopeless at guessing the future, so my advice might not be up to much. Reading through the post again I’d like to think I’d say more or less the same: don’t worry, don’t be afraid, do the work you have been given to do.
      Of course mostly I am saying this to myself.
      As ever with best regards and thanks


  2. Dear Anthony, this is a lovely piece of writing. I’ve read through it twice now as I ask myself what such a letter of my own would say. You’ve encouraged me to give it a try. Thank you. And thank you also for giving my little boat a gentle push toward The Icarus Deception. I’m enjoying it this first day of the new year. All best…Molly


  3. That’s absolutely beautiful. A very good new year to you too.
    Am going to write this out for myself: Whatever you do, whoever you are working with, whether it is reading to dying people or a hall of three hundred, give yourself to it completely.


  4. That was lovely to read.
    I once dreamed I revisited a horrible time in my late teens, hovering unseen over my younger self, seated on a bed in my University hall of residence, crying. I sent comfort to myself, and when I woke I had the memory of that night, of having sensed a benign caring presence watching over me.
    Life can be tough for the sensitive among us. Surviving to reflect on this shows how tough we are.
    Happy New Year!


    1. Thank you so much for your kind and insightful comment.
      We are tough aren’t we?
      And fragile as well.
      I’m glad this post resonated with the way you perceive your own journey.
      Wishing you all he best for 2014


      1. I like the word frangible.
        Sometimes things can be too strong and will break under lesser pressure. Great ancient oaks that become hollow withstand the storms better because they can flex better and bend in the wind (like Kate Bush’s Rubberband girl).
        Spider silk is one of the strongest of all substances, weight for weight. Scale is everything.


  5. I love this idea of writing to future, or past selves and enjoyed this post very much, Anthony. Re your Grandmother’s reaction…it made me smile because I am dipping into and beginning to read ‘Now All Roads Lead to France – the Last Years of Edward Thomas’ by Matthew Hollis, and he recounts this episode:

    Julian Thomas, Edwards closest and youngest brother, did at least appreciate the poems and late in March read them out at home to their parents in Edward’s absence, but the response there was hardly better. ‘Father calls them pure piffle,’ Julian recorded in his diary, ‘and says no-one will publish them.’


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