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I’m talking about real influence now

Raymond Carver

This is the first in a new series of blog posts about people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. They are for poets, teachers and friends (sometimes all three). Some I know well and have spent large parts of my life with. Some I barely know at all and have met only in passing. What they all have in common is the lasting influence for good they have had on my life.


In the summer of 1986, when he was poetry editor of New Statesman and not long after Writing Home had been published, I sent Hugo Williams Every Poem I Had Ever Written. I was unemployed and still living at home, the chief subjects of the poems I sent to him.

I thought I might be in with a chance because Williams had written about exactly the same thing: ‘My father said ‘WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”

But I knew nothing of the rules of the poetry game. I did not know you were only supposed to send a maximum of six poems to an editor at one time. I did not know that you needed to include a stamped addressed envelope. (I suppose I imagined the New Statesman was made of money.) I had not bought Peter Finch’s How to Publish Your PoetryI had not even heard of him.

It goes without saying, regardless of their quality, my poems should have gone straight into the bin. Instead, Hugo Williams wrote back to me to say he wanted to take two of my poems, and next time please could I not send so many poems and include a sae?

Seamus Heaney famously compared receiving an invitation from Charles Monteith at Faber and Faber to hearing ‘from God the Father’. This was my God the Father moment. And it involved poetry. And even a tiny bit of money. I still pinch myself when I think about it, an act of kindness and grace which I did not deserve and for which I will never stop being grateful.

As Raymond Carver wrote, I felt his acceptance was ‘casually, generously given to me. Nothing remotely approaching that moment has happened since.’