Dear Ant

Well done for making it to the end of another year and the start of a new one.

How are you, do you think? I know you hate it when well-intentioned friends say ‘How are you really?’, but it’s not a bad question to ask yourself every so often. Not everything from the hymn book of popular culture is trash, you know. While your discipline in ignoring most of it is admirable, it wouldn’t hurt to let yourself go once in a while. Remain open. Carry your notebook. You never know what is around the corner waiting to find you.

On the whole though I think your main instincts are sound. As I think you read somewhere last year, if you want to add something to your life you will need to subtract something first. (I like what you did with Twitter and Facebook by the way. They are much more in proportion now I think.) Reading, for example.

At the same time try not to beat yourself up for not being the first poet on the block to read everything. Goodness knows there is enough shame in the world without you adding to it. No one reads everything. I like what you do when you discover someone you’ve not read before: celebrate. That’s the point of all this, remember, celebrate, as Michael used to tell you. There are quite a lot of missing poets still out there, and it is your job to go and find them! You are expert at following your nose, not the crowd, so trust in this. Those prizewinning volumes you still ‘haven’t got round to yet’, well, they can wait. (There is always the library.) What can’t wait is that critical study of Jaan Kaplinski you have just discovered, or that Balkan poet you’ve been hunting down. They are the ones, that’s where your energy is, so follow it.

I need to talk to you about some personal stuff as well. You’ve been thinking a lot about cancer recently, and I don’t blame you. After all, today is the day it all got going, back in -can you believe it?- 2006. Some things about this that you might want to remember. First, history has no memory. That 10 is a nice round number and has special significance for cancer patients makes you no more or less likely to relapse this year than any other. By all means continue to talk about it, but you might want to consider a more global angle, rather than a personal one, the language/war metaphor thing for example. Or even the funding/politics angle. Obviously you’d need to research it a little, but you shouldn’t let that put you off.

Second, don’t be afraid to look back. By this I do not mean that you should seek to dwell in the past, but do use your experience of the past to remind yourself that you, and those whom you love, are now completely different people from those who experienced your cancer. Forgive me if this is too obvious to mention, but I thought you might find it helpful. Though it hurts I would respectfully suggest that you call to mind the friends whom you have lost since you got better. Not to be morbid, but just to reflect that there isn’t one among them who does not wish they were still around, even on days like today, with the rain and the wind teeming and the temperature unseasonably mild.

Or you could forgo the cancer thing altogether and take on the other great taboo of our time: mental health. Without going into the details, I know you have some insight on this, and I think the results would be worth reading. As with everything you do, you won’t know until you try it, so why not jump in and watch what happens? Please don’t wait for my permission. Even you know what the Nike adverts say…

One final word about remembering. Ten years ago, one year ago, even yesterday: they are not now. What is now is you, here, Ant, at this desk, watching the rain. The things you felt a year ago, they have gone. The habits of thinking you used: gone. Trust me, there is no time like the present.

Be well, be grateful, and go well, as ever with all my love,