‘You don’t sound very ambitious,’ the book says.

‘And good morning to you, too!’ I say.

‘I mean,’ the book takes an enormous bite of toast, ‘it sounds to me like you’ve completely given up.’

‘You could not be further from the truth.’

‘Could have fooled me.’

‘Wasn’t that difficult,’ I say. ‘Look. We are thinking and speaking about completely different things. When you speak about ‘ambition’ and ‘prizes’ and the careerist language of ‘success’ I genuinely do not want to engage with the ideas that those things are premised on. For example, always being visible. Or having something to say. Or even hanging out with the right people. Those things were once very dear to me. And then one day I woke up and saw them for what they are. A mirage built on an illusion built on a fantasy. Am I ambitious? Of course I am. But for poems. For poems, as the poet says, that go right in under the fingernails and do not remain satisfied with merely paring the surface. Poems that do to me what The Drugs Don’t Work does to me in the silent kitchen when everyone is out. Or Lose Yourself, ditto turned up loud to annoy the neighbours. Or the bit at the end of Truly, Madly, Deeply when Juliet and Alan finally get round to really talking on the rolled up mildewy rugs in her flat. Or the bit in Nostalghia when the flame keeps going out but he keeps going back to relight it each time. That’s what I want. Intimacy. Surprise. A life, as Nina puts it. So, yes, I am ambitious, very ambitious, actually. For that. On my own terms. Which apparently are not yours.’

‘Do you want some more toast?’ the book says. ‘This bread is ace. Where d’you get it?’

‘You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said, have you?’

”Fraid you lost me at success,’ the book says.


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