When Riddance came out in 2012 people said some very nice and kind things about it. But that is not what I remember.
The thing I remember is this. A very lovely man who has, for want of a better phrase, ‘followed my career’ (not that I believe poets have them), including seeing me read in the early days when I did not know what I was doing (do I now?) and being the one of the few people who is not a member of my family to actually buy my first book, emailed me.
It contained everything you would want from an email in that nervy-excited phase of just-having-published when even leaving the house feels like an act of extreme self-exposure. It was generous. It showed empathy about the experience of cancer the book describes. It said how much he liked the book and how he was sure it would be helpful to others.
And then he said: ‘But the Whacky Races? I’ve not seen that before. It’s Wacky. Wacky Races. No ‘h’’. And that is what I remember about What People Said About Riddance. Not the kind words, not the empathy, not the juicy quotes. I remember that I spelled Wacky Races wrong. (The poem is a good one. I should read it more often.)
Similarly, all I remember about my first book is that I misspelled ‘Buddha’. A former teacher wrote in to tell me. 4/10, Wilson. See me. It never goes away.
So that is why, as I send out the very last final final final versions of my proofs, I am extra-nervous. That somewhere there lurks an un-googled spelling mistake or misplaced capital or letter ‘h’, and, worse, that someone will find it, and tell me. It won’t be for lack of trying, or concentration. Nevertheless, the fear will not go away. When people ask me what is it like being a writer, I tell them: this.