Anthony Wilson’s Riddance


© Image by Chris Parker

© Image by Chris Parker

Anthony Wilson is a poet and writing tutor, and a lecturer at the Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter. He has held writing residencies at The Times Educational Supplement, The Poetry Trust, Tate Britain and The Poetry Society. He is co-editor of The Poetry Book for Primary Schools (Poetry Society, 1998) and editor of Creativity in Primary Education (Learning Matters, 2005). Worple Press has published two previous collections: Nowhere Better Than This and Full Stretch: Poems 1996–2006. Always approachable, his work inhabits the borderline territory between laughter and grief, the public and the private, memory and forgetting.

© Cover image by Lucy Mason

© Cover image by Lucy Mason

“On Valentine’s Day, 2006, Anthony Wilson was formally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. ‘Beginning with what happened’, the poems in Riddance (Worple Press, 2012) chart the progress of his treatment for this disease, from initial diagnosis to the uncertain territory of remission. Even more essentially, the poems in Riddance recover and celebrate all that is most fundamental and affirming about the act of living.”

“Anthony Wilson is devastatingly direct and unsentimental about illness and death. At the same time – miraculously – he is exuberant, irrepressible in his celebration of life, complete with all its complexities and compromises. These are courageous, beautiful and fiercely intelligent poems.”

– Jean Sprackland
“This is a remarkable book – modest but ambitious, unguarded but clear-eyed and crafted, it doesn’t present a life under pressure so much as an embodiment of life in poem after generous-minded poem.”

– Peter Sansom
You gave me time to notice –
apple blossom, hand movements,
the light taking leave of rooms.
I would like to claim
new attention to my children
but the truth is they grew up
whether I watched them or not.
Mostly I slept.
You began in midsummer.
It took till February to find you.
By then all I knew were symptoms:
insomnia, night sweats, a cough
I could not shake off.
Because of you I revisited old LPs –
I did not want to die
not having fried onions to Grover,
made bubbles to This Mortal Coil.
The script writers of Frasier
helped me recover from you,
plus condensed milk and broccoli –
though not at the same time.
Eventually I drank coffee again.
You reacquainted me with my guilt –
the way I glared at S
after she’d poured out her heart
in the autumn of endless nights
with nothing but the wind for company.
I chose songs, having you,
and invented ceremonies by rivers.
(But I found no poetry in you.)

You saved me from talking about house prices.
You obliterated my craving for alcohol.
I would say I am grateful
but am not ready for that, just yet.
How to Pray for the Dying
Do not say: ‘Lord, this is not of you,’
rebuking our tumours
as though we were not in the room with them.

Say instead ‘We are afraid,’
and ‘We do not understand.’

Think of it as a window
misted with sighs,
not an arm wrestle with God
who sees your thoughts from afar.

Pray in tongues by all means,
but also remember our kids.
Pray that we sleep.

Pray for the obvious.
Pray we live to see Christmas.

Don’t you dare
say ‘It’s not fair.’
Spare me your weeping.
Try saying ‘Shit happens.’
What Not to Say
Enough of your lovely shaped head,
your meaning to ring.

Tell me as it is:
I look like a waxwork.

Spare me your positive mindset,
your fight it, you know you’re a fighter.

I couldn’t care which website you visited
explaining it really clearly.

And you could try not calling me brave.
Invite me to dinner.
                                   Offer me water.
For Afterwards
I want it kept simple,
I want to leave one part
of the congregation
thinking they witnessed
a jazz improvisation,

another they attended
a poetry reading
and another that a sermon
wasn’t preached at all—
the kind I long to hear still,

including a story
about a boy and a boat,
a mention of the Prodigal Son,
and a metaphor
concerning train drivers.

I’ll have no wisdom
from the other side.
I direct you instead
to the cracker-jokes
buried in my best suit,

the postcard I keep
for emergencies, blank
but for the words:
‘That green notebook
was a good time of life.’
On Re-reading ‘The Man With Night Sweats’
Today is Valentine’s.
Later they will tell me
what I know in my bones.
It will not be pretty.

Shivering and soaked through
I’m put in mind of you

pacing the floor at dawn,
listening for avalanche
in sinew and in skin
which do not seem to change;

and yet you know full well
how skin feels when it melts,

the sabotage of cells
destroying their good host
while dining out in hell.
Our plagues are cousins, ghost:

the curse within our blood
can never be proved good.

Your rhymes dare me to dream –
not of eternal life,
that things aren’t what they seem –
of living in the light

long enough to be brave.
May it never arrive.
from Riddance (Worple Press, 2012).

Order Riddance.

Visit Anthony’s website.

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