Guest post: ‘On Disappearing’ by Anthony Wilson

This post originally appeared on Anthony’s blog

I wrote recently about poets who disappear from view, specifically Susannah Amoore, from Faber’s Poetry Introduction 6.

My point is far from faceitious: I once disappeared myself.

Readers of this blog will know I woke up on New Year’s Day in 2006 with a strange pain in my right side. Weeks of testing later I was told on Valentine’s Day this was caused by the pressure of a tumour on nerve endings near my kidneys. I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

This was worrying for two reasons. Naturally I wanted to know if I would live or die.

Also, I  had a new book of poems coming out and knew I would be able to do nothing to promote it.

Doing my best to practice what my therapist would later call acceptance, I decided very quickly that maybe, just this once, the book could be left to look after itself while I got on with living and/or dying.

I make it sound easy. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. 

Anthony’s latest collection, Riddance

Whether we are conscious of it or admit to it or not, every writer I know buys into what Anne Lamott calls ‘somebodyism’ at some level. It’s none of our fault. It’s inevitable. It’s in the culture, from the moment we draw breath, this competitive urge to be noticed and accepted and loved for what we do (in this case, write). Having cancer was a great way to discover the essential bullshit of this premise.

Not only would there be no book promotion to look forward to, I also felt poetry itself  had left me. No longer was I able to concentrate on reading the poets I loved, and I certainly had no desire to write any.

I thought: if I die before my book comes out and is then deemed to be rubbish, or worse, ignored, there is nothing I can do. In the event it did come out, I did not die, and it was still ignored. And that is fine. Really. I discovered I was loved for reasons other than my writing, and began to practise acceptance for those people and things, often most close to me, I had previously and perilously come close to ignoring at the expense of ‘work’.

Of course I would rather cancer had not happened to me, but I can say truthfully that the same level of rabid disappointment and jealousy no longer greets both my failures and the successes of my peers . I am pleased to be breathing at all, you see. If that includes a day with a poem, written or read, then the bonus is mine, a delight, pure gravy as Carver would say, pure gravy.