Love for Now
Impress Books £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30 (Use code
Worple Press £10
POETRY complements prose in these two memoirs of being a cancer
patient, by the writer and academic Anthony Wilson (Features, 14 September
2012). Frank and humane, mingling telling reportage with
unflinching emotional scrutiny, the books nevertheless tantalise
with two significant underrepresentations at the heart of Wilson's
creative being. One is his poetry, and the other is God.
The poetry, we read in Love for Now, gradually
returned, and Riddance - Wilson's third collection -
formed part of his healing. God, as encountered through allusions
rather than exploration, remains an indeterminate presence. There
are references to prayer, and faith is listed among the losses in
his taut poem "Lost"; but these are side glances compared with
considerable detail devoted to diet or music. The hook is baited,
but the line is never fully played.
Christians must share the blame. Reactions to Wilson's
diagnosis, at 42, on St Valentine's Day, 2006, ranged from the
spiritually supportive to damaging insensitivity. A week after his
diagnosis, Wilson and his family are prayed for in church. "They
couldn't even be bothered to use our real names," his daughter
In contrast, when a friend asks the church to pray, she suggests
some realistic themes, and urges that community not to pressure the
family "to say how much it is or isn't working". This, rather than
a lurid leaflet - "Sickness, disease, pain, I resist you in the
name of Jesus" - brought to Wilson and his family the gratitude of
Much of the value of Love for Now lies in its inherent
plea for sensitivity towards cancer patients. Wilson writes that he
hopes that the book will challenge the military language to which
those "battling cancer" are frequently subjected. He prefers a more
humane approach, illustrated through the kindness of medical
experts, friends, and colleagues which he experienced. He seeks to
He writes, in diary form, both to describe and analyse,
recording events, conversations, his physical and emotional
reactions, and the weather. With him, we learn to share the value
of everyday encounters: an album track; people calling; creative
cookery. We also share his relief when he resumes writing poetry,
seven months after his diagnosis.
Some poems were written swiftly, in the month before his
remission was confirmed. A long sequence honours the textile
designer, Lucy Mason, a friend who was dying of cancer at that
time. A third sequence celebrates "borderlands between different
landscapes", physical and emotional; others "explore the liminal
terrain between waking and dreaming, work and family, light and
Together, these books offer wise companionship to those
encountering cancers. Their realism emerges in many passages of
prose and poetry, as in "How to Pray for the Dying", which
Do not say: "Lord, this is not of
rebuking our tumours
as though we were not in the room with them.
Say instead: "We are afraid,"
and "We do not understand."
"Don't you dare
say: "It's not fair."
Spare me your weeping.
Try saying: "Shit happens."
In such moments, the missing links in Wilson's books
Dr Martyn Halsall is Poet in Residence at Carlisle Cathedral
and poetry editor of Third Way.