Seeing as the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize has recently been announced, it seemed fitting to offer you a poem from Derek Walcott, the winner. I went into Waterstones yesterday afternoon in search of a book and they had helpfully made a display of the nominated poets. I made myself comfortable on the carpet and had a good look at the ten books on display. I like Sam Willetts’ work much better than Walcott’s.
Sam Willetts was born in 1962. He spent most of his life in Oxford, but now lives in London. Sadly, he became a heroin addict and battled for a year to receive funding to get into rehab, to change his ”hellish” and ”horrible” life, and came out after eight months’ of successful treatment in 2007 after losing six years of his life to the addiction.
His first collection ‘New Light for the Old Dark’ is a remarkable piece of work. The poems speak of his regret of the years wasted to drug addiction and his ”redemption” through ”detox and rehab, love and writing”. Some of the poems were written before his addiction and reflect happier, more hopeful times. They also tell of his mother’s escape from the Nazis when she was a child, and reflect upon Englishness, secular Jewishness, and Oxfordshire, where Willetts grew up.
Willetts, who says he is still looking for a ”good, sensible career job” so that he can earn money while writing, had a single poem published before his descent into addiction but then ”went off the radar”. He said of being shortlisted: ”It was a complete surprise. I’m delighted. On a sunny day to get up and find a letter and read ‘congratulations’ instead of a bill or something worse is a good surprise.”
His work is beautiful and moving and I urge you to buy his book, ‘New Light for the Old Dark’.
Sawing – by Sam Willetts (1962- )
by its rings: so this was a new shoot
when I was new. Between each arc
of sawdust wind-fringed from the cut
the blade fast-forwards through
a circle-almanac, opening blond summers
and dark thrifts of winter. Memory
blurs in the push-and-pull,
but snags on this –
of menthol smoke, and beside us, belly-up
in our summer chair, out Jack Russell bitch
the one that gave milk
for a blind runt kitten. I cut on
through the years = re-gret / re-gret? Says the saw –
and somewhere in the blade’s return, cut
another day: in the same garden,
with my dad, and burying an old cat
that was once suckled by a dog.