Sam Willets is an English poet. His first poetry collection, New Light for the Old Dark, was shortlisted for several awards in 2010, including the Forward Prize, the Costa Prize and the TS Eliot Prize. It is full of symbolism and extraordinary references to the spiritual.
He was born in 1962 and grew up in Oxford. He worked as a teacher and journalist, but for several years he was a heroin addict. One could argue that it was the heroin that gave him the spiritual experiences, but I do not think this is the correct way to see Sam’s gift.
Heroin addiction is a most terrible thing to live with, it causes loneliness and isolation and can cause extreme poverty. Sam’s poems were written at a time he was trying to kick the habit and he says:
I went into rehab in December 2006 and it was very cold and dark, I was extremely isolated and miserable and ready to leave at any moment.
As a consequence of his addiction he ended up living in a succession of places, mostly sleeping with friends. In an interview with him in 2011 he said:
there have been upheavals and changes that have meant that I’ve had to move on, and in the course of that I’ve lost a lot of things, but then I always did.
Sam lost both his mother and father, and both his parents meant a great deal to him.
His mother, who was a Polish Jew, came to the UK when she was 14 or 15, speaking no English at all, and within two or three years had gained a place at university to read English. His father got a scholarship to Oxford from his grammar school.
He also ‘lost’ Carol Byrne, who was his partner, girlfriend and lover for 12 years. She entered his poem Anchor Riddle for the Bridport Poetry Prize in 1996, and she paid the entry fee. It won.
His only real companions at the time he was interviewed in 2011 were the 11 or 12 cats that lived where he was staying and one in particular a cat called ‘Nell’.
Some of them bring in pigeons and kill them under my bed, which is horrible. Nell doesn’t. I like her because she’s very stoical, and she’s been through a lot. Nell is 14 and very much her own cat and she’s my confidante and I sing to her. She lies across my feet, a bit like those crusader lions. She’s had a lot of trouble with her teeth. I’ve had tooth trouble too, so we have that in common.
His poetry is stunning.
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