Poem introduction

A few years ago I was writer in residence for a week in Derbyshire, and in order to get the funding to have a writer in residence who would stay for a week Derbyshire County Council had to make sure that some of the events that I did had a sort of socially improving aspect to them. So, they decided to send me into a different deprived youth club every day at four o’clock. Off I went to these youth clubs that were absolutely horrendous, I mean they were dilapidated sheds by the side of the road, full of teenagers who very noticeably did not want a poet to come and talk to them. I was on my way to about the fourth of these occasions and I got a phone call on my mobile to say that it had been cancelled and I was just so delighted. The person who had rung to tell me was also clearly completely thrilled. I thought to myself that this was very strange since we were the people who had arranged this and if even we didn’t want it to happen, what hope is there? I started to think of all the situations in life when something is cancelled and you are pleased – so not just professional things, but social things, friends that you really like are due to come and stay and at the last minute they cancel and you think ‘ace, now I’ve got a free weekend’. I decided to write a poem in praise of cancellation.

The Cancellation

The Cancellation

On the day of the cancellation
The librarian phoned at two.
My reading at Swillingcote Youth Club
Had regrettably fallen through.

The members of Swillingcote Youth Club
Had just done their GCSEs
And demanded a rave, not poems,
Before they began their degrees.

Since this happened at such short notice
They would still have to pay my fee.
I parked in the nearest lay-by
And let out a loud yippee.

The librarian put the phone down
And muttered, ‘Oh, thank the Lord!’
She was fed up of chaperoning
While the touring poet toured.

The girl from the local bookshop
Who’d been told to provide a stall
But who knew that the youth club members
Would buy no books at all

Expressed with a wild gyration
Her joy at a late reprieve,
And Andy, the youth club leader,
And the youth arts worker, Steve,

Both cheered as one does when granted
The gift of eternal life.
Each felt like God’s chosen person
As he skipped back home to his wife.

It occurred to me some time later
That such bliss, such immense content,
Needn’t always be left to fortune,
Could in fact be a planned event.

What ballet or play or reading,
What movie creates a buzz
Or boosts the morale of the nation
As a cancellation does?

No play, is the simple answer.
No film that was ever shown.
I submit that cancellation
Is an art form all of its own.

To give back to a frantic public
Some hours they were sure they’d lose
Might well be my new vocation.
I anticipate great reviews.

From now on, with verve and gusto,
I’ll agree to a month-long tour.
Call now if you’d like to book me
For three hundred pounds or more.

from First of the Last Chances (Carcanet, 2003), © Sophie Hannah 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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1Don't Say I Said

2Rubbish at Adultery

3One Track Mind


5The End of Love


7Skipping Rhyme for Graduates

8An Aerial View

9Lusing Afte Walter Knife

10Hotels Like Houses

11When He's At Home

12The Sight of Mares

13Pink and the Gang

14The Good Loser

15Occupational Hazard

16In Woking on Boxing Day at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill

17If People Disapprove of You...

18Next Door Despised

19The Norbert Dentressangle Van

20Long for this World



23The Cancellation

24Now and Then

25Postcard from a Travel Snob

26Your Dad Did What?


28In the Chill

29Pessimism for Beginners