Ian McMillan is one of the UK’s best known contemporary poets. Aside from many books (for adults and children), sometimes including prose and plays, he has also made appearances on television, on all the national BBC radio channels (through which he was recently listed as the 22nd most powerful person in radio), in diverse newspapers and magazines, and as a poet in residence in a wide range of places including Barnsley FC and the Humberside Police. He also maintains a breathtaking schedule of appearances in schools, prisons and arts festivals.
As seasoned a performer as this implies, McMillan fills this reading with warmth and charm, and knows exactly how much information to give in his introductions so the poems are illuminated and not washed out. His public appearances are also used as material for some of the poems here, whether it’s the amused biographical note of ‘The Soft White Pillowcase Boys’ or the reductio ad absurdum of poetic prejudice in ‘For Me’.
Still resident in South Yorkshire, McMillan is also proud of his northern heritage, as well as refusing to let go of what the Radio Times called his “fruity Barnsley accent”. He cites a “great line of Ted Hughes’s where he says ‘Calderdale’s my tuning fork’; well, Darfield’s my tuning fork.” Poems such as ‘The Meaning of Life’ – subtitled “A Yorkshire Dialect Rhapsody” – show his ear for the natural patterns of northern speech and, at the same time, a refusal to be precious about it. He also gives witness to the decline of the mining industry in this area, avoiding the pitfalls of artless diatribe and appropriation of pain.