Sunday Poem – Andrew McMillan

Afternoon folks.  This is the first Sunday for a while that I’ve not been writing this at two minutes to midnight!  Today we have gale force winds and awful rain in Barrow though, so I’ve not even bothered to get dressed!  I’ve just been lounging around the house and not really doing very much.  Although, to be fair, I have been on the phone to a friend of mine from music college – I’m writing a poem for her wedding which is happening in a couple of weeks time so I was gathering information for the poem – but that is the most energetic thing I’ve done all day!

Last week was my first week as a three-day-a-week teacher – so I got to Wednesday and then that was me done!  It feels really nice!  I still feel like I’ve been busy because on Thursday I got the train over to Huddersfield to read at the Albert Poets.  I was reading alongside Sarah Corbett, Mike De Placido and Andy Robson.  I was last up and I was starting to get quite nervous as each reader got up because they were all good, and Mike in particular was very funny – so I was starting to think that maybe I should have bagged an earlier spot…

However, it went fine – and I managed to sell ten pamphlets!  I’ve never managed to sell more than ten at one reading – that is my record which I want to break this year – but ten was pretty good – I have to say thank you to lovely poets Peter White and John Foggin who bought second copies to give away to people I think – Peter bought the very first copy of my pamphlet when it first came out so it was nice to see them both there.

I got to feed Carola Luther’s chickens before the reading and stayed in her attic room at the top of the house – it felt like being on a ship and then came back to Barrow on Friday.

Earlier on in the week I went to the Wordsworth Trust to see Rebecca Goss and Deryn Rees-Jones read – it was a really, really good reading, probably one of my favorite of the season actually – and I would recommend both collections – ‘Her Birth’ by Rebecca Goss – I read cover to cover when I got back home – as Rebecca said, the poems are not a barrel of laughs – but then why should poetry be always easy or funny?  The book is about the death of a child – but I think the poems as art transcends the personal – I felt quite choked up when I was reading some of it, and I’ve never had children, so I didn’t think I would necessarily connect with it so much, but it is so beautifully, and honestly written that I did.  And by honestly, I don’t mean the truth of facts, but truth of the human condition, I think.  And Deryn Rees-Jones ‘Burying the Wren’ – this collection has been an interesting one for me – because I’ve gone through a variety of stages with it ranging from ambivalence to admiration – this was the third time I heard her read and I finally felt like I got it this time – these poems are poems to read over and over again, and get something different out of each time.

Other exciting things that happened this week were that I have now got a definite date for my reading over in Ireland! I’ll be reading in Cork at the O’Bheal readings on the 26th May 2014 which I’m really looking forward to.  I’m hoping to organise some more poetry readings or workshops, or both in Ireland the weekend before so if anybody hears of anything or would like to book me to come and read/lead a workshop, please get in touch!

And finally, I got an acceptance from Poetry Review this week!  It is my first submission since Fiona Sampson left as editor so I’m very happy that Maurice Riordan has taken two poems.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Andrew McMillan who is a lovely guy and a great poet – he is disgustingly young and talented.  He was born in South Yorkshire in 1988 and currently lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University.  His poetry is collected in three pamphlets, most recently ‘the moon is a supporting player’ (2011, Red Squirrel Press) and the forthcoming long poem ‘protest of the physical’ (October 2013, Red Squirrel Press). He has held residencies and taught workshops nationwide, and completed numerous commissions, including for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad which saw his work featured on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. He is currently working on a first collection.  You can order his pamphlet from Red Squirrel Press at

I’ve always known of Andrew’s work since I first started writing as a mutual friend of ours, David Tait, introduced me to his excellent pamphlet ‘the moon is a supporting player’.  But I’ve seen a bit more of Andrew recently as we are working on a project with the Wordsworth Trust and met up for the training day at Grasmere and he is one of my new fave poets.  Partly because of his poetry, but also because he is lovely.

Today’s Sunday Poem illustrates one of Andrew’s main concerns which he explores in his poetry – male physicality, which is normally illuminated by references to Biblical stories or Greek mythology.  I enjoyed this poem because I think although it is ostensibly referring to a biblical story, it also feels somehow Greek as well – maybe this is because the poem is so visual and I imagine the scene and Jacob seems as if he would be in profile – and also the description of the physical contact between the two men has unmistakeable sexual overtones, which along with the reference to the stock market at the beginning root it firmly in modern times…quite an achievement to do all that in one poem – but from the other poems Andrew has shown me it seems that he achieves this often.  So yes, another pamphlet I would recommend – and look out for his first collection, because i think it’s going to be amazing.

I should also say that this poem won the Live Canon Poetry Competition 2012 which there is still time to enter here

and it will be appearing in a forthcoming anthology of religious verse by Eyewear

Jacob with the angel – Andrew McMillan
for O.N.

taken literally    it just happens   in the way the weather
or the stock market   happens
tangling in the unpierced flesh of one another
grappling with the shifting question of each other’s bodies
until the morning breaks across them and   still   their strength
no soft parts of stomachs   no inch of them hung loose
like old sacking from the muscle
and burning afterwards      or barely able to walk afterwards
or not giving a name because names would add a history
and the tasting of the flesh and blood of someone is something
out of time

taken allegorically      he is beating on himself
until the point at which the inner river of the word grace
runs passed and everything lays down in calm
and walking back across the stream to his possessions
he feels the bruise that is staining his thigh
and he wonders at the strength of one so smooth
and his wives and womenservants and his sons are sat waiting for the story
but he sleeps without speaking      and on waking isn’t sure if he has dreamt it
but his youngest  notices the thresh marks of wingbeats on his back
and he asks for ink to be brought    he says writing something down
keeps it alive


5 comments on “Sunday Poem – Andrew McMillan

  1. Kim, yours is the second blog I’ve read today that mentions reading “Her Birth” in a single sitting, and its profound effect upon the reader.
    Great that you’re reading at O’Bheal! Paul Casey is a wonderful host. And if you’re staying at Parkview, Finnbar and Marion are equally marvellous 🙂

  2. I didn’t know this poem. Now I know I’ll not forget it. It’s memorable, and disturbing and baffling and sensuous and dramatic and tender and…well, I was always a sucker for a list. I think that on one level it may have been a mistake to wander into Googleworld to explore the source story, which seems to exist at the interface of myth and legend and folk-tale, and therefore attracts the attention of exegetical scholars and nutters of all persuasions. And then there are the portentous and billowing renaissance canvasses, and the Epstein statue which looks like two trolls at the moment they get caught in the rays of the rising sun. It’s a story of such strange resonance that I cannot understand why I didn’t know it or of it. Along with the homoerotic charge it has the kind of barb that you can’t shake out, like that Meatloaf lyric. On a hot summer night, would you give your throat to the wolf with the red roses? Red.Summer. Throat. Wolf. Roses. Of course you attend to it. It means nothing and everything. Which finally brings me back to the poem. What a smart rhetorical move: on the one hand, literally, on the other, allegorically. Except that the literal half is full of charged passion, and dense, rich sexy imagery… no inch of them hung loose like old sacking (that negative is stunning); burning and barely able to walk…..the texture, the cinema of it, is lovely; makes me remember that firelit wrestling scene in Ken Russell’s ‘Women in Love’. But it’s rich with abstraction, too… ‘not giving a name because names would add a history’;’ the inner river of the word grace runs past’…..and this counterpoint of physical and abstract is bookended by such plain clarities: the clever juxtaposition of weather and stockmarket as chancy unpredictabilities; the quiet resolution of ink, of writing it down. This is writing at a level that makes me realise precisely why I want to go on writing….because even even if you may not get there, at least you know where you’re heading, and why.

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