On a very balmy evening at the end of May – yes, balmy, there was actually sunshine – I went to Leicester’s central library to see and hear Ian McMillan. Ian is one of those rare poets in my book, one of the few that I grew up with because occasionally you saw them on the television and they were often on the radio. The whole show was energetic, funny and charged with a poetic eccentricity that made for an engaging evening. Ian begun by talking about the odd things picked up in conversation or strange notices he’d taken off walls because there was something that little bit queer about them. For example, an A4 notice on a library desk somewhere with the words, ‘we do not supply squeezy bottles of washing-up liquid here.’ There’s a poet-as-magpie approach to language, ‘you couldn’t make this up’ was a phrase Ian used a lot that evening, which is true, but maybe it’s more about how poets use this information – the art of random. Poets are always being random I think, even when they don’t intend to be funny, and eventually you create a fresh meaning from ‘the drunkenness of things being various’ as Louis Macneice once said in a poem called ‘Snow.’ This in itself is a random thought.
Ian talked about his family and spent quite a while on recollections of his old, English teacher - debonair and corduroyed – who would later become some sort of media success story due to a surprise career doing voice overs on TV adverts. The reason why this particular teacher was so influential was simply because he asked the class to write poems as opposed to killing them with over analysis. He also talked about some of the things he’s done in his poetic career – yes I’ve just put the words ‘poetic’ and ‘career’ next to each other, astounding. Anyone with half a brain knows that humour isn’t just an indulgence, it comes from a serious and interesting place. Humour can be subversive, surprising and perhaps even more dangerous than outright protest. Funnily enough that documentary recently on John Cooper Clarke supported this thought and he’s another poet I grew up with. To finish, Ian read from his recent Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, This Lake Used to be Frozen: Lamps, which features poems with titles like ‘A Walk Where Almost Nothing Happens’ and ‘Did You Ask for a Decaff off that Other Lady?’. They are funny and serious, (read ‘A Series of Novels). Here’s a quotation from ‘As an Old Man Ian Remembers his Walks’:
‘I remember remembering, and the remembering’