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Ian McMillan

© Adrian Mealing



the poet

Presenter of BBC Radio 3's The Verb, compère of the annual T S Eliot Prize Readings, writer, broadcaster and recent recipient of The Freedom of Barnsley, Ian McMillan is a renowned British poet who's been everywhere and done more. He's already written a verse autobiography (Talking Myself Home: My Life in Verses), and now a memoir of childhood and the sea – My Sand Life, My Pebble Life. Ian’s been a castaway on Desert Island Discs, resident poet for English National Opera, and a contestant on BBC 1's Pointless Celebrities. His most recent collection is To Fold The Evening Star: New and Selected Poems.

the poems

Half a Minute Before
the Start of the World

00:00 / 01:00

                        There was an idea. Well, more of the ghost

                        Of an idea. And the idea/ghost idea was

                        The idea of a tree. Somewhere (remember,

                        There was no somewhere yet)

                        The ghost of an idea of a tree waited

                        To become an idea of a tree and then

                        A tree. On the day before your first day

                        At school you are full of possibilities

                        In your little socks. Maybe you hold

                        A crayon close to a blank sheet

                        That almost collapses under metaphor’s

                        Incalculable weight. It is, look, look,

                        Half a minute before the start of the world

                        And that (insert blankness here) of a tree

                        Has no idea what the world has in store for it

                        But it dreams its leaves are burning.

Try Knocking on Your Own
Door and Opening it

00:00 / 00:40

                                    Your shadow

                                    Either side.

                                    Lit by possibility.

                                    This is like

                                    Walking and sitting down

                                    At the same time.

                                    This is like 

                                    Being the past and the future

                                    At the same time.

                                    Knock now. Knock.

                                    Both sides of the door at once.

                                    Hearing the knock

                                    And being the one who knocks.

                                    Gaze through

                                    The letterbox 

                                    At yourself,

                                    Knocking and listening.

                                    Listen. This is like

                                    Writing and reading

                                    At the same time.

The Last Speaker
of the Language

00:00 / 00:59

                        The last speaker of the language said this:

                        ‘My words fall unnoticed; snow in a wood.

                        No one to talk to’s like no one to kiss.’

                        Nobody answered. No one understood.

                        The last speaker of the language lay down

                        On the grass only he had the words for

                        And felt his dry mind beginning to drown

                        In the sound of old sounds closed like a door.

                        The last speaker of the language looked up

                        At what he called something I call the sun

                        I passed him a drink. I call it a cup:

                        His word for that thing is over and done.

                        The untitled moon set fire to the night.

                        When languages die, who says the last rites?

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb


S h a r e

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