Poet in residence

This term's poet in residence

Ian McMillan


Well, I began these blogs in Autumn and now it’s almost the last day of November and it feels like Winter here. We had snow overnight, more snow this morning, and now the sky is a bright, bright, blue and the snow isn’t melting yet, just hanging on the trees and fences and covering the garden. I began the blog in the noise of Autumn too, the trip to Wombwell Market, the attempts to capture the talk I heard there, to relate it to the ancient hillforts I visited in Wales. Now I feel that I’m in a silent place. I can’t hear the top road where the cars normally rumble through to Doncaster or Barnsley; Mr Lowe next door has turned his radio off; there are no children playing outside. The phone hasn’t rung all day.

Nature abhors a vacuum, they reckon, and poets abhor silence. Well, this one does. My wife is upstairs in the loft that used to be my son Andrew’s bedroom; now he’s got his own flat (sorry, apartment) in Barnsley she’s clearing out the last of his stuff. There’s an unspoken suggestion hanging in the air like a single snowflake that I might use the loft as a study; after all, that’s why we originally had it before the kids came along and I remember the day I first climbed the rickety stairs, clutching my notebook. ‘Daddy’s off to work’ I announced in a sonorous poetic voice. I sat in the chilly silence. I opened the window and I could hear the cars on the top road and Mr. Lowe (years younger, of course, with a different cap) cutting his grass, but it wasn’t the same as being downstairs. I felt at one remove. I felt like I was behind glass in an executive box at the football match when I’d rather be in my usual seat in the East Stand Lower Tier, or looking out of a plane window at a seething city below. I wanted to be downstairs where the noise was, where real life was. I lasted two hours the first day, half an hour the second when I celebrated coming down the rickety stairs by leaping from the last rung of the ladder with a crashing noise that brought my wife and kids running. They were all a bit cross when I told them I was celebrating sound. As I’m writing this the snow is melting a little; I can hear it dripping onto the conservatory roof; I’m writing and listening to some beautiful piano jazz by an American player called Dan Tepfer and of course the dripping and jazz combine. So, let’s all celebrate sound and noise and dripping and cars passing and radios next door in our work. Don’t forget to listen to listen to my Radio 3 show The Verb every Friday night at 9.15 for some of the best linguistic sounds around. Happy listening, happy writing, happy reading. And now I’m going to scrape the path, and what a gorgeous sound that scraping will make!

1 Comment at the moment

Lois Hunter at 4 Dec 2010 - 04:33 AM

Thank you Ian. I have enjoyed your continued theme of 'sound' and have found that I have since consciously incorporated sound and/or the lack of it in my own writing. I wonder how you will go with persevering in writing upstairs? I found I could write upstairs in a building but not in my home. Best wishes for the Christmas seasons ahead.

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