First Blog

Ian McMillan - 14 September 2010

Welcome to this first blog in what will become a collectable series, building over the Autumn into, well, A Collection of Blogs! Think of it as a bit like one of those weekly publications that you used to collect (I did, anyway): Dinosaurs/Butterflies/Rocks/Bonanza. There's an idea: I wonder if anyone has ever written a poem in praise (or otherwise) of those weekly part-publications that form a huge part of a lot of lives? Maybe somebody should, and when you've written it send it to this blog and we'll all have a look at it!

Because this is The Poetry Archive, I want to think a lot about sound in this blog. Sound is of course one of the places where poetry begins: not just the sound of language but the sounds we hear every day, the ones that ebb and flow around us as we make our way through the hours. I was recently lucky enough to record an edition of Desert Island Discs and my eighth record was John Cage's (in)famous 4'33", the silent piece. We didn't play it all, of course! The odd thing was that the disc (yes, there is one!) wasn't silent at all. It was full of ambient noise, as though it had been recorded on location. And of course this is the point of the piece: as you're listening to it you're picking up the sounds around you, making an aural world as you listen.

So this morning has been a morning of sounds that I want to try to shape into a poem. I got up early for my bracing walk but because it was raining I delayed it a little and played with my new iPad, looking at poetry blogs. One of my favourites is the great American poet Ron Silliman's ( and I looked at some fantastic YouTube films he'd posted of the poet Charles Olson reading a couple of poems. Somewhere in the background of Olson's voice, way back, you can hear the people of his native Gloucester Massachusetts, talking on the dock: it's there in that Gloucester 'a' that leans over ever so slightly, like Olson does. You can also hear, I reckon, the sounds of the sea, the crying of seabirds, the wind from the ocean and the creaking of rigging.

The rain stopped and I walked up the hill into the little town of Wombwell. I listened to a man in the supermarket queue: 'I like these little pears tha noz: just enough for one sithee. Custard or nowt, I'm not bothered.' And way back in his voice I could hear mining terms and mouths half closed against the biting South Yorkshire wind. I also heard the sounds: shopping trolleys and mobility scooters, a bag bursting and tins of beans crashing to the floor, buses and cars slowing down and accelerating away, the beeping of the pedestrian crossing.

And somewhere in there, there are poems to be found.

Let's have a go, shall we?


loved the blog...plenty to have a go with. I've never looked at a blog before, is it customary to have one long stream of paragraphs?...I found that a bit offputting...Dee x

Congratulations and thanks for such a lively beginning, Ian (if I may make so bold as to call you Ian when we have met only through the printed page and the Mac screen).
I'll come back to the blog content when I've had absorbtion-time, but let me first agree with Dee Little question: why no paragraphs?
It seems a commonplace ignorance in social networking where punctuation (especially paragraphing) has died like the dinosaurs when punctuation is the handmaid to comprehension.

Great to see some commenting going on so quickly. Just a small note to say that's not Ian's choice of punctuation - it's a web-gzimo I'm working to fix! Orthographic order will soon be restored...

I don't know about a poem, but the fantastic series on Radio 4 "Fags, Mags and Bags" did have an episode about a partwork magazine. I enjoyed your article in the Guardian yesterday & look forward to hearing your Desert Island Discs.

Just a technical point for the webmaster: could you please make this blog available as an RSS/Atom feed?

I hear the sound of the wind through me, rattle the plastic sliding doorways,
the sound of the reflections passing through reflected glass as a dog barks it's knowing. I hear the sound of you and me and what it is you sense.
The sound of knowing,not knowledge.
The sound that life has lent.

This morning I was woken up by the distant sound of a dog barking and Gillian next door walking down her path to put sultanas out for the blackbirds. So a poem is beginning, for me, about some kind of sound partwork that I need to buy a binder for. I'll be back tomorrow with a draft...

Random phrases from the poem that I'm building:
I'm writing them as separate lines but the blog might stick them all together, which would also be interesting. I'll stick slashes between them so we know where the line breaks might come...

early morning rattle of sultanas on stone/Grace Mann's ice cream caravan on the top market/enough for me, tha noz/hiss of the bus doors, the voice of Bing Crossley echoing over the queue/and the rattle of the chains at the butcher's door

already there's more I have to think about: Grace Mann's ice-cream caravan always had flat tyres, and Bing Crossley has featured in my work before, always singing, always raising his voice.

Oh well. More thinking. More remembering. More listening.

odd. I am an editor and took no note whatsoever of the lack of paragraphs. Perhaps it is a prose poem. ;)

Looks fine to me. SOUNDS even better.

This prompted me to think about phone conversations with my son who lives in Brighton. I picture where he is according to the background noise - out walking, in his flat, down the pub or whatever. Thanks, Ian, could be the start of a new poem.


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The pitch and rhythm of words within a poem, or a part of a poem.

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