Thursday, 14 January 2010

Review: Andrew McMillan, Poetry on The Cadaverine

For various reasons, I was a while back introduced to Andrew McMillan. He's a young gay poet from the north of England, and has been published in The Cadaverine. So we have lots in common. With this in mind, I've read a selection of his poetry over at The Cadaverine and I'm offering my thoughts here.

'train' reminds me of my own poem, 'Waiting Between Trains at Leeds Station'. I point this out for no particular reason, as Andrew probably hasn't read this poem yet. But I think train stations are important borderlands, or rather, they patrol and permit migration between borders. Thus they're a favourite location for writers. In Andrew's iteration of this classic space, he imagines he sees a glimpse 'just for a moment' of a loved one. The language is economical and straightforward, lacking pretention but remaining poignant.

Just as casually as the loved one appears, Andrew writes 'and then it’s Bolton and you’ve gone'. This tone perhaps reminds us of the casualness of modern relationships. People pass in and out of our lives rather too easily at times, and the ease of migration provided by places like train stations hardly helps. It's simple to ride off into a sunset and never return.

Whilst the sentiment of

the mass of men;
their ties of quiet desperation
their suits of settling down
and Sundays spent

may be a familiar one, it's not obtrusive enough to consider it cliche. Maybe, too, the image of 'clocks unfurl[ing] their minutes' is a common handwave to denote the passage of time, 'unfurl' works here to spice up the syntax, at least, and Andrew redeems himself by the interesting liking of stacked papers 'on shelves like an accent'. It's this solid ear for the poetic despite using everyday words that makes his poems real. Finally, the ending

(somewhere you
are sighing and it’s not
because of me)

is open and inert at the same time. It gestures to a specific reality that is entirely Andrew's, but suggests kinship with our own experiences. It intimates so much more than it reveals. Is the sighing to do with regret? Weariness? Sex?

Following this, 'please' is a short plea to a lover that at first seems serious, perhaps to the point of being melodramatic, by drawing parallels with the Titanic (and thus Cameron's slushy epic of the same name). But Andrew confounds this expectation neatly, adding a sudden turn of humour, as he ends

like I like to think
they must have danced
[ . . . ]
before the iceberg,
and the drowning,
and the films.

He is every bit as aware of the Hollywood romanticism of the Titanic as we are, and he puts it to good use in piercing the illusions we labour under when in love.

Lastly, in 'cell 15', he describes the keys of a locked door jangling like a festive gift ('Keys jangle down corridors/like the ends of Christmas/ballads') that imparts the hearer with childish optimism. In recognition of this, he continues to pine for the frivolous ('this room needs tinsel'), but grounds us with very real needs that are not met either ('and toilet paper'). Thus the truth of the narrator's needs is at last revealed: they are neither decorative (like Christmas tinsel) or functional (like toilet roll). They are emotional ('this room needs . . . someone singing/Eva Cassidy, softly,/as if through a/blanket'). They are perhaps also artistic--a need for the world to be more than a cold cell; more than the outward reality. And it is this playfulness, this propensity for gesturing towards the emotive and the lived without declaring its presence, that truly makes Andrew a poet. To riff off an old saying, the poetry is in the details.

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