Image by Mick Mitchell

Ian McMillan

b. 1956

In his range, prodigious northern myth-making, indefatigable good humour, and real status as a community poet, he is unique. - Peter Forbes

Tempest Avenue

Ian McMillan

The Texas Swing Boys' Dadaist Manifesto

Ian McMillan

Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

Ian McMillan

The Meaning of Life

Ian McMillan

Previous Next

About Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan (b. 1956) is one of the UK's best known contemporary poets. Aside from many books (for adults and children), sometimes including prose and plays, he has also made appearances on television, on all the national BBC radio channels (through which he was recently listed as the 22nd most powerful person in radio), in diverse newspapers and magazines, and as a poet in residence in a wide range of places including Barnsley FC and the Humberside Police. He also maintains a breathtaking schedule of appearances in schools, prisons and arts festivals.

As seasoned a performer as this implies, McMillan fills this reading with warmth and charm, and knows exactly how much information to give in his introductions so the poems are illuminated and not washed out. His public appearances are also used as material for some of the poems here, whether it's the amused biographical note of 'The Soft White Pillowcase Boys' or the reductio ad absurdum of poetic prejudice in 'For Me'.

Still resident in South Yorkshire, McMillan is also proud of his northern heritage, as well as refusing to let go of what the Radio Times called his "fruity Barnsley accent". He cites a "great line of Ted Hughes's where he says 'Calderdale's my tuning fork'; well, Darfield's my tuning fork." Poems such as 'The Meaning of Life' - subtitled "A Yorkshire Dialect Rhapsody" - show his ear for the natural patterns of northern speech and, at the same time, a refusal to be precious about it. He also gives witness to the decline of the mining industry in this area, avoiding the pitfalls of artless diatribe and appropriation of pain.

He is one of the few poets able to remain completely accessible while exploring techniques such as surrealism and postmodernism: the latter can be seen in the collision of genres and irreverent allusions in 'Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley', and the former in the non-sequiturs of 'The Meaning of Life' and the cutup practice of 'The Texas Swing Boys' Dadaist Manifesto'. This same ability to embrace his audience and literature is to be found in McMillan's devotion of his Radio 3 show, The Verb, to "the magic of discovery, the excitement of living language, stories, songs, the continuum of audience and writer and reader."

His recording was made on 12 January 2005 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links


Visit Simon Armitage's page on the BBC site.


Selected bibliography

Six, Rivelin Grapheme 1985


Talking Myself Home (Audiobook), Hachette Audio 2008

Talking Myself Home, John Murray 2008


It's Just Like Watching Brazil: A Premiership Season in...


Ian McMillan Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive...

Selected Poems, Carcanet 1987


Dad, the Donkey's on Fire, Carcanet 1994


I Found This Shirt, Carcanet 1998


The Very Best of Ian McMillan, Macmillan Children's...


The Invisible Villain, Macmillan Children's Books 2002


Perfect Catch: Poems, Collaborations and Scripts,...



Ian McMillan Reading from his Poems

Tall in the Saddle

1The Soft White Pillowcase Boys

2Pushed Home when the Clouds were still Raw

3From the Section Dealing with the Loss of Grace

4The Tennis Ball Factory Poems

5The Meaning of Life

6SF Novel

7What Really Happened To The Buffalo

8For Me

9Why Are You Ringing

10Two Miners Pass in Opposite Directions at Daybreak

11The Texas Swing Boys' Dadaist Manifesto



14Pushing, May 1984

15Coalpicking, Broomhill

16Visitors, Armthorpe August 1984

17Propp's Last Case


19From an Evening with the Model of "The Venus and the Shaving Brushes"


21The Photographer's Subject

22Just the Facts, Just the

23Simple Story

24Man in Hotel Room with Stolen Fork

25Against Realism

26Some Poetry Presses I Will Certainly Set Up In The Next Three Weeks

27Landing Practice

28The Prince of Wales visits Alnwick

29Cracking Icicles in Totley Tunnel

31Kake Yourself Comfortable 32Why We Need Libraries 33Pit Closure as Art 34Lilian's Poem 35Husband and Wife

36Tempest Avenue

37Deaths from Ice-Cream

38Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

39Visit 40Poem Occasioned by the High Incidence of Suicide amongst the Unemployed 41Song for Roof Building (Collected in South Yorkshire Light Industry Park, Barnsley) 42Moon River: Lives of the Great Comedians 43Henry's Skeleton, George's Leg 44Jesus Died from Eating Curtains 45Stone, I Presume 46Still Life Life 47Realism (Nothing Is Ever Finished) 48Dad, the Donkey's On Fire

Take a tour

Jean Sprackland's tour

There are so many good poems in the Children's Archive, it's hard to know where to start! I'd like to share with you...

Take Jean Sprackland's tour >