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Saturday, 1 November 2008

Drawbacks of Dialect: Ian McMillan's Talking Myself Home - UK Tour

Broad, bubbly, Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan is currently on a tour around the UK, performing poems live from his new book, 'Talking Myself Home'. I went to see him in Sheffield, a stone's throw from Barnsley so close enough in proximity to attract that all too salient solidarity that emerges when you fill one room with a hundred Northerners.

McMillan's memoirs in poetic form, are detailed and very personal accounts of his life in Barnsley and, more specifically, Darfield. He offers intimate insights into relationships with his teachers, parents, colleagues and friends. As we read we detect a faithfulness to the subtleties of regional dialect, 'An A sez 'Are thy a Gibson?' E sez 'R.' A sez 'Tha looks like thi dad.' He writes of the difficulty of a graduate working on a building site, where he would ritually find his Guardian alight; 'We'll call thi degree cos tha's got a degree'. He takes us to the landscapes of Stanage Edge, to a cloud that looks like his Dad's old hat and he recounts the folk tale of The Owl in the Tower, “A bird of destruction, a ghooast devil fowl...” and he thanks his rhyming Aunt Bella and the Wartime Postal System for instilling in him a love of words.

“We are dwellers, we are namers, we are lovers, we make homes and search for our histories”, so said Seamus Heaney reflecting upon the sense of place that pervades so much of his work. In writing, McMillan himself evokes each of these processes in turn, yet read aloud and these fundamental qualities are sadly lost, jettisoned by the hackneyed discourse of England's great divide.

Despite hilarity between the poems and his charisma as a public speaker, I believe the intimacy, poignancy and nuances of his work are suppressed by the rhetoric of the region of which he writes. I suggest that his writing and his public performances be kept separate by an imaginary line of their own, for his broad baritones undermine McMillan's true identity, not as a Northerner but as a poet with a whole life story to tell.

For more info on his book and tour click here.

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