THE GAME: CHRISTMAS DAY, 1914
It is so cold.
The lines of this poem are sinking
Into the unforgiving mud. No clean sheet.
Dawn on a perishing day. The weapons freeze
In the hands of a flat back four.
The moon hangs in the air like a ball
Skied by a shivering keeper.
All these boys want to do today
Is shoot, and defend, and attack.
Light on a half-raised wave. The trench-faces
Lifted till you see their breath.
A ball flies in the air like a moon
Kicked through the morning mist.
All these boys want to have today
Is a generous amount of extra time.
No strict formations here, this morning;
No 4-4-2 or 3-5-1
No rules, really. Just a kickabout
With nothing to be won
Except respect. We all showed pictures,
I learned his baby’s name.
Now clear the lines of this poem
And let’s get on with the game.
No white penalty spot, this morning,
The players are all unknown.
You can see them in the graveyards
In teams of forgotten stone;
The nets are made of tangled wire,
No Man’s Land is the pitch,
A flare floodlights the moments
Between the dugouts and the ditch.
A hundred winters ago sky opened
To the sunshine of the sun
Shining on these teams of players
And the sounds of this innocent game.
All these boys want to hear today
Is the final whistle. Let them walk away.
It has been so cold. The lines
Of these poems will be found, written
In the unforgotten mud like a team sheet.
Remember them. Read them again.
© Ian McMillan for the Premier League and The Poetry Society
AN AMAZING POEM ABOUT SUE TOWNSEND BY ADRIAN MOLE AGED 58
Sue Townsend, you made me.
You built me.
You constructed me.
In some ways you were my mother
Although I had a real mother
Although she couldn’t be my real mother
Because you invented her too.
Sue Townsend, you have left us.
Faded like a Leicester sunset
Just before the darkness.
I never liked being on the shelf in my life
But you have made sure
That I will be on lots of shelves
I like that line about a Leicester sunset
And I know that you would too
Because you liked fine writing.
(c) Ian McMillan
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH POETRY
Every day you need your breakfast
And Every day you need a rhyme
Start the morning with a cuppa
And Every morning’s poem time!
Poetry’s essential, just like porridge:
Poems will make you smile, not curse
So I say start every morning
With a fine Full English Break-verse!
© Ian McMillan, The Chris Evans Breakfast Show
THE TWELVE YORKSHIRE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
On the first day of Yorkshire Christmas my true love gave to me
A tinsel muffler to put round me tree
On the second
2 racing pigeons
3 nippy whippets
4 flat caps
5 Dickie Birds
6 Grandmas grumbling
7 Grandads snoring
8 Banghra Dancers
9 parkin makers
10 Bowls full of Yorkshire pudding batter
11. Football teams struggling in the lower divisions
12 Michael Parkinson Blow Up Dolls
© Ian McMillan
THE BARD OF THE BUTTON TIN
Our house was always full of Burns;
We had his picture on a shortbread tin
That became my mother’s button tin.
It’s strange the way a poet learns:
I asked my dad about the solemn bloke
On the button tin; my dad explained
About the bard, and he explained
How the poet’s words came from the folk
He listened to, their songs, their rhymes,
Their stories in the Ayrshire air;
Dad’s story hung in Yorkshire air
And then, as he did many times
My Dad recited ‘To a mouse....’
In his dancing Scottish voice
And a poet’s long-dead voice
Reverberated round our house
And the stern chap on the button tin
Could not suppress a Bardic grin.
© Ian McMillan 8.1.09 for The Times and
Rabbie's 250th Birthday
Before, when you got mail,
It was a chap in a cap with a sack packed full;
Before, when you researched
You sat and sweated in a library that was just this side of dull;
And when you booked your holidays
You stood there in a queue
Behind a family of five and a pensioner or two
And life seemed so much slower, somehow;
There was acres of last week and just half a glimpse of now;
Today you click
On a mouse
And you can shop till you drop without leaving the house
And now you send
Right across the globe and the photos of your dogs
Can appear on your site in the twinkling of an eye
And in a tick you get a picture back of Grandma saying Hi!
Framed against the backdrop of a California sky…
And it’s been fifteen years from before to this
And now we’re living in a universe of constant cyber bliss!
And like the first fire in the cave
Or the first turning of The Wheel
The internet is changing how we think and speak and feel
And in the next fifteen years the net will turn and twist again
And go down murky sidestreets far beyond this Barnsley brain
And one thing’s certain: the net is here forever,
Constant as taxes, unpredictable as weather…
And before I’m dragged right under in a growing tide of spam
I’ve time for just this one last post: I click therefore I am!
© Ian McMillan, for BBC R4 Today, 7.8.06
Come friendly words and splash on Slough!
Celebrate it, here and now
Describe it with a gasp, a ‘wow!’
Of Sweet Berkshire breath
Slough is open, wide and green
With gorgeous buildings in between;
In the museum can be seen
Slough life, Slough death
Which show the history of a town
That people have tried to put down
By talking of it with a frown
And cruel sneers.
It’s true Slough Town don’t always win
But losing’s shrugged off with a grin;
Slough can take it on the chin
And has, for years.
Some towns are just seen as a joke
Through a fog of prejudicial smoke
Well, let’s shut up these put-down folk:
Their opinions smell!
Ask Slough people if they’re glad
To live in Slough, dismissed as bad:
Mum and dad and girl and lad
Are living well!
In 1196 it was known as Slo
and through the years it’s had to grow:
people came here ‘cos they didn’t want to go
On foot, in coaches, trains and cars
To the factories, houses, shops and bars
They came to play or work for Mars
And stayed, and bred.
It’s people, living lives with care
And breathing in the Berkshire air
That make a town think ‘Yes, I’m there!’
And the sneering fails.
So, Children, Husband, partner, wife
Dismiss the poet’s rhyming knife
Slough’s the place to live your life
So hoist Slough’s sails!
© Ian McMillan, for VOLVIC, 19.4.05
as an antidote to John Betjeman’s take on the town