Elliptical Movements – Billy Mills review of Scarecrow

I’ve been rewarded this year by being introduced to the poetry of Billy Mills, whose recent The City Itself is one of those occasional collections that can make you question why you write the way you write. It simplifies the complex, and finds huge space for exploration in what is seemingly simple. It’s about place, and about the elemental and the supposedly insignificant, the particular and the universal, and the relations between them. It’s words, but it creates a soundscape – a rising and falling of the whispering air around us. It’s great, basically, and is part of a continuity of work Mills has been working on since the late 70s – a series of books that form one long book, or one long conversation/interrogation, at least.

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Poet Michael Begnal notes here of The City Itself, its “compact and intricate soundplay, occasional lyric flashes, documentary historical material, and even personal narrative in order to make an argument about the interplay between urban and natural spaces and human beings’ place in the network of things.”

Nicely put, and one of the reasons why I’m delighted that Mills has reviewed my recent debut collection of poems, Scarecrow, on his Elliptical Movements blog, alongside work from Peter Philpott, Sonja Benskin Mesher, John Phillips, Daragh Breen, and Anna Cathenka.

You can read the reviews here. It’s a blog worth subscribing to.

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Preview: Scarecrow is coming

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I love a proper big art project – one that starts as isolated moments and then starts to coalesce, condense into some serious thinking, serious time and serious work. I’ve just completed one.
 
About four years ago I went to a Poetry Wivenhoe evening and was encouraged to go away and write something, and to read it during the next session. I hadn’t written any poetry since I was a teenager – just features for magazines, songs for bands and drafts of novels. Many people I knew put down poetry as twee or pretentious. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to engage with it again, but somehow I did.
 
Also, much modern poetry has become assimilated into the entertainment industry. Big contracts, tours, performance. Big soundbites, loose rhymes, dull platitudes etc. No ideas. The kind of stuff you hear on Radio 4. The old radical, intellectual and left-wing poets have been interred. Today’s avant-garde hardly gets a glance.
 
I set about writing Scarecrow as I headed to and from the day job of editor/journalist. It’s a mix of poems about London and here, Essex, and up north in Cumbria too (occasionally), and, mostly, about the spaces between them. And about time. Because everything is about time, really – and if it isn’t, it should be.
 
I don’t know if it’s radical, or even if its politics jump from the pages of the collection. I do know that it’s – finally – pretty much the book I wanted it to be: squared by modernity, folky round the edges, surreal in some detail. It tries not to falter. It tries not to disappear.
 
We’re launching (Dunlin Press is launching) Scarecrow at Wivenhoe Bookshop on Friday 17 March. I’ll read some of the poems and we can all have glass of wine – the Bookshop launches are always fun! Come along if you can.
 
But did I find out why I wanted to engage with poetry again? Well, yes.
 
Because sometimes we need more than journalism and internet opinion pieces. And sometimes we need more than the templated and bourgeois narrative structures of many novels. We need language to work harder; thought to work harder.
 
The world around us fractures and we need new ways of explaining it. Poetry can be a good start.