Liverpool's centre for the contemporary arts

Donate now

Who's blogging?

Latest post

Weekly Blog 15: Artists and the Bluecoat Building

published by The Bluecoat

This week's blog will be the last in our series dedicated to My Bluecoat, as we look ahead to the ...


Book Tickets

Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 |

Stay up to date

Interview with Andrew McMillan

Here is our Q & A with Andrew McMillan ahead of his performance at Bluecoat tonight.

Andrew was the first poet to win the Guardian first book award with his intimate collection of poems Physical. 

Your collection assesses the state of modern masculinity: “The men are weeping in the gym / using the hand dryer to cover their sobs.” Do you think masculinity is in crisis?

Whilst men still occupy a position of immense privilege in society, so outwardly masculinity is still intact, within the male community there is a huge crisis of masculinity- the gym is perhaps an epicentre of that, men getting bigger and bigger, wanting the appreciation of other men, because they can't demonstrate their masculinity in the traditional socio-economic ways. Particularly amongst a generation of young men; we often get told about the male gaze on women, I wanted to turn the male gaze on other men, and it turns out they're incredibly fragile, and vulnerable, and scared.

Physical is a very personal collection, would you describe it as a Bildungsroman?

It is, I would say, 80-90% based on fact; I think particularly the long poem in the middle of the collection is charting a movement, though I think that poem fails in its quest , or in its journey, which was deliberate- it’s a quest to understand or come to terms with loss, and it ends "I could have/I should have tried harder"- it ends pathetically because poetry, and most attempts at human connection, always fail in some respect. There's not the arc or the sense of narrative journey a Bildungsroman might require in the book as a whole, each individual poem is an attempt to redeem and make useful some small part of something that happened to me along the way.

What were your aims for the collection?

To be honest, to not look away, to move people, to make something, as Sharon Olds said of Stag's Leap, that might be 'useful' to a reader- to tell the truth; truth, which is as Rita Ann-Higgins said, not always the what actually truth, but the poetic truth.

What writers or artists inspire you? Which new writers do you enjoy?

Thom Gunn was the poet I first fell in love with, but aside from him, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Geoff Hattersley- the list could be endless. Robin Robertson was a phenomenal editor for the book and he made my flabby, rambling manuscript much tighter and more direct, and much much better. New poets, get ready for when Seàn Hewitt and Mark Pajak have their first collections (Mark has a pamphlet coming out later this year I think), they seem to me to be two very exciting poets. I just finished reading a new collection of short stories by Danielle McLaughlin, 'Dinosaurs on Other Planets' which I thought was stunning

What is your creative process? Do you write spontaneously? Or do you conceptualise an idea or theme, then later convert it into poetry?

I think writing from an idea, rather than an impetus, can be a really dangerous thing, for me anyway, everyone has their own process. I will just get a line in my head, and write that down, and then maybe turn it over in my head for a few days, and if I remember it, if I can turn a couple of lines over in my head for a few days, then I really maybe it’s worth keeping, and I go on from there- seeing the shape, the rhythm, the syllables in that first line, and seeing if I can carry it on.  You can't force it, you just have to put yourself out into the world and hope it comes to you, and a lot of the time it doesn't, but very occasionally it does. In the same way a dancer might see a bar brawl as the potential shapes of a new piece of choreography, the poet has to look at the world and see it in lines, in stanzas, in moments of clarity

Do you enjoy beat poetry?

Allen Ginsberg was one of the first poets I read and HOWL in particular had a huge effect on me, which I think it can do when you read it at a certain age, when you're a young man. I like Ginsberg's quieter stuff too, that gorgeous short poem called 'Message' for example. And Kenneth Patchen too,  who I think is often forgotten or overlooked- he seems to me to be quite beautiful, and his love poems get away with moments of high poetry and language that I didn't think would be possible.

Do you think poetry can be a restrictive format for your ideas? Or do you enjoy the limitations of a typically shorter format to work within?

The restriction of poetry is good I think, it stops indulgence. But there's the other side to it, that the poem always fails, the poem never manages to contain what was in your head or what you saw, so it’s always slightly incomplete - so you have to go back and write another one and then another one- and it shifts over time, what your brain is focussed on, what it can handle. When I was writing Protest of the Physical I wasn't in a particularly happy place in my life, and all I was writing were little three line bursts that amounted to nothing on their own, so I decided I had to stitch them together, to bring them into conversation with each other- I seem, at the minute, to be writing longer pieces, which is a new thing for me as well.

Do you feel modern poetry is relevant and engaging for younger audiences?

I think it’s the antidote to contemporary life. I think everything is fast, and easy, and short, and our attention spans are getting much shorter, and we're scared about the future, and we can't imagine a past. There was a generation in-between the two World Wars who were thought to be 'lost', they couldn't look backwards to the devastation of the 1st world war and they couldn't look forward into the impending doom on the 2nd World War so they were stuck. I think younger people now are perhaps in a similar position, not able to look back to a pre-9/11 time of relative safety, to a pre-financial crash time of unlimited credit and easy mortgages and not able to look forward because, financially, professionally, they can't envisage a future for themselves- so they're stuck in the current time. Maybe poetry offers a way of looking, and it certainly offers a way of slowing, a way of distilling the noise down to something pure.

Book tickets and find out more here


Related posts you may like

There are no related posts.


Be the first to leave a comment below...

Leave a comment

Welcome, Guest. Please or to have your say.

About the Bluecoat

Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the oldest in the UK. Our landmark building, located in the ...

Opening hours

Mon - Sat 9.00am - 6.00pm
Sun 11.00am - 6.00pm

Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 |

Tweets from @theBluecoat


Please use this form to tell us about your experience of our website.

There was an error with your details, please try entering them again.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to the Bluecoat free mailing list and we'll send you all the details of our new events

Log In

There was an error with your details, please try entering them again.