Every Salt Advance
is a delicate book. The vulnerable image on the cover sets you up well for what you are about to encounter. Perhaps it's an odd thing to observe, but when I opened the book I was struck by the small typeface and by the sheer amount of white space I was faced with. Having read the poems many times now, I can say that this seems somehow to suit.
McMillan's poems are small, light creatures. They have great clarity, yet are full of depth for the reader to explore. Most are finely balanced, though at times I felt that there was too much emphasis given to a line or phrase, for example the endings of the poems 'love' and 'thirst' respectively: "of Aphrodite / or Nagasaki // or love"; "love; there are a hundred different ways // of being left". I'd like to have seen McMillan trust that what he was saying was strong enough not to need to be physically set apart.
Elsewhere I enjoyed McMillan's relaxed turn of phrase and neat line breaks ('genealogy'):
amazed by apple trees growing
on the corner of the ring road, amazed by beauty
in an ugly place...
It is often the case, as above, that the words McMillan presents us with are clear and straightforward, but we leave the poem with complex, sometimes difficult, ideas to engage with. A good example and a highlight of the pamphlet for me is 'subsidence'.
I was left with a strong sense of what is important to the poet: his personal and cultural influences, relationships, parting and being apart. He shares these with us sometimes through the neatness of his observations, which bring us right into a personal scene, as with the lip-print on a glass in 'thirst', and sometimes through a conscious opening out of an idea to share a universal concern, as in 'lunar', which implores us to 'touch the things our orbits/cannot hold, while there's time':
they say we're losing centimetres
every year; as if we were
a beach that's losing
ground with every salt advance
I want to say that McMillan has a confident voice, but confidence perhaps implies too much knowingness. His voice is convincing, honest and consistent. The poems are pervaded by a melancholy humour which charmed me and I'll be really interested to see what he does next.Angela Cleland
is originally from Dingwall in the Highlands of Scotland. She moved to London in 2002 and now lives in Surrey. She has published a pamphlet, Waiting to Burn
, and a collection, And in Here, the Menagerie
, both with Templar Poetry
. She is currently working on her second collection.