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Ian McMillan on poetry and the radio | 13-Oct-14

Read Ian McMillan's full blog below:

When I was a young man, first starting to write poems and send them out to magazines with names like Pink Peace, Zagamine, and The Urbane Gorilla, I dreamed of being able to read my poems out on the radio; the intimacy of the mouth and the ear, the whisper in the darkened room, the idea that somehow the poem in the air carried, paradoxically, more weight than the poem on the page.

I used to listen to a programme on Radio 3 called Poetry Now, a kind of magazine of the airwaves, and I marvelled at the range of the poets' voices as they read their work. There were shouters and declaimers, hesitant almost-mumblers and poets who seemed to inhabit the words as they read them: writers like Adrian Henri, Harold Massingham, Jean Earle, and John Ash filled my bedroom with the sweet music of language as my parents watched The Man from UNCLE downstairs.

And I want that intimacy and immediacy for the poets who come on The Verb; I want them to feel that this is an aural space they can inhabit, can make their own. Of course, actors can read poems very well, but to hear the poet read their own work on the radio is the difference between hearing Elvis and hearing an Elvis tribute act. Over the years on The Verb we've heard a huge range of voices; the hesitant authority of the late Thom Gunn, the vibrant, visceral word-music of Kate Tempest, the timeless historical significance of Kamau Brathwaite, and the genre-stretching sounds of Caroline Bergvall, to name but four.

Each week I want The Verb to be a home for poets, a place where they can mix with writers from other genres, as well as with people who are simply excited and moved and made more vivid by language; I want it to be like Poetry Now, but with added dimensions.

After a while, I began to send poems to Poetry Now, and a after a few rejections, I got invited to Manchester by the producer Fraser Steel, and I sat in a studio and read my poems in a voice that occasionally frayed at the edges and betrayed my terror. Fraser was kind: 'Remember', he said, in his gentle Scots tones, 'the audience want to hear you, and they want you to be the best you can be.' And then the green light went on and I took a deep breath.

That's what I hope The Verb is: A place where poets can be the best they can be. Come and join us, every Friday night on BBC Radio 3. 

The Verb Podcast is available to download here.

Follow @R3TheVerb


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