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Poem Of The Week: Approaching Those ‘Ruddy’ Belisha Beacons Near The Post Office Again By Ian Mcmillan
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Ian Mcmillan. Photo by Adrian Mealing
The little observational vignettes that Ian McMillan commits to Twitter every day, on the back of his early morning constitutionals around the hinterland of Barnsley’s Darfield, and elsewhere, have become something of a cause célèbre.

Pithy, steeped in metaphor and simile, and invariably cheerful, these apothegmatic incursions into our daily routine shed light on dull days, remind us that landscape, however nondescript, possesses an inner vitality. They are hugely popular.*

And in a sense, our poem of the week is an extended variant of a McMillan tweet, grown into five seductive triplets, and organised in such a way as to breathe renewed energy into the ordinary.

Approaching Those ‘Ruddy’ Belisha Beacons Near The Post Office Again

You can see them from a long way off,
From when you pass the half-visible ponies
In the field where the school was

By the bus shelter with the bloke in it,
The bloke whose face is lit by his iPhone
Like a tallow-maker's face is lit in an old master.

One Belisha Beacon off. One Belisha Beacon on.
Small parcels of light sent first class to each other;
Moons chucking glowing balls across the road's net.

A car slows by the Post Office and a woman jumps out
And gives me a letter. ‘Can tha stick this in't box for mi?'
She asks. I will, in a minute. Jogger walks by, gasping-gasp.

First I'll hold the envelope up to the Belisha Beacon.
Not to read the letter inside, you understand,
Just to gaze at light on paper, light on writing.


Initially taking a distant view of a landscape known intuitively, the narrator telescopes in on a scene he recognises to the point of vicarious derision – ‘Ruddy Belisha Beacons’ – but which contains an inner glow of figurative possibility.

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That this place he knows so well is changeful – the field where the school used to be may be a formulation of real memory – need not undermine a sense of historical continuity. The poet derives genuine pleasure from the fact of evanescence, which, in turn, enables the most luminously persuasive of similes:

‘The bloke whose face is lit by his iPhone / Like a tallow-maker’s face is lit in an old master’.

Past and present are juxtaposed harmoniously here – an antecedent of the iPhone bearer may well have been a candle-maker in a much earlier incarnation; both may have been united in a Barnsley vernacular echoed by the woman posting the letter.

Illumination is the key: the suggestive light of the interdependent flashing globes which resemble moons in the dawn darkness; the cheekily knowing wink of revelation; and most of all, the shedding of light on words, the conferring of meaning in a poem about communication.

*t’witterer: The #Wit and Wisdom of Ian McMillan is published by Dalesman Publishing

Poem Of The Week: Approaching Those ‘Ruddy’ Belisha Beacons Near The Post Office Again By Ian Mcmillan, 29th November 2018, 9:57 AM