I think poetry and fashion have a lot in common – honestly, hear me out. Both are often dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant by people who are scared they won’t understand them. Both, too, are things that the general public might only turn to for the pivotal moments of their lives, a wedding or a funeral.
Yet I guess there is one major difference; poetry’s job, as I see it, is to witness what’s happening, take it, distil it and give it back to the reader, to say ‘this is what it’s really like’. Fashion’s job, ultimately, is to suggest a new way of living our lives in the near-future, a new way of inhabiting the world.
I can’t remember if the way I dress impacted on my poetry or the other way around. I like a plain style, a stripped back, ‘clean line’ in both what I write and what I wear. I started wearing all black (I know, cliché!) for poetry readings because I wanted the words to be the only thing that stood out, and that’s eventually seeped out into my everyday life. I want my clothes to be plain, unadorned, and direct, yet at the same time maintain a sense of fun.
So as I’m sat writing this, I’m wearing my favourite comfort jumper, an oversized ACNE sweater that swims around my knees, and some baggy McQueen trousers with an oversized cuff just above the ankle. All black of course, perhaps because any propensity I have towards creativity goes into my writing, so I want dressing to be as easy as possible; everything matches, everything goes together, so I can spend my time worrying about the intricate stitching of word to word in something I might be writing. Or perhaps just because it means everything can go into the wash together, which makes things easier.
This poem, ’skirt’, was a way of thinking about my boyfriend and his relationship to clothes and also thinking about how clothes themselves - the way we might undress one another from them, the way they touch the skin, – are very sensual things. We went out to one of those restaurants where they disassemble every course so it resembles flat-pack food and charge you four times the price as a ready-made meal; we got drunk, we stumbled home and … well… you can read the rest.
what possessed us? heads flipflopped from the wine
the food so posh it needed commentary
from the waitress each dish turned inside out
split into pieces then stumbling home
the stars so low they could have been driving
towards us getting back we began
the loose fall into each other that drink
always induces the body too soft
to pull or hold once we’d spun into the bedroom
I stepped back requesting each item
taken off in turn the shoes the jacket the shirt
each one flung with performed indifference
for the bottom half you’d gone for trousers
with a skirt over the top to recall
the flavour of some catwalk show I chose
the trousers next left the skirt on you the pleats
just long enough to cover your cock
and belted at your thin blades of stomach hair
your drunk imperfect body in a skirt
moving with each swaying breath looking like
some ancient tribesman in something someone
might have fashioned out of leaves to give room
for dancing to give space to the body
to perform its speechless articulation of thanks
Andrew McMillan was born in South Yorkshire in 1988. His debut collection Physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. He lives in Manchester.
Andrew’s book Physical is available at Amazon: