Andrew McMillan is a Manchester-based poet and lecturer exploring the intersections of masculinity, sexuality, class and violence. His debut collection physical (2015) won the Guardian First Book Award – the first poetry collection to do so – as well as the Eric Gregory and Northern Writers’ awards. His most recent collection, playtime (2018), widens his poetic gaze, observing how his previous themes play out at different stages of childhood, youth and adulthood. Through his tender, raw and at times unsettling poetry, McMillan reveals the constructed conceptions of identity that permeate certain cultures, and the vulnerable selves beneath, struggling to be seen.
Interview by Matthew Janney
Matthew Janney Let’s begin with the title, playtime. I wondered why you chose a title that is seemingly childish and light-hearted, for a collection that is very sincere?
Andrew McMillan I like the word “playtime” because it seemed to be something that was really innocent, frivolous and childlike even – yet also had the potential to tip over into something more erotic. I like one-word titles because I think they have more impact.
MJ A lot of the poems deal with first times, like “first time posh” and “first time with friends”. Why was it important for you to focus on these moments in particular?
AM Looking back, I realise that I probably knew that I was gay when I was about seven or eight, or maybe even younger. I remember experiencing yearnings towards other boys but not understanding what it was because I didn’t have a language for it. The first time I heard the word “gay” was when someone called me it in school, which seems odd now, but it just wasn’t a language that I had access to. Part of the mission of those “first time” poems you mentioned was to go back and try and posit a language onto those moments and see if that could help make sense of it. It was difficult, but you have to sit in these moments of discomfort for quite a while to see if there is anything in them.
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