Burning Bad Poetry: A Cleansing Ritual by Philip Miller

Estimated read time 3 min read

The journalist and civil servant Philip Miller on growing up reading comics and writing poetry.


The first book I remember reading:

The old Ladybird version Tales of King Arthur, the first is called The Mysteries of Merlin. They had these clean, clear illustrations. I read them over and over. The first longer book that I remember reading, with a sense of confusion and awe, was Elidor by Alan Garner. It changed my life. I also read a lot of comics, especially 2000AD.

A book I recommend to everyone:

Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald. Not only is it the masterpiece about The Beatles, but it contains much more. I re-read it and recommend it. And for short stories, Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall, which is both deeply eerie and deeply right in some ineffable way.

The best three books I have read in the last year:

I was very moved by Shy by Max Porter. I was really intrigued by The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy, and especially how the timeline slips and shudders. I really need to finish Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns, it is strange and beguiling. I am currently enjoying Hellboy, Volume I, by Mike Mignola: sharply shadowed eldritch pulp.

A book I didn’t finish:

Writing is hard and fraught. Publishing is a tricky business. Life is short and cruel enough. I don’t want to highlight a book or a writer that didn’t grab me. So, I will pick some writing of my own: I have written some terrible poems this year, and I certainly don’t enjoy reading those again. I might set fire to them in some kind of cleansing ritual. If anyone sees black smoke rising over Newhaven, that’s probably me.

An author who has inspired me:

The deep splendour of Susan Cooper, the occult brutality of David Peace, the genius of Don DeLillo, the brilliance of Susanna Clarke. That’s four…I will add in the late Mark Fisher, too, for The Weird and the Eerie, and for his K-Punk blog, which urged me to write seriously. I also definitely need to read more Turgenev. I also have to mention Alan Garner (again) and Ursula Le Guin, who grabbed me at an impressionable age. I have recently been reading the Letters of the Younger Pliny – fascinating. Politics and the pressures of civil administration haven’t changed all that much. 

My favourite place to read:

In bed. Children asleep, hot tea by my elbow, my wife reading beside me, and rain outside in the dark.

Philip Miller The Hollow Tree (Birlinn) can be bought here. An award-winning journalist for twenty years, he is now a civil servant and lives in Edinburgh.

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