Andrew McMillan’s debut collection physical was the only collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. It also won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014) and was shortlisted 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. In 2019 it was voted as one of the top 25 poetry books of the past 25 years by the Booksellers Association. His second collection, playtime (Jonathan Cape, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and a Poetry Book of the Month in both The Observer and The Telegraph, a Poetry Book of the Year in The Sunday Times and won the inaugural Polari Prize. His third collection, pandemonium was published by Jonathan Cape, 2021 and 100 Queer Poems, the acclaimed, first major anthology of its kind he edited with Mary Jean Chan by Vintage in 2022, “an abundantly rich and rewarding collection, capturing how queer poets and their work speak to one another across generations” (Attitude Magazine).  

Physical has been translated into French, Galician and Norwegian editions, with double-editions of physical & playtime published in Slovak and German in 2022.  

McMillan is Professor of Contemporary Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. 

The selection of McMillan’s poems here reference the body, both in its physical manifestation and metaphorically as a cipher for the stories unfolding.  McMillan doesn’t flinch from an up close and personal rendering of the journeys undertaken via the body.  In Urination ‘…you wake to the sound of stream into bowl / and go to hug the naked body…’ and then ‘…take the whole of him in your hand / and feel the water moving through him…’ 

In The Men are Weeping in the Gym conventional views of the ideal body, honed and managed to a pitch of perfection, near God-like, are countered by the existential crises underway; ‘… their hearts have grown too big / for their chests    their chests have grown too big / for their shirts   they are dressed like kids / who have forgotten their games kit…’.  This is a poem which reflects self and societal images of masculinity, ‘they have got too close to the mirrors / they have got too close to the glass…’, hence, they can only weep and ‘…don’t hear / the thousands of fracturings / needed to build something stronger.’ 

Swan takes a different route to greater awareness. The poem wrong-foots the reader with it’s opening focus –  ‘the lake is calm tonight’ and ‘tonight    the lake is calm’ and ‘the lake…tonight… is calm. We are lulled into the prospect of an idyll, except, too soon,  ‘…but look who is coming into land / to tear the peace asunder’. Here, the swan is a conduit for reliving the pathway from nestling to fully fledged, nature and nurture, ‘mother    don’t eat me…mother / mother   I’m trying so hard to get better / I’m sorry I’m a queer.  The poem is a tour de force in our journey of becoming.. 

McMillan’s measured reading adds to the cadence and insights we can draw from his work; the wants, the uncertainties, the spaces in-between, many, complex, brave and truthful.   

To celebrate the publication of 100 Queer Poems Poetry Archive created the Speak Its Name collection, which you can click here to explore. 

Recordings made at the Sharp Project Studio, Manchester on 13th February, 2023. Photography by Sophie Davidson.

Poems by Andrew McMillan

urination - Andrew McMillan
things said in the changing room - Andrew McMillan
the men are weeping in the gym - Andrew McMillan
praise poem - Andrew McMillan
Revelation - Andrew McMillan

Books by Andrew McMillan



Guardian First Book Award (winner), for physical

Prize website

Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (winner), for physical

Prize website

Eric Gregory Award (winner), for physical

Prize website

Somerset Maugham Award (Winner), for physical

Prize website

Polari Prize (winner), for playtime

Prize website

Books are My Bag Awards (shorlisted), for 100 Queer Poems

Prize website

Related Links

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