I’ve never read a poetry book that has made me laugh out loud the way Hugh McMillan’s 2018 collection did (it is possible I’m reading the wrong poetry). But The Conversation of Sheep is more than just sheep jokes, and therein lies its brilliance. The artistry and rhythm of these short, mostly page-long poems is contemplative and slow, but their content is incisive and witty, with pathos hanging over everything like the mist in the photos that accompany them.
The first thing to belie the humour, and possibly the reason I was so surprised to find myself laughing, is the somewhat menacing black and white cover photo depicting the silhouette of a herd of sheep on a low hill. The monochrome contrast recalled for me first world war imagery, as if the sheep were climbing from the trenches in a last attempt on the front.
Each poem in The Conversation of Sheep is paired with a with black and white photograph by Michael Robertson, a farmer neighbour of McMillan’s. These are, if I am not mistaken, real photographs, the kind made with film in a dark room. They are grainy, shadowy and evocative and are carefully curated alongside the poems...
This is an excerpt of a review by Ellie Julings of Hugh Mcmillan's The Conversation of Sheep. For more information on Long at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.