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The Hill

Ian McMillan
16 September 2009

CABE commissioned Ian McMillan to write a poem on the theme of austerity and prosperity to mark its 10th anniversary. Ian is poet-in-residence for The Academy of Urbanism and Barnsley FC and presents 'The Verb' on BBC Radio 3.

Ian McMillan, Photo by A&M Photography

Ian McMillan, Photo by A&M Photography

The Hill

There’s a hill that I can see from our front garden
That’s an almanac, a calendar and a weathervane;
It’s seen people come and go and attitudes harden
Seen belts slackened off then tightened again

When the bad times come
Feed them with good times
Like that hill that got fed with green-ness

When I was younger it was blacker than a stormy sky:
It was the muckstack for Houghton Main pit
And the pit wheels turned with history’s cry
And the hill was sweat, and grit

When the bad times come
Feed them with good times
Like that hill that got fed with green-ness
As the country around grew bare

Then the pit shut down and austerity landed
And the hill mutated and changed
Half-black, half-green, even handed
As the place around it got rearranged

When the bad times come
Feed them with good times
Like that hill that got fed with green-ness
As the country around grew bare
We looked to that green-ness like you look to water

Now the hill is dotted with off-white sheep
Like a promise of future prosperity
A promise that these streets can wake from the sleep
Of the bad times, the grinding austerity

So when the bad times come
Feed them with the good times
Like that hill that got fed with green-ness
As the country around grew bare
We looked to that green-ness like you look to water,
To light, to music to help you through the tight times

So I look to the hill and the promise it holds
That if you green them, the bad times will go
And the good times will return, rewind, unfold
This much I know, this much this place knows...

© Ian McMillan
www.ian-mcmillan.co.uk