Ian McMillan: Sentimental? Perhaps. But art is good for the soul

Ian McMillan
Ian McMillan
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Some days are golden; some days shine so brightly that you want to preserve them in a jar that you can open and spread on your toast on dull afternoons. Some days you’ll remember forever because they were about writing, and reading, and looking, and life. Warning: This column contains sentimental and pretentious language. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now.

So here’s what happened: My grandson Thomas was doing a day’s cricket training at Headingley, the home of the mighty Yorkshire Cricket Club, and I volunteered to take him on the train, drop him off and then have an Art Day Art, wandering around as many galleries and cafés as I could before I had to pick him up later. I took the latest edition of the marvellous and venerable American magazine ‘Poetry’ (it does what it says on the tin) and my plan was to sit sipping espresso, reading poetry, and thinking deep thoughts.

That’s the best way to read, I reckon: slowly, with pauses, with real or metaphorical chin-scratching.

My first stop was HEART, a lovely community and arts centre not far from the cricket ground, where I had my opening espresso of the day and my first drinking-in of art on walls. I opened the poetry magazine and read a poem by the New Yorker John Ashbery, one of my favourite poets. A line jumped out at me, almost knocking the coffee over: ‘Sometimes something like a second washes the base of this street.’ I couldn’t fathom it. It seemed to be about time, and weather. I read it a few times, turning it over and over in my mind. That’s the best way to read, I reckon: slowly, with pauses, with real or metaphorical chin-scratching. On my Art Day Art I was determined to take my time.

I strolled up Otley Road to Bowery Arts, a café, shop and gallery that makes superb use of its upstairs space; I stood in front of images for ages, trying not to do the normal gallery glance-scuttle that quickly delivers you back to the gift emporium. I thought about the John Ashbery line again: ‘Sometimes something like a second washes the base of this street’ and outside clouds gathered. Rain was on its way, about to wash the base of the street. The world seemed far too alive, almost unable to fit into its allocated space.

I caught a bus into town and wandered around aimlessly just because I could. Time became, in Ashbery’s words, ‘something like a second.’ I visited an artist in his pop-up space in an old set of offices and we talked about art. I stepped outside because it was almost time to go and it started raining. The base of the street was being washed, and so was I. So I stood in a bus shelter reading poems and exuding happiness.

Just time for another espresso before I make my way back to the cricket ground. Or maybe two. When the rain stops.

Everybody should have an Art Day Art, I reckon. They’re good for the soul.