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No guiding star by John Mills


36pp Black and white inners 216 x 140mm
ISBN 978-1-911048-45-9
Publication date: 17th September 2020
£7.50 includes p&p



When I read this collection, it wouldn’t let me go.
These are poems of agony, joy and grief, bringing us the mundane, magical business of everyday life in surreal technicolour.
Tender moments are observed with John’s characteristic wit.
This is a collection which explores chronic illness in an unflinching way, but pain is not its defining subject.
Inside these pages you’ll find a world of brief encounters, cigarette coloured cardigans, unsent letters, the naivety of water, the alchemy of making jam.
John Mills shows us that we are all disintegrating, but imaginatively, brilliantly, strangely, burning bright.’

Helen Mort

There’s a strong sense of Poet as Ringmaster in John Mills’ collection.
He seems to stand at the centre, calling up scenes, events, characters and displays from a rich stock of people, stories and memories.
And he exercises real control in these tight, well-worked poems, giving his material just the right space and freedom to become real for us, to affect us and to give us privileged access to all the variety of his experience.
The voice is often clean and unfussy, sometimes darkly witty, and on occasion pitched in a strange space between anger and softness,
but throughout there are the flourishes of lovely phrase-making, which ring out like the crack of a whip, or a bravura striking of a pose, hat aloft and smiling.
Read it. It’s mesmerising stuff.

James Sheard

For me, it’s not just the skill of his writing, or the power of that his voice; it’s not just the urgency of the story he tells – what marks out John’s poetry is its generosity; its big brained, big hearted humanity.
To put words to the lived experience of Parkinson’s disease might rightly be described as brave – but to do so with John’s enormous breath of vision and depth of engagement, in highly crafted, rich and accessible language – is extraordinary.
This kind of writing makes me glad that poetry exists.

Clare Shaw

Oliver Sacks, neurologist, claims that ‘we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale,’ in order to understand neurological illness – and this is exactly what Mills achieves, in miniature form, in his poetry. 
Mills’s pamphlet not only allows the reader to share and understand Parkinson’s disease ‘in a sympathetic and imaginative encounter,’ but also to share and understand the person beyond the disease.
Whether or not some of the experiences of the person beyond, in pot-holing, for example, have things in common with the experience of Parkinsonism – whether or not they share certain imagery with the illness and its symptoms – is left to the reader to decide. 

Jonathan Taylor at Everybody’s Reviewing  Full review here

No guiding star might not be an instantly powerful phrase from a poetic standpoint but, from the off, you can understand why the title of John Mills’ latest poetry collection matters.
It offers readers a spark of hope from even the darkest of places.
What John Mills’ poetry does is offer enough light to find your own way.

Northern Soul Poetry  Full review here

About John Mills:

John’s working life was as an English teacher. His recreations included music, literature, drama, running and caving. He has recently completed an M.A. with distinction in Creative Writing, at Keele University. As a caver he went the extra yard, risking the dangers that took him to beauties most other people never see; and as a runner he pushed himself to the limit. This shows in his poetry and also in his attitude to Parkinson’s disease, which he has had for several years. Typical of the man – he doesn’t ask for pity, but tries to help people understand the condition.

There is a phrase in caving regarding the discovery of an unmarked tunnel, it is, “let’s see if it goes.”

Try John’s poetry, see if it goes. It does.


I have just read ‘No guiding star’ by John Mills. It is quite beautiful. There are moments of pure brilliance, flashes of illumination into childhood, (see ‘Homecoming’), moving insights to a life moving towards end with the degenerative disease Parkinson’s, recollection of technological change, (‘Pies’ and ‘Living Room”), the long shadow of domestic violence, (‘Brief Encounter’) and love. All delivered without sentimentality; all written with clarity; all deeply moving.  Chris Perry

Here is the first poem in the pamphlet:


In the beginning was the verb
and the verb was

I shake
You shake
He spills his food

I stare
You stare
He shakes

Like Lear he is undone by a button

I fasten
You fasten
He can’t

His fumbling is comical

I laugh
You laugh
He cries


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