Jacob Polley

Jacob Polley was born in Carlisle, Cumbria. He is the author of three acclaimed books of poems, The Brink (2003), Little Gods (2006) and The Havocs (2012), all published by Picador, UK. Both The Brink and The Havocs were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2004 he was named one of the ‘Next Generation’ of the twenty best new poets in Britain, and his first novel, Talk of the Town, won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award. He teaches at the University of St Andrews and lives in Fife, Scotland. Jacob’s website can be found here         Well worth a look. I nipped into Jacob’s website for a browse and an hour later was still immersed in it!  I asked Jacob not to include or mention the name of his poem as the identity of poet and artist will be revealed at the exhibition.

Dear Ruth,

the poem of mine that I’m so pleased to hear has been selected for Poems in the Waiting Room is from my first book, The Brink, which was published nearly a decade ago. Ten years feels like a minor milestone, and though I tend not to go back and re-read what I’ve written, finished and published, a poem can have the kind of life that means the (lucky) writer is kept close to it – has little choice but to be intimate with it – over a period that extends long after a book’s publication. Public readings mean that poets find certain poems on their lips, time after time, either because these poems feel good to speak out loud or because they have become, either through their inclusion in anthologies or by something like common assent, their signature pieces. I’ve been thinking about this recently, as a life lasting ten years seems pretty amazing for a slim book of poems, and even more amazing for an individual poem, and it struck me that it was even more extraordinary that many of my first published poems – like the poem chosen for Poems in the Waiting Room – grew out of a sense of impermanence, change and fleetingness. Poems, like ‘A Jar of Honey’, in which an effort to hold light and the sun is invoked, or ‘Snow’, in which

Bridle path and motorway unite
under the wastes of space
each gale force renovates,
and only the cat and the blackbird
betray themselves so neatly
in the lawn’s flawless enamouring…

play over and over again with degrees of permanency, whether the apparent conserving of light in its sweet, semi-solid form, or the apparent demolishing of the complex, colourful world by immaculate whiteness. As humans, it is our blessing and our curse to witness the immediate, the quick and the quickened, and, even as we witness, live and celebrate the immediate, to be aware of and to imagine ‘a future’ where all that was immediate is done with. The snow melts. The jar is emptied. The poem finishes, and then comes silence.
To be included in this project is to be given the gift of imagining a poem – a poem with some age to it now, a poem that I have left behind – being encountered anew by a stranger. ‘Waiting room’: a room in which one waits, and waiting in this context is hardly more than seeing out a period of time-before-that-which-is-being-waited-for. It’s often pointed out that ‘stanza’ is Italian for ‘room’ or ‘stopping-place’, so a poem can be conceived of as a room or series of rooms. But how satisfying to think that in a waiting room one might choose to enter the small room of a poem! And how much more satisfying to think that we might conceive of the poem as an actively waiting room; as a room that might have waited, travelling through time who knows for how long, just for us…


It survives in quiet places
like a rare species
whose habitat is silence
and closed roads. It upholsters
the empty park bench
with long creaking bolsters
and lags the fields like draughty lofts.
Look up – the night’s in pieces
or the moon’s sieving
its desiccated seas;
there’s a glamour about the roofs
and even the old car
on bricks in the yard seems natural,
tucked up to the axles
in this delicate impasse.
Bridle-path and motorway unite
under the wastes of space
each gale-force renovates,
and only the cat and the blackbird
betray themselves so neatly
in the lawn’s flawless enamouring
that we’ll forgive their few footnotes
at dawn, when we open our doors
and the hard-packed white light
leant against them falls in.

Jacob Polley (from The Brink, Picador, London, 2003)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s