Guest Post – Polly Atkin: On Co-Tenancy 

In Much With Body I wanted to write into and around the relationship between us – as individuals, as humans – and the ecosystems we live in. I wanted explore to what Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara call the ‘contingency between environments and bodies’ that is central to disability poetics, with a focus on the particular environment I have made my home.[1] In many ways this is an extension of conversations begun in my previous collection, Basic Nest Architecture, which revolve around questions of belonging, of location and dislocation, of co-habitation, of what it is to live in a sick body in an ailing world. I’ve always found it difficult to separate myself from my environment, to draw a clear line or apprehend a solid barrier between me and the rest of the world, to be certain what is internal or external. This sense of permeability, coupled with a complicated sense of bodily risk, determines all of my encounters with the world, all of my movements through it.

Photo of a deer on a hillside.

I wanted to bring that sense of permeability into these poems – from those drawn from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Rydal Journals, that place rain and pain in parallel, both leaching in an out of the body – to the poems about the frogs and toads who come into our house every summer. We are none of us able to call ourself separate from one another.

Photo of a frog

There is a kind of eco-poetry, and a broader kind of nature writing, that wants to remove the human observer from the observation, to cut out the body of the writer from the writing. It sees the human as degrading the nonhuman, as distracting, diverting essential attention. I can’t help seeing this tendency in nature writing to blot out the body of the writer as coupled to the tendency Virginia Woolf writes about in her essay ‘On Being Ill’ to present the body as a clear pane of glass to see the world through. I am not a clear pane of glass. My noisy, interrupting body never lets me forget its presence. As Woolf writes, ‘all day, all night, the body intervenes’. To me the relationship between the intervening body and the other outside is the poem. To pretend otherwise is the distraction.

Photo of an owl amongst the branches of a tree.

I wanted to bring the intervention of the body into the foreground of these poems, whether they are centred on an encounter with a deer, or an owl that won’t be photographed, or a disappearing hospital, or the body’s internal machinations. I cannot write an owl, but I can write myself observing an owl, what observing it in my body gives me, what the co-presence of our bodies in the same space does, what it changes, what it enables. I wanted to write about co-habitation, about co-tenancy of a shared home, whether that is a woodland, society, or our bodies. Luckily for me, my co-tenants were obliging.

Polly Atkin

This cover shows a painting of a swimmer floating on her back in a blue green lake.

Much With Body is the startlingly original second collection by poet Polly Atkin. The beauty of the Lake District is both balm and mirror, refracting pain and also soothing it with distraction. Much of the landscape is lakescape, giving the book a watery feel, the author’s wild swimming being just one kind of immersion. There is also a distinct link with the past in a central section of found poems taken from transcripts of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, from a period late in her life when she was often ill. In common with the works of the Wordsworths, these poems share a quality of the metaphysical sublime. Their reverence for the natural world is an uneasy awe, contingent upon knowledge of our fragility and mortality.

Polly Atkin’s latest collection Much With Body is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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[1] Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara, ‘Introduction’, in Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities Toward an Eco- Crip Theory, ed by Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), p.1.

Friday Poem – ‘The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs’ by Polly Atkin from her collection Basic Nest Architecture. Polly’s new collection Much With Body is forthcoming this October.

Polly Atkin. Basic Nest Architecture.

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, is complex, vivid and moving. It opens with poems inspired by her home in the Lake District, and the landscape and famous Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, who have walked there and written about the fells and lakes. Nature is a guiding presence, but the author’s personal story, of enduring a little-known and sometimes debilitating illness, is also the backdrop to this striking poetry. Formally, this work is more akin to the metaphysical poets in its fervent use of metaphor, in its multiple layers of meaning and in its quest for answers to the most pressing questions of mortality.

The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs
When we gather we greet each other
by lifting tentatively one hand to one eye.
We meet in darkened rooms, quietly;
share no wine. Nobody speaks
but often our voices join to moan
the migraineurs psalm, low and holy.
The hours before fizz brilliantly, scented
with burnt toast and oranges, petrol, sparking
fireworks, fireflies, stars. Everyone
dons a halo, everyone’s soul
shines out through their pores, whether unnaturally
small or wrapped in a skin of water.
We sleep the night together, slip off
one by one on waking from
a dream we pass between us, in which
the structure of the sky is revealed. We make
no dates, but palm to temple, salute
in a migraineur’s kiss, our transcendence.

Basic Nest Architecture is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Pre-order Polly’s new collection Much With Body on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Isolation Blessing’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Isolation Blessing’ by Polly Atkin, author of Basic Nest Architecture. This poem was first published for Manchester Writing School’s Write Where We Are Now project which invites poets to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, is complex, vivid and moving. It opens with poems inspired by her home in the Lake District, and the landscape and famous Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, who have walked there and written about the fells and lakes. Nature is a guiding presence, but the author’s personal story, of enduring a little-known and sometimes debilitating illness, is also the backdrop to this striking poetry. Formally, this work is more akin to the metaphysical poets in its fervent use of metaphor, in its multiple layers of meaning and in its quest for answers to the most pressing questions of mortality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic Nest Architecture is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Five Poems for Earth Day 2020

Today, Earth Day is marking its 50th anniversary. To celebrate, we’re sharing five poems from Seren authors who are writing about the natural world. Find out more about Earth Day and it’s aims here.

‘Prairie’ by Carrie Etter from The Weather in Normal

 

‘Beech’ by Ross Cogan from Bragr

 

‘Rabbit in morning’ by Polly Atkin from Basic Nest Architecture

 

‘Translating Tree’ by Philip Gross

 

‘Biophilia’ by Jane Lovell from This Tilting Earth

Find these and many more great books Seren website. Get 20% off when you sign up to be a member of our book club.

Other titles for Earth Day 2020:

Wild Places UK by Iolo Williams, £19.99

Television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his favourite 40 wildlife sites from the many nature reserves around the country.. From Hermaness on Shetland to the London Wetland Centre, from Dungeness in Kent to Loch Neagh, Williams criss-crosses the country. Lavishly illustrated, author and book aim to introduce a new audience to the delights of the UK.

Blood Rain by André Mangeot, £9.99

Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. Beautifully crafted, and partly inspired by his love of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, they address the natural world, its endangerment and other pressing global issues from multiple perspectives, and with great lyrical power.

‘A thought-provoking book for turbulent times.’
– Matthew Caley

Once by Andrew McNeillie, £9.99

Once is the journey from boyhood to the threshold of manhood of poet Andrew McNeillie. From an aeroplane crossing north Wales the writer looks down on the countryside of his childhood and recalls an almost fabulous world now lost to him. Ordinary daily life and education in Llandudno shortly after the war are set against an extraordinary life lived close to nature. Continually crossing the border between town and country McNeillie relives his life in nature during a period of increasing urbanisation.

The Shaking City by Cath Drake, £9.99

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet works a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.

Friday Poem – ‘Buzz Pollination’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Buzz Pollination’ by Polly Atkin which appears in her debut collection Basic Nest Architecture

Last week, it was announced that Basic Nest Architecture is on the 2019 longlist for the Michael Murphy Prize. (Read more here.)

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, is complex, vivid and moving. It opens with poems inspired by her home in the Lake District, and the landscape and famous Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, who have walked there and written about the fells and lakes. Nature is a guiding presence, but the author’s personal story, of enduring a little-known and sometimes debilitating illness, is also the backdrop to this striking poetry. Formally, this work is more akin to the metaphysical poets in its fervent use of metaphor, in its multiple layers of meaning and in its quest for answers to the most pressing questions of mortality.

 

 

Basic Nest Architecture is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

An Interview with Polly Atkin

Interview with Polly Atkin

From nature, to places we call home and poetic inspiration – today we talk to Polly Atkin about her debut collection, Basic Nest Architecture.

Polly Atkin interviewPolly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her debut poetry pamphlet bone song (Clitheroe: Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, 2009. Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. In 2014 an extract from her first collection, Basic Nest Architecture, was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize for ‘reflect[ing] a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. Polly has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria.

 

Basic Nest Architecture Polly AtkinIn Basic Nest Architecture, the contrast between city and country, natural and unnatural, is at the forefront of many of the poems – did this theme emerge organically through the process of your writing, or was there a conscious fascination with the urban & rural you sought to explore from the outset?
I think the poems try to trouble the idea of these binaries – I’m not a fan of binaries generally; they always over-simplify – and especially the way people use terms like ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ or ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ to certain ends. The natural/unnatural dichotomy in particular is something that really bothers me. Natural to whom, or what? Unnatural how, and in what context?

There’s a very practical movement behind the appearance of some of those concerns in the poems – in 2006 I moved to Lancashire, and then to the Lake District – after seven years living in East London. People often think of the Lake District as a kind of little wilderness, but it’s actually one of the most populated national parks, with over 40, 000 people living within its boundaries. It contains towns and villages and a vast array of different kinds of managed lands, yet we are constantly encouraged to see it as wild and empty ‘Nature’, including by the Lake District National Park Authority themselves. People have a tendency to associate the rural with the past, and the urban with the future or with modernity. This association is as ancient as cities themselves, and hard to challenge. I don’t know what the best answers to our current environmental crises are, but re-examining some assumptions about how we live, and what we live with, seems pretty central to me. I’ve been doing that in a very small way in my own life, and I hope the poems are doing that too.

Which do you find a better source of poetic inspiration – the natural world or the urban one? Do you think your poetic style has shifted as you’ve moved from city to country?
I would never say one or other was more ‘inspirational’. A poet I respect a lot said to me a while ago ‘you’ve found your place’, and I think that’s the key, for me at least. I loved living in London whilst I was there, but when I left, it was coming out of a long fever or something. I had never loved a place I lived in before Grasmere, only the things a place provided for me, and the ways it allowed me to live. Really loving the place I woke up in every day was a radical difference for me.

As for style … I’m very much of the mind that it is important to keep learning and developing and changing, as a person, as an artist. What influences that change and growth can be many things, from what you read, to social and political changes, to changes in your environment. If I’m still writing the same way in ten years time that I am now, I’ll have to have a serious word with myself, if someone else doesn’t get there first.

In ‘Buzz Pollination’ we see a bee attempting to take pollen from a woman’s bracelet: ‘tricked by the blossom/ of my bracelet’s fat fake pearls, their delicious/ lustre’. The pearls are pretty yet useless – would you say this is indicative of the human preoccupation with aesthetics?
Partly … people can get very focused on the external without considering usefulness, and yes, that might suggest a preoccupation with aesthetics over function. But I wouldn’t say beauty didn’t have a purpose. Going back to the first question, those beads are something inorganic that is mistaken as organic. It’s not the fact that they’re not ‘natural’ that’s the problem, or that they’re fake pearls and not flowers, but that they’re in the wrong place. The bee needs flowers, and the flowers need the bee. But from my very selfish human perspective, the bee’s inappropriate attraction to my bracelet made me feel like the bee and I had some kind of connection. I liked it; liked the fact it kept coming back to me, as though that made me special, even though I knew on a larger scale that meant both the end of the bee, and the end of pollination. So maybe it’s really about human selfishness, and prioritising the human experience over the needs of the non-human.

Several of the poems seem to express the view that urbanization is destroying the natural world in the name of progress, particularly in the poem ‘The New Path’. Do you think that more should be done to protect British wildlife? Do you hope that your poetry inspires its readers to be more active in protecting it?
That’s a big ask for a poem, isn’t it? The most I can hope for is that some of these poem might make some readers question some of the ways they respond to the things around them, including, but by no means limited to, animals. There are a lot of debates about what animals should or should not be protected. I’m very aware of my status in Cumbria as an off-comer – an incomer, raised in an urban environment – exactly the kind of person who would sentimentalise foxes or badgers, and prioritise of the aesthetics of the landscape over practical concerns. ‘The New Path’ is literally about a new path, which seemed grotesque in its insistence on ease of movement, and in its inappropriateness in the landscape. But, like the road in the epigraph, ‘we take it nonetheless’. Why? Because it’s easier. If it allows access to someone who was unable to use the more aesthetically pleasing old path, maybe it’s not the new path that’s unreasonable.

Some of the poems capture the unease and discomfort at not feeling at home in either your location or your mind – for example ‘Dreams’ and ‘Colony Collapse Disorder.’ Did you find it difficult to write about such personal feelings, particularly when writing about your illness, or was this cathartic?
I wouldn’t say it was either particularly difficult or particularly cathartic, no more so than writing anything. Chronic illness, pain, and all the strange and marvellous things that come with them, are facts of my life. I write about them in the same way as I write about anything. Another way of looking at it is that all my writing is filtered through my mind and my body, my experience of the world, so I am always writing through those things, through personal and bodily feelings, whether they are the subject of the poem or not. Everything is both personal and totally impersonal in a poem. Once you write about it, it is outside you. It no longer belongs to you. I do joke a lot about ‘the Plath consolation’, that idea of ‘grit into art’, but it’s a very troubled concept, particularly where Disability is concerned. I recently heard David Constantine answer a similar question, and he said (in my poor paraphrase) that writing can’t be redemptive, or consolatory, that it can’t change the facts of real life, but that what it does instead is imagine different ways of being, different human possibilities. I thought that was very beautiful.

Lastly, what can we look forward to next? Are you working on any other exciting projects, or appearing at any events soon?
I’m working on new poems, but I’m not quite sure how they’ll come together yet. I’ve been working on a sequence about experiences of venesection (taking blood) as a treatment for Haemochromatosis, which will be included in a Wellcome Trust funded project called Books of Blood. Two of the poems from this sequence are going to be published in an anthology, Gush (Fronetac House, 2018), ed. by Rosanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon and Tanis McDonald. I’ve got some other possible projects lining up but I can’t talk about them yet!

I’m lucky to have quite a few readings and events over the next few months including:

  • Guest Poet at The Garsdale Retreat, ‘Writing The Land: Crafting Poems from Inspired Communion’, Sedbergh, Wednesday August 23rd 2017.
  • Reading for Caught by The River at The Good Life Experience, Hawarden Estate, Flintshire, Saturday September 16th, 2017.
  • ‘Northern Poets’ event at Durham Book Festival, Saturday October 14th.
  • Reading with Elizabeth Jane Burnett at Kendal Mountain Festival, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Saturday November 18th, 2017.

I put new events up on my website, so keep an eye on https://pollyatkin.com/events/ if you’re interested.

 

Basic Nest Architecture is available on our website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Roadkill Season’, Polly Atkin

Friday Poem Roadkill Season Polly Atkin

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Roadkill Season’, from Polly Atkin’s recently released debut, Basic Nest Architecture.

Basic Nest Architecture Polly AtkinA meshing-together of beauty and gore, ‘Roadkill Season’ is almost ritualistic in its depiction of food preparation and feasting. Sweet and savage images clash: the brutal origin of the meal is not placed at a distance but embraced, an essential element in the pleasure gained.
Basic Nest Architecture is Polly Atkin’s first collection of poetry, and follows her Mslexia Prize-winning pamphlet, Shadow Dispatches, and her Michael Marks nominated Bone Song. The complex, intelligent, densely metaphorical lyrics for which she is known are often inspired by the beauties of the Lake District, her home for the last decade.

Join Polly Atkin at the Lancaster Literature Festival for the Basic Nest Architecture launch tomorrow, Saturday 25 March.

 

Roadkill Season

In Eighteenth-Century House it was roadkill
season. Pheasant, hooked out from under
the dented bumper, last breath condensed
in a plastic bag, matured for a week
in the stainless steel back sink, to build up
flavour. Beautiful dead! I never
saw a thing alive so lovely.
The basin, silvered like the lake in winter,
swirled with colour, like dead trees and diesel.
You stank like the kill itself, like the mulchy
scrub you stumbled out of, stupid
and gorgeous, in love with the tarmac. Poorman’s
Peacock. Dumb bundle of plumage and flesh.
Laura popped your cooling heart
in her gob like a sweet; burst it between
her sharpening teeth. Kate and Anna
carved your breast to split together.
Your meat was purple as the sky at dusk.
We each hooked a finger to halve your wish-bone,
squeezed our eyes closed, and heaved.
We gathered scraps. Kate buried the shell
to dig up and sculpt into artefact later.
We dried out your feet on radiators.
You clutched hot air as they hardened to stars
we bent into brooches, gifts for each other,
then salvaged the best of your wings and fine tail
and stitched new faces of your feathers.

 

 

Basic Nest Architecture is available from the Seren website: £9.99
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