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Jacob Polley: ‘I’m a fool as a writer – you have to take risks’


This year’s TS Eliot prize winner on the freedom of his Cumbrian childhood and making a living from poetry

Jackself and Jeremy Wren are setting / nightlines in the kidney-coloured pool … ” From the first line of what would become Jackself, his 2016 TS Eliot prize-winning collection (though not, in the end, the first line of the book) Jacob Polley knew he had something different on his hands. “Oh goodness,” he thought. “What on earth are you doing? This” – each poem telling a small part of a larger story – “isn’t the way to be writing a book of poems, like those ones you wrote before.”

It is a surprise to discover this tentativeness, because Jackself is so confident, both in its handling of narrative (of two boys’ rural childhood), and of emotion. Polley’s voice is by turns mischievous, demotic, delicate, direct – and funny. So, for instance, Jeremy Wren makes a 9ft snowman based on his father “so I can give him a smile / stonier than a lip smile / poke myself / in the eyes on his hand sticks / run clean through him / and leave a me-hole”.

Related: Jackself by Jacob Polley review – sinister and mysterious

Related: Jacob Polley: ‘If I’m writing a poem, I should be kept busy doing anything other than writing’

I think you have this lightbulb of experience, this core buried inside you and you write out of the light that casts

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