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Extract: A poem from Jacob Polley's T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection Jackself

Posted on 20th January 2017 by Sally Campbell
Jacob Polley’s dark, visceral collection of poetry Jackself was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize on Monday. Semi-autobiographical, the collection tells the story of a young boy, Jack, coming of age in a thorny and surreal Cumbrian landscape reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. Judges of the award described the collection as ‘a firework of a book’, and referencing the Carlisle-born poet’s two previous nominations for the award said, ‘[his] mastery of phrase and rhythm and the control of line, combined with the hurts of childhood and his glee in inventive language, have taken his writing to a new level.” Polley was joined on the shortlist by British poets Alice Oswald, Ian Duhig,and Rachel Boast.


Jackself’s Quality


can’t be bought

or stolen                    Mudder hasn’t bottled it

Mugginshere hasn’t brought it home

in his briefcase

the farmer hasn’t clipped its weighty foam

from his blackest sheep

the hawk-man, with a rag of meat

in his leather glove, can’t bring it

stooping from the sky              Thomascat

hasn’t fetched it from the farmyard

to lay still warm at Jackself’s feet


the dark continent

Jackself peels from the flank

of a Friesian cow, ties to his ankles

and drags across the flatland

at midday, doesn’t prove

his substance               the night

is made of what he needs


he moonwalks in daylight,

afraid like snow he’ll wane or drift

before he can hold

the road out front, the fields behind

and the earth in the churchyard

so Jackself crawls to the coal-shed

and eats




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