Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

Afternoon everybody! I’m writing this post as fast as possible, as I’m leaving to go to poet Antony Christie’s house for his 70th birthday get together.  I’m counting on Antony not reading this blog before we all get there, as it’s meant to be a surprise!

Yesterday I went to the Theatre by the Lake to meet the Alligator Theatre company who are putting a show together which they want to write as a collaboration with local writers.  I was the only poet there, but there was a ‘non-fiction writer’ and then a few playwrights.  It was a really interesting afternoon and I think the play will be really interesting.  All I have to do now is send them some poems and see if I get chosen – I don’t know how much chance I’ve got, not being a playwright, but I would love to be on the project – so tomorrow I will send them some poems for that.

And today I bought a new car!  Or at least, took out a loan to get a new car.  I’m picking it up on Tuesday.  After I’ve had my filling.  So no more moaning about cars, hopefully.  On this blog or in real life.

Today’s Sunday poem is by Polly Atkin.  I went to Polly’s launch of her new pamphlet last weekend and was blown away by her poetry.  She is the inaugural winner of the Mslexia Pamphlet competition

Mslexia is a magazine for women writers and they are running the pamphlet competition this year as well – the pamphlet has been beautifully produced and published by Seren so it’s well worth a go!  You can order Polly’s pamphlet for a mere fiver from Seren at

Polly seems to have slipped under the radar in some ways – she has had a pamphlet out before with Austeigger Press called Bone Song and she has a lot of poetry competition wins to her name – the Troubadour in 2008 and the Kent and Sussex in 2011 so she’s been writing for a while but I don’t think her poetry is as well known as it deserves to be.

There was a question and answer session after Polly’s launch and I was also struck by how good she was at answering questions – very articulate and clear.

Polly’s new pamphlet is called Shadow Dispatches.  It was very difficult to pick a poem again – I loved lots of them but I went for this one about a local Grasmere character  – Henry the Swan because of the fantastic descriptions.  I also love the litany-like feel of the repeated words ‘No grace’

Mute – Polly Atkin

No grace in the nicotine yellow curve
of your throat, snakeish, its throb as you swallow,open your toothed beak, croak, gutteral.

No grace in its muscular sway, in the way
you haul your body like a curse up the muddied
lawn, lumbering, clumsy.  No beauty

in your antediluvian call.  No music.
No love, no song at all.  Ugly
as a god you crawl from the silted shore,

grotesque, hissing.  We’d heard one night
you learnt the steps by moonlight, climbed
to the door of the hut and stopped, shocked

by your transformation, too almost human.
But there was no prince in you, no, no royalty.
Close up, only the leprous knob

on your forehead, your mark of longevity, bulbous,
crackled old leather, a slow black slug.
Can you eat pearls, isolate milk from water?

Now you have dragged yourself up from the lake
to show us your pain.  Injured, you curl
on yourself and shudder.  Mute as a myth.

We bring seed, drink, grow brave, creep closer.
Your fierce neck droops.  So like a god.
Helpless, we leave you to suffer.  Wake

in the grey light thinking of you, in the rain,
your threat display, your dinosaur motion.
And then I see it, your grace.  The beauty

of continuation.  You do not sing.
You build that low down growl you trill
like an aria and we know you’ll live.

7 comments on “Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

  1. I was only looking at swans in a bird book the other day, by chance. I have held them as special birds ever since my childhood when warned they could break your arm (at Roath Park) if they felt you were attacking. I see them often on Rutland Water. Grace is a word I would use for their gliding on the water, but not for their land movements. I like this poem a lot, very clever.

    1. Hi Janet
      Yes, I’ve heard that about swans! I think the poem is great, because the descriptions are so original about a bird that has had so much written about it – the first thing I think of when I think of Swans and Poetry is Yeats Wild Swans at Coole, or Leda and the Swan so I think it’s quite a job to tackle it!

  2. love this Sunday’s poem…one to read aloud. Or chant. Over and over. And thrice huzzah for the new car. Looking forward to at least one poem about how a new car smells.

    1. Hi John
      I’m glad you like the poem. It’s funny you mention the smell – as soon as I walked in and smelled all the new cars I decided I wanted one!

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