Jacob Polley and a Jar of Honey

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Back in those heady days of 2009, with the news dominated by bankers’ bonuses and MP’s expenses, the BBC launched a campaign to let poetry into our lives.

On 28th January that year, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson announced a deeper commitment to arts and music on the BBC, with a range of initiatives to support cultural Britain.

Let Poetry Into Your Life

Let Poetry Into Your Life was once such initiative. A series of short films, portraying celebrities of the day reciting their favourite poems. Brief enough to insert in between scheduled programmes, they spoke into the living rooms of 10.9 million viewers.

I remember Damian Lewis reciting Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress and Robert Webb reading William Carlos Williams’ Love Song. But what I remember most, and had, as the BBC must have hoped it would, that shock and awe moment, was comedian Phill Jupitus, sitting down for breakfast in a greasy spoon cafe is asked by the bloke sitting at the next table if its ‘alright if I take the honey mate?’

You hold it like a lit bulb,
a pound of light,
and swivel the stunned glow
around the fat glass sides:
it’s the sun, all flesh
and no bones
but for the floating
knuckle of honeycomb
attesting to the struggle.
  • A Jar of Honey © 2003 Jacob Polley

Twenty seconds of spine-tingling paresthesia. Like the first time, I heard Anthony Heggaty sing Hope There’s Someone and Thom Yorke sing Creep. But more incredulous, this young poet, Jacob Polley, acclaimed as one of the ‘next generation of poets’ by the Poetry Book Society, lived in Carlisle!

The Brink is one of the most wonderful first collections of poetry I have read. A Jar of Honey opens a collection that is instantly accessible, his words etch a restrained sensuality onto everyday domesticity. Whether a jar of honey, an old wood-burning stove or a trip to the Spar, Polley writes poetry that ‘imbues the every day, the tarnished and burnished, with the possibilities of the transcendent.’

Thomas de Quincy – Fanboy

I searched online for Jacob Polley and found the one thing that wasn’t ‘imbued with transcendence’ was his website. In the spirit of wanting to make his work more accessible to the public, I wrote to Polley. I thought of Thomas de Quincy and his ‘fan-boy’ letter to Wordsworth in July 1803:

Though you may find many minds more congenial with your own, and therefore proportionately more worthy of your regard, you will never find any one more zealously attached to you—more full of admiration for your mental excellence and of reverential love for your moral character—more ready (I speak from my heart!) to sacrifice even his life—whenever it could have a chance of promoting your interest and happiness—than he who now bends the knee before you.

De Quincy, just 17 when he wrote his fanmail, had made one attempt to visit Dove Cottage but turned back, too scared to knock. He too, like me, had discovered poetry through Wordsworth’s & Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, but unlike the soon-to-be-infamous drug addict, and one of the finest prose writers in England, I sent Polley an email.

I wrote to compliment him on his amazing first book and ridicule him on the state of his website. So we struck up an agreement that I would create and update his site in return for a free signed copy of future publications. And who knew then that after 3 poetry collections and one novel, Jacob would win the coveted 2016 TS Eliot Prize with his 4th collection, Jackself.

It took some searching to find the original Let Poetry Into Your Life videos. I only found a low-res Damian Lewis on YouTube. But I did find Phill Jupitus, Jacob Polley and his jar of honey, and saved it for posterity. Cheers mate!

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