Polly Clark was born in Toronto, Canada and brought up in Lancashire, Cumbria and the Borders of Scotland. She has pursued several careers, including zoo-keeping at Edinburgh Zoo, teaching English in Hungary, and publishing at Oxford University Press. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1997, and her first collection Kiss (2000) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. UA Fanthorpe describes Kiss as: ‘a breathtakingly assured first collection.’ As Fanthorpe notes: ‘Animals, in their violence and strength and beauty, play an important part in her repertoire of reference’.

Animals have allowed Clark to explore the whole spectrum of human experience, from ecstasy to grief. In interview, she has talked of her attraction to animals as poetic symbols: ‘I doubt that a poem like Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ could be written now: we are much too aware of the fragility of great predators. Possibly animals are more symbolic of vulnerability and human destructive powers, rather than the magical forces of nature they might once have represented.’

Animals inhabit some of the poems you can hear on this Archive recording – such as ‘Hedgehog’ and ‘Elvis the Performing Octopus.’ While the narrator claims kin with the hedgehog’s ‘prickliness and brilliant escapes’ the depressed performing Octopus does not escape from his predicament in such a triumphant way when his circus closes down. Instead, as Clark’s introduction tells us, ‘Elvis the Performing Octopus’ – a real-life octopus she read about in a book on depression – heartbreakingly commits suicide.

Clark’s second collection Take Me With You (2005) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and short listed for the TS Eliot Prize. The PBS Bulletin describes Clark’s dark humour in a poetry where: ‘certainties are tested and exposed as brittle.’ Farewell My Lovely(2009) also paints the world as a fragile landscape: a new species of bird is exposed to the scientist’s forensic gaze, a marriage is tested, and at the end of the collection Clark bids a farewell to innocence in a series of poems drawn from the Falklands War. In a Sunday Times review of the book, Sean O’Brien celebrates ‘an exact imagination whose great strengths lie in taking nothing for granted and finding the point where the ordinary and the eternal intersect.’

Clark’s reading voice is clear and confident, allowing the poems to work their own magic, thus enacting what the W.N Herbert describes as ‘the necessary art of saying two things at once. The surface maintains a bright, even brisk tone; it’s full of fresh, unexpected phrasings. And yet the imagery points to a darker underbelly.’

This recording was made on April 22nd 2008 at the Audio Workshop, London and the producer was Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Polly Clark

Elvis the Performing Octopus - Polly Clark
Last Will and Testament - Polly Clark
My Life With Horses - Polly Clark

Books by Polly Clark



Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 'Kiss'

Prize website

Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 'Take Me With You'

Prize website

Sunday Herald Pick of the Year for 'Farewell my Lovely'


Winner of the Templar Portfolio Award for pamphlets for 'A Handbook for the Afterlife'

Prize website