Clare Pollard | Poets in the Bookshop

Carl Griffin attends a Dylan Thomas Centre for a live reading from Clare Pollard, whose four poetry collections are now available from Bloodaxe.

Reading from Changeling for the first time in Wales, Clare Pollard kicked off the first half of her 40 minute reading with Still Life, a poem written while she was in Sixth Form and the only poem to be read from her first collection, published (like each of her four collections, by Bloodaxe) when she was just 19. That debut book, Heavy-Petting Zoo, was all she had to read from the last time she read at the Dylan Thomas Centre. Her second and third book didn’t get much of a look-in either at the Poets in the Bookshop event (an event which no longer takes place in the bookshop, though luckily the poets still take part) with a poem based on her travel diaries and a few about her late father written while he was ill making up their contribution.

Poets in the Bookshop Clare Pollard review
Poets in the Bookshop
Clare Pollard
Dylan Thomas Centre

The rest of the reading was all about Changeling (Bloodaxe, 2011), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, a book of ballads and faeries and East London and Lancashire. The first poem read from the book, ‘Waiting for the Kettle to Boil, Lancashire’ brought its title into play:

I was the changeling daughter

you never understood

spurning your lips and lads

for libraries and la-di-dah,


Considering her fidelity to poetry at this time, presumably her teens, the image is effortlessly conceived. Previously known as a confessional poet, and having once been dubbed the chick lit of poetry (which, she told us, smiling, between poems, she wasn’t having), she shrugs off these tags with the remaining poems, starting with a panther, ravens and the spooky Pendle Hill, known for its historical associations with witchcraft. The first half ended, after a few sonnets, one set in Sainsbury’s, with Changeling’s opener, ‘Tam Lin’s Wife’, based on the Celtic ballad of Tam Lin. In Clare Pollard’s version, Tam Lin has been fated to be cursed. Throughout the night, while he sleeps, he will transform into everything his dream-world can conjure up, a lynx, a wicker-man, and if his wife stops holding him before he wakes in the daylight she will lose him forever; a metaphor for marriage for the happily married Pollard. Pollard started this poem slowly but soon sped up and failed to slow down again for the beautiful last line ‘and love has no conditions. None.’ But still, this poem is one of the collection’s highlights.

As Clare Pollard continued after the interval, the sky grew dark over Swansea Marina, just visible through the huge windows, an atmospheric addition to the entertainingly peculiar, ‘Bearded Lady Miss Lupin’, the eponymous member of a freak show, straight out of a Darren Shan novel, who challenges her anomalous status: she may be different but she makes we the audience want what we most fear.

Next year will see the publication of Pollard’s translation of Ovid’s Heroides, again to be published by Bloodaxe. Although we didn’t get a sample, we did get to hear a literal translation of a poem by Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkalo, a Polish poet who is almost the same age as Clare Pollard and whose first book was also published when she was 19. The poem was runner-up in MPT’s Modern Poetry in Translation 2011 competition and can be read on their website.

After a few so-so political poems, Clare Pollard finished the evening with ‘The Caravan’, a meaty romantic poem that also closes Changeling. Although Changeling’s opening poem is a ballad, though not in the traditional form of a ballad (and all the better for it), similarities can be found in ‘The Caravan’, especially, satisfyingly, in the last few lines:

and if you were a rabbit I would not want you tame,

but would watch you gambolling through the bracken,

though there is dark meat packed around your ribs,

and the hawk hangs in the skies.


Upcoming events at the Dylan Thomas Centre include Jon Gower’s book launch (April 12th) and Lynne Rees as the next Poet in the Bookshop (April 26th).