Although born and raised in an urban environment, it is the dramatic land and waterscapes of the Lake District, where Polly Atkin lives, which have given rise to Much With Body. A life-long negotiation with a set of chronic health conditions brings both an urgency and a necessity to her mission to show us beauty, but to warn us that we can’t expect nature to save us or even share in our pain.
We know that the world of these poems is no blithe pastoral but nature red in tooth and claw, as dangerous as it is alluring. There are totemic animals throughout, but they are often elusive. The land and waterscapes themselves are strange, as if seen through refracting lenses. Wild swimming is not an indulgence but a necessary analgesic, the ice cold water releasing the body ‘from the tyranny of gravity’.
The mid-section is devoted to the ‘Much with Body’ sequence, based on quotes from transcripts of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, from the later period of her life when she was ill. Polly’s empathy is manifest in these exquisite fragments. We feel the burden of the cold winters, the torpor of illness, the resilience amidst the pain, the wild consolation of storms and walks in blustery weathers. In the third section we step (or don’t step but imagine) backwards and through disability and discover strange incarnations. Insomnia becomes a useful dream state.
Legally imposed isolation and quarantine isn’t that different from lengthy periods of recovery, the body confined to haunting the house and garden. Yet there is room for wry humour. These poems are moving, original, restless, inventive. In the footsteps of the Wordsworths, they forge a new kind of path, entirely this poet’s own.
Polly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her two poetry collections are Basic Nest Architecture and Much about Body. She is also the author of a biography, Recovering Dorothy: The Hidden Life of Dorothy Wordsworth. Her latest book is Some of Us Just Fall.