Polly Atkin

shadow dispatches

Month: April, 2018


In the next few months I have work coming out in two shiny new mixed-genre anthologies, and a new poetry pamphlet.

The first of the anthologies is Gush: Menstrual Manifestos for our Times, which is edited by Ariel Gordon, Tanis MacDonald, and Rosanna Deerchild, and published by Frontenac House in Calgary. My contribution is a couple of venesection poems, from a sequence called ‘v/s’ (the shorthand for venesection) which I began writing back in January 2016 when I started treatment. One of the things that delayed my diagnosis with Haemochromatosis (genetic iron-overload) is the misconception that women don’t begin to load iron until after the menopause, because menstruation manages it. It should be needless to say that not all women menstruate (regularly, much, or at all) for a variety of reasons – one of which, ironically enough, is iron-overload – so it’s particularly frustrating to me that many medical professionals keep hanging onto this outdated belief. The anthology includes prose, poetry, flash, non-fiction, graphic memoir and more. And it looks like this, which is amazing:


The second anthology is similarly multi-genre, and will be published by Vertebrate in the autumn. Waymaking: an anthology of women’s adventure writing and art seeks to redress the gender imbalance in published nature and adventure writing. There is a domination of the field by able-bodied white men, and there is a lot of work to do in bringing more voices forward. The poem of mine that is included comes from a really bad time pre-diagnosis, when my world had shrunk and shrunk down to the house and a few metres around it that I could just about get to and from.


I find the ableism implicit in a lot of outdoor and landscape writing really excluding. When it does address health issues or disability, it tends to do so from a ‘nature-cure’ angle, which is as problematic as the focus on ‘summiting’ and extreme activities. It’s great to celebrate the achievements of the body, and particularly to re-centre some women’s ability and drive to push their bodies to excel, but it’s also really important to remember that some bodies are being pushed to and beyond their limits by really basic things, like making a drink, or going to the toilet. I don’t need any more challenge, thank you very much. I’d like to just lie on a squishy mossy knoll in the sun, and listen to the birds.  To me it’s really important that in addressing the gender imbalance in outdoor writing we don’t just recreate the same imbalances, but with women too.  The full list of contributors gives a hint of the variety of perspectives and approaches that will be included in Waymaking, and I hope it will go towards helping to widen the field: 

Jean Atkin | Polly Atkin | Camilla Barnard | Hazel Barnard | Sandy Bennett-Haber | Jen Benson | Judith Brown | Claire Carter | Genevieve Carver | Imogen Cassels | Maria Coffey | Lee Craigie | Joanna Croston | Lizzy Dalton | Nick Davies | Heather Dawe | Cath Drake | Paula Dunn | Lily Dyu | Caroline Eustace | Hazel Findlay | Paula Flach | Anna Fleming | Nikki Frumkin | Claire Giordano | Alison Grant | Geraldine Green | Lilace Mellin Guignard | Alyson Hallett | Melissa Harrison | Leslie Hsu Oh | Kathryn Hummel | Katie Ives | Kathleen Jones | Mab Jones | Solana Joy | Dr Judy Kendall | Anja Konig | Tami Knight | Tara Kramer | Dr Alexandra Lewis | Tessa Lyons | Bernadette McDonald | Anna McNuff | Helen Mort | Evelyn O’Malley | Sarah Outen | Kari Nielsen | Libby Peter | Jen Randall | Penelope Shuttle | Ruth Wiggins | Allison Williams | Pam Williamson | Deziree Wilson | Krystle Wright

There is a kickstarter for Waymaking through which you can support the project, and all royalties will be split between the John Muir Trust and Rape Crisis.

I’m aware all of this looks like I’ve been really busy, and in some ways I have: I’ve been doing a lot of readings, and I’ve been working on new poems for a second collection (which I hope won’t take too long to emerge into the world) and on the non-fiction book I am being mentored for through WriteNow. I almost forgot to mention one of the really fun things  I’ve done over the last few months – visiting Aberdeen University Swing Dance Society to write a poem about why they dance and what it means to them for My Time – a project devised by Voluntary Arts Scotland with poets from St. Mungo’s Mirrorball. I was really nervous about visiting the group, for many reasons, largely to do with my own complicated history with dance and disability, but they were so welcoming, and so enthusiastic. I learnt a lot, and not just dance steps. All the poems from the project have been put together in a pamphlet and will be shown in exhibitions around Scotland this year.


Photo by Adam MacMaster

The two above anthologies have both taken much longer than initially expected to come together, and it’s a coincidence that they’re coming out within a few months of each other. My new pamphlet, on the other hand, has happened at superspeed as far as most things in poetry go, accelerating from first talks in February to launching next month.

With Invisible Rain is being published by New Walk Press, in parallel with a new pamphlet from Alan Jenkins. We’re having a launch at Five Leaves Books in Nottingham on May 22nd, so do come along if you’re in the area.

I’m especially delighted to have a cover image by Kim Tillyer, whose cyanotypes using the Lake district landscape, light and foliage seem particularly appropriate. There is a lot of found work in the pamphlet, equals parts Lake District rain to bodily pain, a few deer, and some blood.


Meanwhile, people have been asking me questions, and I’ve been trying to come up with coherent and useful answers. Arusa Qureshi interviewed me amongst a cohort of amazing female poets involved with this year’s StAnza; Richard Smyth asked me some questions about nature writing ahead of the Wildlines festival in Leeds for The State of the Arts, and Chrissy Williams included me in a fascinating series of interviews about first collections.

One of the features of having memory problems that I really hate is not being able to think of the names of things/people on the spot, no matter how much they matter to me, so it was good to be able to spend a bit of slow time thinking about the answers to these, especially the ‘who are you reading now’ type questions. In live-time, my mind goes completely blank when someone asks me this, as I was reminded in both a job interview and a poetry reading recently.

As the year goes on I’ll be doing more readings both from Basic Nest Architecture, and from With Invisible Rain, and talking about different aspects of writing, the Lake District and Chronic Illness at a couple of conferences. In May, I’m talking on ‘We Must Learn to Speak of What we are Made Of: Writing at the Intersection of Pathography and Place’ at Orientations in Nottingham, and in June at ALECC 2018 in Victoria, Vancouver Island, I’ll be talking on ‘Dorothy’s Rain: Findings in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Unpublished ‘Late’ Journals’, which links directly to With Invisible Rain.

After the summer I don’t have much planned though, and I’m open to suggestion …



Keep on discovering poetry all through the year …

For poetry-lovers and the poetry curious in and around the Lakes, the good news is that the Discover Poetry reading group I’ve been facilitating at the Wordsworth Trust since the autumn has been given the green light to continue. Thanks to everyone who has come along, whether for a single session when you’ve been visiting the area or for as many as you could make – it’s your enthusiasm which is allowing us to continue.

The sessions are free, and take place in Dove Cottage by the fireside on the first Thursday of every month. In March we even had a canine attendee, who was pleased to find a portrait of a distant relative on the wall.


As – hopefully – we come out of the snowy season, we may even hold some sessions in the cottage garden. That seems a distant dream on a dreich day like today, but I’m assured that Spring can’t be that far behind all this Winter.

The bad news is that by the time we got the go-ahead, I was already booked up for a Read Regional event which clashes with the April session. The good news is that Eileen Pun has agreed to stand in this month as a special guest, so if you can come along on Thursday April 5th you get the double joy of Aprilish poems and Eileen.

Amongst many other accolades, Eileen is a fellow of The Complete Works, won a Northern Writer’s Award in 2015, and is also an accomplished martial artist and maker. Local people may have attended some of her fantastic Taiji and Journalling workshops at The Wordsworth Trust in Summer 2017.

You can find out more about Eileen and her work here and here.

You can find out more about Discover Poetry and read the poems month by month here.