I recognised the voice immediately – Jacob Polley. That could mean only one thing – he had won the T S Eliot, one of the most prestigious poetry prizes in Britain. I had flicked on Radio 4’s Front Row and he was being interviewed. Since then there’s been a feeling that Cumbria is basking in reflected glory, because Jake is considered one of our poets. He was born in Carlisle. Before he became famous he wrote a poem a week for a whole year for The Cumberland News. He attended the Cumbrian Poets workshop (but before my time!) and every new book of his is marked by a reading at Bookends, our wonderful independent bookshop in Carlisle. I’ve received several emails which have begun – ‘Have you heard? Jacob Polley’s won the T S Eliot!’
On Thursday I took the dog for a walk down by the Solway Firth to the west of Bowness on Solway. It’s where England ends and signs itself off in a watery boundary that changes with every tide. It’s a quiet forgotten place, and until recently the lane was a gated road. Out on the salt grass, amongst the grazing sheep and cattle, the metallic webs of Anthorn masts with their concrete anchors and miscellaneous farm plastic and scrap iron, a flock of Barnacle geese are grazing. They’re handsome birds with their white faces, dark black bibs and grey and white barred wings. In the spring they will disappear to Svalbard.
The road curves round the Cardurnock Peninsula and Scotland is visible across the mud flats and incoming tide, the light shining in ribbons of pewter, silver and blue. The land changes to gorse bushes (already showing plenty of gold flowers), brackish pools and salt marsh (“Bathing is dangerous due to fast running currents and treacherous sands. It is unsafe to venture out at low tide.”). A curlew utters a short melancholy phrase. A flock of brownish waders fly low and straight, then turn and do their Venetian blind trick of changing to white.
Jacob Polley’s first collection, The Brink, included poems such as ‘The Kingdom of Sediment’, ‘Salmonary’, ‘Fish’, and ‘Crabbing’. The cover of the book showed a shifting border of land, sea and sky. The Solway has a way of seeping into the imagination.