2007 - 2021

Poetry Playlist October

Welcome to the Poetry Playlist! Once a month, we are going to recommend one of our favourite poetry collections to you. It could be newly published, an old classic, or a little-known gem that we found collecting dust in the back of a charity shop. All that matters is that our Arts & Music Editors love it, and think that you might too.

October’s instalment is Incarnation by Clare Pollard, published by Bloodaxe Books in 2017. It is the fifth of Clare’s collections and the first that I read. I am now something of an acolyte.

Pain is lonely.

It is nothing to do with goodness.

The night you were born, I barely thought of love:

I could not think beyond pain’s edges, how it moved,

shuddered steadily through me, looting and burning;

how words decomposed in my mouth to brute noise.

Incarnation is about the creation, the formation of a person, both through literal gestation and through the stories we are shaped by. It is written for Pollard’s infant son, who grows throughout the collection, beginning in the opening poem as a sperm and egg colliding, and gaining language by the book’s close. His growth is accompanied by reimaginings of biblical stories and classics like Pinoccio, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Tiger Who Came to Tea, but also by the background hum of news stories: Trayvon Martin, honour killings, ISIS, the internet. There are lost sons and lost daughters, beauties and horrors. The trauma of childbirth. The beautiful foe that is the newborn. The fear for her son and his future in this violent world. Pollard is a truly excellent poet who handles ancient themes with elegance and originality and updates them, locates them in our contemporary landscape.

My child, you are an I – 

through your two eyes, not yet dark, 

can you see your wet-cheeked mother 

and the whole creaturely Kingdom 

that is stood today before you 

in its opulence and armour, 

that has held its breath this moment

and is waiting for your judgement.



Comments (2)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Dougie Harrison says:

    Thank you for this Iona. What the most concerned and loving father can never fully know about childbirth. Truly humbling. Clare’s work is now added to my list for Waterstone’s.

    1. Iona Lee says:

      Excellent news!

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.