North East Poet Scoops TS Eliot Prize

Jacob Polley posing in a meadow of waist high grass and flowers, holding a book.
Jacob Polley

A poet from the north east has won a prestigious literary prize. Jacob Polley, a Newcastle lecturer, clinched the prize for his collection Jackself, a disturbing work about the loss of innocence.

After reading many manuscripts and months of deliberation, the three judges chose Mr Polley’s collection from a shortlist of six.

Ruth Padel, the chair of the judges, said, “All three judges were agonised by choosing between such brilliant books.”

“But the winning collection, Jacob Polley’s Jackself, is a firework of a book; inventive, exciting and outstanding in its imaginative range and depth of feeling.”

“It’s a sort of autobiography, set in a place called Lamanby, but it’s really like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast where everything is strange.”

As well as Jackself (2016), Mr Polley has published three other poetry collections: The Havocs (2012), Little Gods (2006) and The Brink (2003). The Brink and The Havocs were shortlisted for previous TS Eliot Prizes.

Jacob Polley was born in Carlisle. He currently lives in Whitley Bay and teaches creative writing at Newcastle University.

As well as writing poetry, Mr Polley is a novelist. His debut novel, Talk of the Town, a humorous coming-of-age story and murder mystery, won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award.

In a ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London, Mr Polley was presented with a £20,000 cheque. The other shortlisted poets each received £1,500.

Jackself is described as “a kind of fictionalised autobiography” that is told through “nursery rhymes, riddles and cautionary tales, and through the many ‘Jacks’ of our folktales, legends, phrases and fables.”

Such Jacks include “everyman Jacks and no one Jacks, Jackdaw, Jack-o-Lantern, Jack Sprat, Cheapjack and Jack Frost.”

Jackself is said to be “an unforgettable exploration of an innocence and childhood lost in the darkest corners of English folklore.”

The TS Eliot Prize was established in 1993 by TS Eliot’s widow Valerie.

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