Orlam, a beautiful and profound narrative poem set in a magic realist version of the West Country by musician and writer PJ Harvey, will be published in Picador Poetry hardback format in April 2022, with a special edition incorporating Harvey’s own illustrative artwork following in October 2022.
Orlam is the product of six years’ intense writing. It is not only a remarkable coming-of-age tale, but the first full-length book written in the Dorset dialect for many decades. Orlam also reveals PJ Harvey as not only one of the most talented songwriters of the age, but a gifted poet – whose formal skill, transforming eye and ear for the lyric line has produced a strange and moving poem like no other. Orlam comes with a facing-page English translation, so readers can follow the richness and subtlety of the original poem with ease.
Nine-year-old Ira-Abel Rawles lives on Hook Farm in the village of Underwhelem. Next to the farm is Gore Woods, Ira’s sanctuary, overseen by Orlam, the all-seeing lamb’s eyeball who is Ira-Abel’s guardian and protector. Here, drawing on the rituals, children’s songs, chants and superstitions of the rural West Country of England, Ira-Abel creates the twin realm through which she can make sense of an increasingly confusing and frightening world.
Orlam follows Ira and the inhabitants of Underwhelem month-by-month through the last year of her childhood innocence. The result is a poem-sequence of light and shadow – suffused with hints of violence, sexual confusion and perversion, the oppression of family, but also ecstatic moments in sunlit clearings, song and bawdy humour. The broad theme is ultimately one of love – carried by Ira’s personal Christ, the constantly bleeding soldier-ghost Wyman-Elvis, who bears ‘The Word’: Love Me Tender.
PJ Harvey was born in Dorset in 1969. Her debut poetry collection, The Hollow of the Hand, was created in collaboration with photographer Seamus Murphy.
Harvey was awarded an MBE for services to music as well as an Honorary Degree in Music from Goldsmiths University. She has received numerous Grammy Award nominations, has scored music for several tv, film and theatrical productions, and is the only artist to have won the Mercury Prize twice with her albums Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and Let England Shake.
Don Paterson said: “I’m immensely proud that we’re publishing such a bold and original work with Picador. Working with Polly – and watching her development as a poet over the years – has been a great privilege. Orlam not only breaks new ground as a long poem – it brings an entire dialect back to life from the edge of its own extinction, and reminds us how radically the world is altered by how we speak of it.”
PJ Harvey comments: “Having spent six years working on Orlam with my friend, mentor and editor Don Paterson, I am very happy to publish this book of poetry with Picador. Picador feels absolutely the right home for it, and it’s an honour to be in the company of poets like Jacob Polley, Denise Riley and Carol Ann Duffy.”
Philip Gwyn Jones, Picador Publisher, comments: “It is an absolute privilege and pleasure for us to be publishing the entirely remarkable Orlam on the Picador Poetry list. It is an exceptional, even unique work that reinvigorates ancient traditions and renews English poetry in doing so. Admirers of the most searching, ambitious new poetry are going to thrill to it.”
The hardback edition is now available for pre-order in the UK, very limited number of signed copies available.
Order from the official store *first batch of signed copies on sale now, second batch on sale 5pm GMT today (Friday 12th November) – limited to one per customer*: https://PjHarvey.lnk.to/OfficialStore
Also available from Waterstones, Rough Trade and selected independent book stores.