Polly Atkin

Polly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her first full poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture (Seren, 2017), has been followed by a third pamphlet, With Invisible Rain (New Walk Press, 2018), which draws on Dorothy Wordsworth’s late journals in articulating pain. Her first pamphlet bone song (Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award, 2009, and second, Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013), won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize in 2012. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria. She is a Penguin Random House WriteNow mentee, for a non-fiction book reflecting on place, belonging and chronic illness.


Photo: Kay Adkins


Breakfast at the Poetry Café: Another Place »


Enjoy your breakfast sunny side up at the festival’s Poetry Café

[This link will be live once the event starts, with all the poetry and chat, but alas not the pastries!]


Fri 8 March | 10:00 - 11:10 | £4.75/£3.75 | The Byre Theatre, Abbey Street, Studio Theatre



Leeches have three hundred teeth. Leeches
leave a bite mark like a peace sign. Leeches excrete
anaesthetic when they pierce your skin,
like Emla cream. Leeches are precious.
A medicinal leech is hard to find.

We are listening to the radio on the drive to the hospital.
Natural Histories. A half hour of leeches.
A leech is doctor. A leech is a fiend
who sucks you dry. A leech is a bad
friend. A good leech will save lives.

Leeches are curious. Leeches migrate
around a body. Victorians tied
strings to their leeches and let them roam,
mine the body’s unseen continents,
drain what they couldn’t control. I consider

the grace of leeches. The diaspora of leeches.
The harvesting of leeches to extinction. An old man
reads a young man’s poem, in which
a leechgatherer on a lonely moor becomes
a beautiful cure: the last leech in England

and I think of him now – as I lay on my bed,
a needle in each elbow crook, the cold
saline dripping in, the hot
blood dripping out – skulking in a pool
on the weary moor, a small striped ghost

very beautiful, very precious, very good.


Polly Atkin

First published in Gush: A menstrual manifesto for our times (Frontenac House, 2018)