Tall Tales

Joanne O’Leary

  • Jackself by Jacob Polley
    Picador, 67 pp, £9.99, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 4472 9044 5

In Roald Dahl’s ‘The Swan’, two boys hack up a bird and tie her wings to a third boy’s shoulders. Then they try to make him fly. The boy escapes up a willow tree, but one of the bullies shoots him in the leg. He staggers, he spreads his wings; later that morning, three people see a great white swan circling the village. Much of my time with Jacob Polley’s latest book of poems was spent deciding whether Jackself was a boy or a bird. In the course of a few lines in ‘Jack Snipe’, a stocky wader becomes a teenager heeling off his trainers. ‘Peewit’ frustrates your ability to say whether it’s a child or a lapwing that limps across boggy ground:

a little one
    drab            barely skyborne, with nothing
of the gut-unravelling acumen
of the scavenger                    this is Jackself

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