Recipe for REVOLT: Jacob Polley, poet.

As we open REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN., Soho Rep. asked playwright Alice Birch about art pieces that inspired her play. Alice came back to us with a formidable list of plays, photography, feminist essays, and poetry that have all been an influence on this piece of writing.

In a series we are calling “Recipes for REVOLT”, we will be delving a bit deeper into these art pieces to give you a sense of where this extraordinary play sprung.

Review by The Guardian newspaper: “Who says havoc is a vice of the young?” asks the speaker in the title poem of Jacob Polley’s third collection, The Havocs. You’d be hard pushed to level the accusation at Polley, whose commitment to the nightmarish, creepy and unstable has intensified with each of his books, and tends to feed his best poems.


By Jacob Polley

There’s a man in you, his face like melted tallow,

for yours are the old words and yours the old

unusable, soot-grimed things. I spy you tonight,

one night from full, through a pair of cheap binoculars,

hauling up the mountainside your gong of chalk.

If there were a pond nearby upon whose surface

you might lean your subtle silver highness,

I would try to gaff and grapple you, out of courtesy,

for some nights there’s more bulge to the seas,

more reflectance from your coal-bright craterscape.

But tonight unreason separates from reason,

as oil from water, dark from light, bedspread

from blackout cloth, your reflection from yourself,

O creamy, scraped-out shell of a king crab caught

off a north-east sea-coal beach, no less a beach

for glittering black, its anthracitic curve laid

down along the length of my occluded early mind

at grandpa’s house in Newbiggin where at night

I heard the harbour bell clonk like a bell around

a black goat’s neck. O caprine sea! O grandpa dark!

There’s a moonlight man with cords of silk who binds

the destined together, but tonight my mind’s

undone, great turner-away, O whole of holes,

walnut of night! You turn the tides, so give me blisters,

burn my retinas, break my heart; prove by silence

that the mouth that speaks the moon should whisper.


The night is still. The stars are fixed.

You are the moon, your silver dress,

your disappearing constancy.

The night is still. The stars are fixed:

we move through phases of the flesh.

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