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Orlam

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Orlam follows Ira and the inhabitants of UNDERWHELEM month by month through the last year of her childhood innocence. The result is a poemsequence 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 interview: People think I live in a cave and eat PJ Harvey interview: People think I live in a cave and eat

Reviving the Dorset dialect and West Country folklore through narrative verse, PJ Harvey’s ‘Orlam’ is a sequence of poems around one girl’s coming of age. But if I’d asked my grandmother this she would have felt like the world was probably always been frightening. I remember talking about when televisions and telephones first appeared and she was sort of terrified at what was happening. It’s all contextual, isn’t it?” As stated in the ‘Note on the Text’, the book is a work of the imagination. Nine-year-old Ira-Abel and her rural community seem to exist in a timewarp, in which signs of modernity appear alongside superstitious beliefs and practices of the past. If all this sounds a little abstruse, the language is even more so, since it's all written in Dorset dialect. And sometimes, admittedly, this can look a little alarming: A novel-in-verse written in dense Dorset vernacular, Orlam is a curious and enchanting thing. Like a dark poetic almanac, it charts, month by month, a year in which its heroine, nine-year-old Ira-Abel Rawles, leaves behind the innocence of her childhood.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 byOrlam, 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.

PJ Harvey PJ Harvey

First five-star read of the year! I have a lot of thoughts about this that I'll try and make sense of:Still in use would be words like “t’other,” for “the other” and “b’aint”; instead of saying, “he isn’t” or “it isn’t,” you’d go, “b’aint.” Meaning that “it ain’t”— it “be ain’t”— if you see what I’m mean. PJ Harvey comments: “Having spent six years working onOrlamwith my friend, mentor and editor DonPaterson, 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.” Yeah [ laughs]. I had a lot of fun writing this book. I really wanted it to be not only a book of a lot of dark and very sensitive and emotional things, but also of great humor. As you can see, I used the language to my advantage in doing that.

PJ Harvey with Max Porter – Orlam: A Conversation - Komedia PJ Harvey with Max Porter – Orlam: A Conversation - Komedia

There are some graphic scenes in Orlam of assault and bestiality, which were surprising. But at the same time, it’s not too different from reading a Flannery O’Connor story, looking at the darkness through a different lens. And a lot of the [characters] have two names, so it’s like a dual personality. I was very interested in that blurring of reality and fiction, imagination and inventing things or actually using real sources. It’s all mixed up. And in fact, I think that as a creative artist, no matter what media you work in, we sort of absorb everything one’s ever seen, felt, dreamt, read, or seen. It goes into your being and is absorbed and swishes around and mixes with your real memories and your real experience and gets churned up. And it’s sort of remade and comes out of you in a new form. So I don’t really distinguish between the fact and the imagination because they’re all as real to me. Her poetry about the haunted Gore Wood conjures vivid imagery, enough maybe to lend itself to other types of art. Does she hope it might become something else, like a movie?PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money, the film she made with Seamus Murphy in 2019. Photograph: Pulse Films/Allstar

PJ Harvey on ‘Orlam,’ Elvis, ‘Rid of Me’ and Her New Album

And of course the theme. Grim! A 9 year-old girl with a drunk father, an older brother who leaves her for an imaginary friend, a mother? I'm not sure, but I think she killed herself before the story started. An sex obsession with all of them, including the 9 year-old. A natural question, given PJ Harvey’s considerable musical output, is whether she intends to perform her poetry in song? She has in fact indicated ambitions to develop Orlam into a stage or film dramatisation. The stirring powers of nature, vicarious childhood misadventures and trappings of popular culture certainly make for a rich subject matter.A special edition with extraordinary illustrations made by the author during the period in which the book was written. Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.

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