Picador acquires Orlam, a narrative poem by PJ Harvey

Picador is proud to announce the acquisition of Orlam, a narrative poem by musician and writer PJ Harvey which will be published in April 2022.

12/11/2021
3 minutes to read
PJ Harvey writing in a studio

Don Paterson, Poetry Editor at Picador, and Philip Gwyn Jones, Publisher at Picador, have acquired world rights in Orlam, a beautiful and profound narrative poem set in a magic-realist version of the West Country by musician and writer PJ Harvey. The deal was negotiated with Sumit Bothra, Managing Director at ATC Management.

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 have 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.

Orlam will be first published in Picador Poetry hardback format in April 2022, with a special collector’s edition incorporating Harvey’s own illustrative artwork following in October 2022.

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.

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.’

Orlam

by Polly Jean Harvey

Book cover for Orlam

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.

Orlam 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 P J 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.