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PJ Harvey visits Dorset Museum and gifts Orlam proofs and exclusive photograph to collection

Dorset Museum Interim Director Elizabeth Selby with PJ Harvey and her mother Image Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

Dorset Museum Interim Director Elizabeth Selby with PJ Harvey and her mother [Image Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS]

The Dorset-born singer-songwriter, musician and poet, has visited Dorset Museum ahead of the publication of her Dorset dialect narrative poem Orlam.

Accompanied by her mother Eva, Harvey spent an afternoon at the Museum, starting in the Museum’s Library. Here she presented Interim Director Elizabeth Selby with a hand-corrected proof of Orlam, and an exclusive signed photograph of the singer wearing traditional Dorset buttons. She also gifted a published copy of Orlam, which she signed and wrote into the frontispiece ‘I’m so proud to be a local!’

Harvey drew upon the work of 19th century Dorset dialect poet and co-founder of Dorset Museum, William Barnes, to write Orlam. A number of items from the Museum’s William Barnes collection were shown to Harvey to her great delight and interest. These included manuscript poems, early editions of published works including Barnes’ Dorset dialect glossary, and a replica of a humstrum, a traditional instrument described by Barnes in his poem The Humstrum.

The singer was introduced to Grace Peters-Clarke, currently, Writer-in-Residence at the Museum as part of a black writer scheme developed and funded by the international literary competition, the Bridport Prize, in collaboration with best-selling author, Kit de Waal. Harvey discussed her writing process and shared with Grace her experiences of drawing upon Dorset dialect and folklore in the writing of Orlam.

Harvey and her mother Eva were then given a tour of the Museum, where they were particularly drawn to a pair of buckled shoes worn by William Barnes, a replica of the Dorset Ooser (a wooden head or mask used in the 19th-century folklore of Melbury Osmund, and referenced by Harvey in Orlam), and Thomas Hardy’s writing pens.

Born in 1969 in Bridport, Polly Jean Harvey grew up in the Dorset village of Corscombe and released her first album Dry with her band, PJ Harvey, in 1992. She is the only musician to have been awarded the Mercury Music Prize twice, in 2001 and 2011. In 2013, she was awarded an MBE for services to music. Her debut poetry collection, The Hollow of the Hand, was published in 2015 and created in collaboration with photographer Seamus Murphy. Orlam, which has been described as ‘a beautiful and profound narrative poem set in a magic realist version of the West Country’ will be published on 28 April.

Dorset Museum hopes to display the items gifted by Harvey in the near future.

Elizabeth Selby, Interim Director of Dorset Museum, said: “We are thrilled and honoured that PJ Harvey has chosen to gift the Museum these wonderful items ahead of the publication of Orlam. Harvey’s award-winning career, which spans over 30 years, has been extraordinary and wide-ranging - her achievements and creative output are something of which Dorset can be proud. She follows in a long tradition of writers including William Barnes, Thomas Hardy and Sylvia Townsend Warner whose work is shaped by Dorset, and who are represented in the Museum’s collections. It is only fitting that these items should be deposited here.”

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