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Items gifted by singer-songwriter PJ Harvey go on display at Dorset Museum

PJ Harvey's Orlam on display in Dorset Museum

PJ Harvey's Orlam on display in Dorset Museum, Dorchester. [Image Credit: Mark North]

An archive of items gifted to Dorset Museum by PJ Harvey on the publication of her Dorset dialect poem Orlam, has gone on display. The items will be exhibited between 29 March and 9 July 2023 outside the Museum’s Collection Discovery Centre.

Alternative rock musician PJ Harvey spent an afternoon at Dorset Museum in April 2022 pursuing her interest in 19th-century Dorset dialect poet William Barnes, and donating a signed copy of Orlam ahead of the work’s publication. She also gifted the Museum proofs of the book’s text and cover marked with her hand-written edits, and an exclusive signed photograph of her wearing a brooch of traditional Dorset buttons. The photograph’s inscription reads, To Dorset Museum, with good wishes always, Polly Jean Harvey. All of these are now on display.

Harvey’s verse novel Orlam is the first substantial work written in the Dorset dialect for many decades. It brings a modern, surreal twist to traditional West Country words and phrases. Although the poem offers a fictionalised and distorted view of the county, it draws upon Harvey’s memories of her secluded childhood in a small Dorset village, particularly in its depictions of nature and folklore. 

The poem’s language is similar to that used by William Barnes in his 19th-century Dorset dialect poems – Barnes’s Glossary of the Dorset Dialect was Harvey’s principal dialect reference source – but its content and tone are strikingly different. The peaceful rural life celebrated in Barnes’s poems becomes a veneer that Harvey peels away to reveal corrupt lifestyles. Harvey’s musical background can be felt in the poem’s strong rhythmical pulse and lyricism. Orlam has standard English translations on facing pages that were written by Harvey’s friend, mentor, and editor, Scottish poet Don Paterson.

Harvey’s award-winning creative career spans three decades. The trio band ‘PJ Harvey’ released its first album, Dry, in 1992, to great critical acclaim. Harvey is the only musician to have won the Mercury Prize twice, for her albums Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (written partly in Dorset) in 2001, and Let England Shake in 2011. The latter was recorded in Eype, west Dorset. Film, television, and theatre music have been scored by her. She was awarded an MBE for services to music in 2013. In 2015, Harvey published her debut poetry collection with photographs by Seamus Murphy, The Hollow of the Hand.

Harvey views her life’s creative oeuvre as one body of work and doesn’t differentiate between writing poetry, drawing, and songwriting. She follows a long tradition of writers, including William Barnes, Thomas Hardy, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose literature was inspired and shaped by Dorset, and whose works are cared for and displayed in Dorset Museum.

Orlam was published on 28 April 2022 by Picador Poetry. Copies are on sale in the Museum’s shop.

The Museum’s Interim Director, Elizabeth Selby says: ‘We were thrilled to receive these items from PJ Harvey in April 2022. 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. We are delighted that we now have an opportunity to display them for visitors, and fans of PJ Harvey, to see.’

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