Neil Rollinson was born in 1960 in Yorkshire. He studied at Newcastle University and then moved to London. Rollinson has published three collections of poetry: A Spillage of Mercury (1996), Spanish Fly (2001) and Demolition (2007), all published by Jonathan Cape, and winning Poetry Book Society recommendations.
Carol Rumens has described Neil Rollison as “a deeply self-conscious writer with an assured technique” (Poetry London). While his first two books, A Spillage of Mercury and Spanish Fly were frank, subversive and often very funny, his more recent work, including the poems linked to here, (which were first published in Poetry Review in 2009 and 2010), have a more sombre tone and sharp awareness of mortality. This new seriousness was evident in his most recent collection, Demolition, with poems which occupy a more rueful, reflective space, where disintegration and loss heighten our sense of a gathering darkness. Yet there is still hope here; Rollinson’s contemporary references and “muscular celebration of food, sex, sport and the natural world” give a vivid sense of lived experience, and there are tender poems looking back on the gawkiness of youth.
A judge of the National Poetry Competition in 2009, Rollinson himself won first prize in 1997 for his poem ‘Constellations’ – with its arresting image of a man drowning kittens in a frozen lake by starlight. He returned to star-gazing themes in 2008, with a commission written for the anthology Dark Matter, Poems of Space. This tightly-worked poem, ‘The Very Small Baseline Group Convenes at the Cat and Fiddle’, offers a philosophical reflection on the universe as viewed from a pub garden, overlooking the Jodrell Bank Observatory. “The Milky Way / sings in a half-inch of Guinness / a song of the distant past when the world / was a moment old”, writes Rollinson, exploring the old soak’s truth that “the more we drink / the clearer we see.” While the huge telescope scans the skies, the poet with typical self-mockery, tumbles “arse over tit” into the damp grass, and adopts the role of wise-fool: “I lie in my cups under the bling of the northern sky / I can hear it now, I can see it all clearly, / all and nothing, just the whole sky blazing.”
Rollinson’s poetry is constantly questioning, and scientific themes regularly surface. He has said, “I believe there’s a connection between poetry and science. We’re in the same business. We’re trying to find out what we are and what makes us tick. What the hell the world and the universe is all about.”
Born in Yorkshire, and generally based in London, Rollinson is highly peripatetic. From 2005 to 2007 he was Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District, living and working next to Wordsworth’s former home, Dove Cottage. He was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Camberwell College of Art 2007–09, in the MA Book Arts Department, working with students who use text in ceramics, glass, or video installations.
As you would expect from a man who named his second collection – Spanish Fly – after a notorious aphrodisiac, Rollinson is well-known for the erotic content of his poetry. A stickily personal poem ‘Like the Blowing of Birds’ Eggs’ captures an intimate bedroom scene, with an egg cracked on a lover’s naked body: “It slips down your chest, / moves on your skin like a woman / hurrying in her yellow dress, the long / transparent train dragging behind.” ‘The Ecstasy of St Saviour’s Avenue’, however, draws on a whimsical sense of humour, like a Jeunet and Caro film, to imagine a whole apartment block shaking from valentine’s night raptures: “For once the house is harmonious, we rock / in our beds; our rhythms hum / in the stone foundations. / We shall have to be careful; / like soldiers who must break step on a bridge. / We stagger our climaxes one by one”.
A Spillage of Mercury, Random House (Jonathan Cape), 1996
Spanish Fly, Random House (Jonathan Cape), 2001
Demolition, Random House (Jonathan Cape), 2007
Neil Rollinson was a judge for the 09/10 National Poetry Competition with poets Ruth Padel and Daljit Nagra. Read their winning poems.
Neil Rollinson is published by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of the Random House group.
Neil Rollinson’s personal website.
Two of Neil Rollinson’s poems from Spanish Fly.