A Letter to Polly Jean


Dearest Polly,

Tomorrow night will be the first time I see an entire concert of yours live after 20+ years of being a fan. There was that time in Shepherd’s Bush, but my friend Gill and I had to leave early to catch the last train back to uni. And you opened for U2 that one time, but opening sets aren’t full sets and, as always, I was left wanting more. As I no doubt will be even after the last strum of your guitar tomorrow night because, where I’m concerned, there’s never enough of you, Polly.

You are one of the artists who showed me what kind of woman I wanted to be. Sitting in my teenage bedroom, blasting To Bring You My Love, your heartbroken, vengeful wail screamed of the things my introverted self could not. I wanted to purr at my lover down by the water, ravish him with my long snake moan. Rail at him until he wanted to be rid of me, call the betraying snake every name in the book. You taught me that feminism and melodrama were not mutually exclusive. That a romantic sensibility was nothing to be ashamed of. That there was strength in traditionally “female” emotions like longing, despair, and ecstasy. That a woman armed with her own words and a guitar is its own form of resistance.

You spoke for us: the shy girls, the insecure girls, the voiceless and the abused girls. You gave us an anthem; you made us bold. You helped us own our sexuality and our desire. Your ferocious, aching caterwaul echoed through our minds long after your songs ended, spurring us to action in our own lives. The images and ideas your lyrics conjured sank in deep, encouraging us to be vulnerable in love, to find shelter in ourselves, to create, to emote, to risk, to contemplate.

Your music achieves moments of sublimity that rival the greatest poets of our time. The swagger and growl of “Man-Size”. The operatic finale of “The Dancer”. The erotic tease of “Hardly Wait”. The sensual susurration of “Slow Drug”. The mellow opulence of “Beautiful Feeling”. The spare and devastating final words of “White Chalk”, “Scratch my palms / There’s blood on my hands”. The giddy rush of “Cat on the Wall”. The indelible lilt to your voice when you sing “The scent of thyme carried on the wind” in “On Battleship Hill”. The lyric that woke me up to my own power as a teen, “Lick my legs / I’m on fire / Lick my legs / Of desire”–the first time I had ever heard a woman demand pleasure from her partner.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that ours has been a love affair. One-sided. Epistolary. Unrequited. Tempestuous. Full of yearning from afar, ecstatic highs, prolonged absences, promises kept and broken. But always the words, the music, the voice, the guitar.

“You breathing into my mouth / I’ll take it / I’ll take it for you / You wanna sing / Then sing it through me / You got something / Left to say”.

And I can hardly bloody wait to hear it.

All my love,


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