Some of the poems in Norah Pollard's first book present a compelling portrayal of her father, Seabiscuit's jockey. But more than that, they show her to have inherited his love and understanding of animals and appreciation of wilderness, which in her case takes the form of the tidal salt marshes and beaches where the Housatonic River flows into Long Island Sound. The scenes and denizens of this region come vividly to life in the poems of Leaning In.


Laura Hillenbrand writes, "In Leaning In, Norah Pollard has created a work of singular radiance, an elegant, truthful, resonant collection. It should be read, re-read, and remembered."

And this from poet Gray Jacobik: "The most heartbreaking poetry seems to require true heartbreak to inform it -- would there were a less expensive way to make art. The poems in Norah Pollard's Leaning In have spared her, and us, nothing of life's emotional and spiritual extractions. 'Essential Oils -- are wrung,' as Dickinson would have it. In skillful, compassionate, wise, and unflinching poems, we're reminded that the works that touch us most deeply are unself-conscious in their strategies, revelatory in their authenticity, and 'cost' the most to make. Fortunately, when we surrender to them, the rewards, as here with Pollard, are inestimable."

Ms. Pollard has read her work widely at venues such as Yale University and the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. She has recently recorded a CD of twenty-six poems in the book.  Click here to read sample poems from Leaning In.

At various points in her life, Norah Pollard has been a folk singer, waitress, nanny, teacher, solderer, and print shop calligrapher. She currently works for a Bridgeport steel company. In 1983 she received the Academy of American Poets Prize from the University of Bridgeport, and for several years was editor of The Connecticut River Review. She lives in Stratford, Connecticut.

Other praise for Leaning In:

"Norah Pollard has translated a harrowing, yearning lifetime into imagery-rich poems of despair and wild flings. 'A dreamy stir of dust motes / and you'll sense the silent others in the shadows / attending.'  Pollard gives us crystal fire dogs, racing horses, Narragansett dark, parakeets which are 'green pieces flying gorgeously / in twelve directions.' This is really splendid poetry from many years of writing with beautiful care." - Dick Allen

"I was not surprised to learn that Norah Pollard is the daughter of Red Pollard, Seabiscuit's jockey, for in her poems as in her life, she shares her father's wry wit, total honesty, and passion for adventure." - Rennie McQuilkin

The Boox Review (on line, 9/20/03) calls Norah Pollard’s poems “exquisitely intimate, deftly rendered delights” and says that they “not only illuminate the power of love but the power in truth as well.”


Antrim House lists two other books by Norah Pollard. For DEATH AND RAPTURE IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM click here, and for REPORT FROM THE BANANA HOSPITAL click here.

The cover of Leaning In was adapted from this watercolor of the Connecticut River by Norah Pollard's uncle, Eugene Conlon. He produced some twenty studies of the same scene under many different conditions. This one was painted in late spring.



 ISBN: 0-9662783-6-4
 LCCN: 2003102226
 Length: 112 pages
 Binding: 5/5" x 8/5" trade paperback








Whatever possessed you to climb that first horse,

    clutch his barrel with your skinny legs

    and, hanging on to mane like mad,

     steal that crazy ride across the carnival field

    when you were ten and new to horses that same day?

What were you conspiring with them later

    when you stole into their stalls,

    the dark horses immense, breathing

    and stomping in the dark,

    rubbing their muzzles on your shoulder,

    their wet breath crismal on your neck?

Did you think you would marry them?

Did you think you would mount their

    roan backs and ride out your life in circles

    under Santa Anita’s big blue sky?

Did you make up your mind to become horse?


And years later during those golden races,

    when you’d break from the gate

     did you think of anything but the blood rhythm

     of those hooves under colors,

     the furious speed you governed with your hands?

Did you urge on your bay in tongues?

Down the homestretch, were you filled with sudden

    love for the rider you were overtaking?

And later, in the shed-rows, with the grooms walking

 the hots, rubbing them down,

 in all that sweet smell of manure and hay and sweat,

                 what did they say to you, the horses?

What did the horses say?


Tell me about the horses.


 LAST LIGHT                                                                                                          



If, some summer evening,

you were to come upon

my father’s bones

under the ferns

by the dark and languid

Ten Mile River,

you would find them small,

for a man,

and note that the skull

was beautifully shaped.


You would note, too,

the unusually long and

narrow bones of his hands

bound together by the black rosary,

the fine shreds of green silk tie

still caught around the white

spools of his neck, and

the hair, translucent when

they buried him, now

perfectly clear, luminous as

spider’s silk.


Many of his bones would show

old cracks and fractures—

his nose, ribs, one arm, a hand,

the hips, that terrible leg, the clavicle—

a chronicle of bad breaks

in a life of riding horses.


And then, if you were to kneel

and hold back the laurel and blackthorn

shading what had been his face,

you would find,

pooled in its socket like

a tiny lake among snow hills,

his glass eye,

steadfastly shining,

eternally innocent of the wild, harsh,

and gorgeous world it had gazed upon,

forever blue.









It was blue and black and moved like a crack

across the baked orange earth.

It ripped towards the palmettos and

colicroot and its fat body

parted the tall grass like a Moses. Was gone.


Four, fubsy thighed, enthralled,

I run up the back steps calling “Snake! Snake!”

He opens the screen door. He scowls out.

He gets the spade from the shed.

I watch while he lopes to where I point,

the silver spade over his shoulder. He screams

“Aaaaaiguh!” and makes a demon face and

brings the snakesticker down and down and down,

grunting, “Uhhhh, Uhhhh, Uhhhh.”

He stomps with his kangaroo boots,

his thin body leaping and stamping.

He snorts, he growls.


He finishes the thing.


He turns and says, “That hairbutted snake

won’t bother you no more,” and walks to

the pignut tree to sit under its dangling mosses

and smoke a cigarette.

My mother calls from the backdoor.

I go to her. “Did he kill the snake?”

“No, momma,” I whisper, “the snake already was gone.”

She laughs and covers her mouth.


I sit on the stoop and puzzle over this man

who is my father,

who wears cowboy boots,

who screams like a cougar,

who dances on invisible snakes.






                                     —for my father



They led the horses away.

They tore down the fences.

The wreaking ball brought down

the grandstand, the clubhouse.

They plowed under the track kitchen,

the tack shop, the bettors’ windows.

They burned the green barns.


When there was nothing of Narragansett

but a great empty space, the moon

glittered over it like a Vegas sign

and the wind blew dust across

900 acres to the Newport-Armistice roads.

The next day they paved.


Black asphalt covered the scent

of hay and the horse.

They built a drugstore,

a store for linoleum, and they

threw up subdivisions, aqua and mustard

and pink, whose mailboxes rusted

before they were sold.

Then they built a nursing home


where now the old jockey lay in a narrow bed.

He did not know where he was

so the irony was lost to him,

but he knew his wife would come

and wash him and light him a cigarette

and put the swatches of cotton

between his toes and pour him

a small cup of blackberry brandy.

Long nights alone, after the t.v. was

shut off and the brandy gone,

he’d listen for something.

All the long dark nights, listening.


One night a lean March wind

rattled the gate and his heart labored

in his breast and he rose up

for he heard what he heard—

their soft nickering and blowing, the thin

rustle of silks, the creak

of saddle and the tick

of hoof on stone.


And he left the bed and went out

to where they stood in the grasses.

He stood before them and

their breath fell on him like cloud 

and he saw their great eyes pool the moon.

And the one waiting for him,

the one with an empty saddle,

was a bay.


He mounted up and they rode under the moon

and the wind flared the mane of his horse

and was hard and clean on his face.

The others galloped on either side, silently,

as if they were running on moss or flowers,

and he went with them where they took him

into the fields of night.







The rare full Christmas moon

lay on the far bank of the river,

fat, elliptical, quivering,

like the bubble boiling out from

the glass blower’s wand.

Along the coast, two green beacons

winked slowly in the windless cold

and the black river lay sleek and still.


They were just there—no dramatic

flying in on thudding wings

or gliding out of darkness into

the moon’s white wash—

just there as I came down the hill
to the river. Eighteen of them

sleeping in the water,

heads pillowed on their own backs, or

holding motionless, looking

down into the water like long-necked

kohl-eyed, mooning girls

blooming white in the black night.


The swans rocked and slept,

the moon unmoored, drifted high,

grew smaller and brighter,

and a thin thread of cloud raveled across

the dark and mindful sky.


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