Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine

Helen Ivory

    
Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969, and lives in Norwich. She has worked in shops, behind bars, on building sites and with several thousand free-range hens. She has studied painting and photography and has a Degree from Norwich School of Art. In 1999 she won an Eric Gregory Award.
   
She has published three collections with Bloodaxe Books, The Double Life of Clocks (2002), The Dog in the Sky (2006) and The Breakfast Machine (April 2010). She was awarded an Arts Council writer’s bursary in 2005 and in 2008 an Author’s Foundation Grant. She has taught creative writing for Continuing Education at the University of East Anglia for nine years and has been Academic Director there for five. She is an editor for the Poetry Archive, a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and is currently studying for a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA.
   
   
    
 
 
About The Breakfast Machine
  
       
Inside The Breakfast Machine a chicken on squeaky tin legs is cooking you eggs and a squirrel plays tape-recorded birdsong high up in a tree. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse high-tail it into town as cowboys, and the fate of the world is decided by a game of cards.
    
The Breakfast Machine is driven by the transformations of fairytale where the dark corners of childhood are explored and found to be alive and well in offices, kitchens and hen-houses.
    
There is more than a hint of East European darkness in Helen Ivory’s third collection, which sits more comfortably alongside the animations of Jan Svankmajer than any English poetic tradition.
    
  
‘Helen Ivory creates a troubled yet beguiling world rich in irony and disquiet. She possesses a strongly-grounded narrative voice which, combined with her dextrous transformative takes both on reality and on what lies beyond reality’s surface, puts one in mind of the darker side of Stevie Smith who said that poetry “is a strong explosion in the sky”. The Breakfast Machine is such an explosion in the sky of contemporary poetry.’
    
– Penelope Shuttle
   
     
*
       
   
The Breakfast Machine
Helen Ivory
 
Behind a wood sliding door
the whistling and grinding
of a great machine
brings us slowly, inexorably
towards breakfast.
 
Even the keenest eyes
of the imagination,
will not inform you
what kind of alchemy
is at work there.
 
The chicken is the thing
that troubles me most,
as she crosses the kitchen
on squeaky tin legs
emerges at the serving hatch
 
cocks her head to one side,
takes in the room
with the bead of an eye
shrieks out with a voice
like grating glass:
 
Scrambled, poached, boiled,
scrambled, poached, boiled
.
  
  
 
  
Dolls
Helen Ivory

 
This one’s child has emptied her tears
into its heart and turned it to salt.
Poor salt doll,
there’s no end to her sorrows.
 
*
 
There’s always someone to do your dirty work,
always someone
with plucked-out eye,
with snapped-off hands.
 
*
 
A froufrou legion
with wide-awake eyes
in the junkshop window,
they have all lost their names.
 
*
 
Made of wax
they will inherit the earth
if that’s what you want –
there’s all manner of spells.
  
  
  
 
A Little Spell in Six Lessons
Helen Ivory
 
after Ana Maria Pacheco
  
*
 
You must first mask
your human self,
then forget your tongue.
Learn to talk as birds
or cloven hoofed things.
  
*
  
To lose yourself
is a very particular art.
If you want ever to be found
scatter breadcrumbs,
pray the birds are not hungry.
  
*
  
I will tell you a story
of the dark corners
that hold us in place,
of the chandelier of bones,
the wind whistling through teeth.
  
*
  
Your body is a sheet
of blank paper
and the birds have eaten
their fill of your path.
They have pecked out your eyes.
  
*
  
Now see afresh,
see what you’ve become!
Your words are butterflies
pinned to your tongue –
release them.
  
*
  
And what you hold
is perhaps what you wished for
as you sang as a child
in your feathered chair
when the world was asleep.
  
  
  
 
Tea Party
Helen Ivory

 
It was a tea-party like any other tea-party,
the tide was way out, and the table
up to its knees in black glacial sand.
 
Alice and the White Rabbit shakily balanced
on beach-balls, inched closer to the empty chairs
that sat either side of me and the sleepy mouse.
 
White noise from an invisible waterfall
seemed to hide inside china cups
like sea in a shell if I put my ear to them.
 
You were nowhere to be seen, but your voice
bumped round the walls of my skull,
left soggy cake crumbs in the dregs of my tea.
 
 
 
 
Published in The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe, 2010).
  
Pre-order The Breakfast Machine at The Book Depository or Amazon.
  
Visit Helen’s Bloodaxe author page.
  
  
Read Helen’s poems, ‘Office Block’, ‘My Grandmother’s Ghost’ and
‘Making Rain’.
      
Read two of Helen’s poems – ‘How to make a pot of tea’ and
‘The Orange Seller’ – in Horizon Review’s third issue.
      
Listen to four poems at PoetCasting.

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