Tag Archives: Helen Ivory Hide

Protest Against Rape: Monday * May be triggering *

Before the reader embarks on reading these poems, the editors stress that some content may be found disturbing, troubling or even distressing. Sexual violence is an emotive subject, and some writing about rape is as exploitative as the crime itself. Such writing in the context of politics, the media or literature can constitute a “double violation” for the rape survivor who lives the experience for a second time: the experience of “triggering”. Encounters with sexual violence as a subject for literature demand caution, care and respect, but an interrogation of “rape myths” is necessary. The poems selected break the silence of the status-quo, which defines sexual violence as a freak event rather than part of a dominative “rape culture”. This protest is the beginning of a conversation that seeks recuperation, healing and redress.
Please note that submissions are closed. 
The introduction to our protest can be read here.
Please refer to our list of International Resources for Rape Support here.


© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

Rape Poem
Marge Piercy
There is no difference between being raped
and being pushed down a flight of cement steps
except that the wounds also bleed inside.

There is no difference between being raped
and being run over by a truck
except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.

There is no difference between being raped
and being bit on the ankle by a rattlesnake
except that people ask if your skirt was short
and why you were out alone anyhow.

There is no difference between being raped
and going head first through a windshield
except that afterward you are afraid
not of cars
but half the human race.

The rapist is your boyfriend’s brother.
He sits beside you in the movies eating popcorn.
Rape fattens on the fantasies of the normal male
like a maggot in garbage.

Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing
all of the time on a woman’s hunched back.
Never to stroll alone on a sand road through pine woods,
never to climb a trail across a bald
without that aluminum in the mouth
when I see a man climbing toward me.

Never to open the door to a knock
without that razor just grazing the throat.
The fear of the dark side of hedges
the back seat of the car, the empty house
rattling keys like a snake’s warning.
The fear of the smiling man
in whose pocket is a knife.
The fear of the serious man
in whose fist is locked hatred.

All it takes to cast a rapist to be able to see your body
as jackhammer, as blowtorch, as adding-machine-gun.
All it takes is hating that body
your own, your self, your muscle that softens to flab.

All it takes is to push what you hate,
what you fear onto the soft alien flesh.
To bucket out invincible as a tank
armored with treads without senses
to possess and punish in one act,
to rip up pleasure, to murder those who dare
live in the leafy flesh open to love.
Published in Circles in the Water (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

Bang bang
Victoria Bean
I’m on my way
to Hades, ladies

you coming?
Ladies lie

on concrete
still and listen

while they cry –
it’s war baby.

So who’s the one
they can’t forgive?

The one who says
you’ll live, or

the one who says
they’re sorry.

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’
Oil painting

I Give You Back
Joy Harjo
I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my house, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
                                                 of dying.
Published in How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975 – 2001
(W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

Growing Grove of Laurel Trees
Valeria Melchioretto
Below the belt where the Gordian Knot is still uncut
ancient Aphrodite long since confused love and lust
while seedy Zeus is free to rule with phallic thunder.

No disguise is too sly as he hunts with crude desire:
He turns into a swan, a white bull or a pissy shower
exploits and cons and conquers through selfish power.

Did no one dare protest about these sickening deeds?
Phlegyas faced the Gods and was punished in return
seen by Dante in the circle of hell where the sullen dwell.

Poor Castalia got away by becoming a speaking spring
and those who drink from her can hear a lyric lament
others were spared as Gaia turned them into laurel trees.

Because white noise has it that in that oracular tradition
even a tree is more sacred than a woman’s dignity.
Endless list of victims: Coronis, Europa, Leda, Melia.

Unwilling nymphs are labelled ‘lying nymphomaniacs’
taken to shameful woods and dragged through mire
then banned to Lesbos, lonely rocks or harder places.

If offspring hatched from eggs foul play was obvious
but subtler hints were denied even by night’s furies.
Zeus begot Apollo, rape begot rape; the curse stayed myth.

© Alel

© Alel

From Philomela
Gill McEvoy
I touch the cigarette
to my arm.
Here. And here.

I cannot speak of it.

I could touch this fuse
to my chair,
watch it smoulder,
flame to roaring fury.

I told no-one.

The burned flesh is not
the heat of his hand
across my mouth.

The sour smell of match
is not the stink of his breath.

I didn’t go to the police.

I wasn’t asking for it.

I was not asking for it.
I have cancelled
the way my body could not fight
the rugby scrum of him.

The little heartbeat I will say
is my own heartbeat.

When its time comes
I’ll demand strong drugs.

It will be handed on
to someone else.

And none of this will have happened.
Back Street
They lead me to a table
where later they will sit and eat.

The women weave about with bowls and cloths,
fold my trembling legs to raise my knees.

One draws on rubber gloves.
She takes a pump, its ball bright orange
in that room of hush and shadow.

They close around me,
hissing through my parted knees
in their strange tongue,
each one familiar with this art.

Pain. The room goes dark.

Out of the darkness
someone whispers, “Come!”

They make me totter to the street.
I find my way alone,
clutching at walls.

© Malgorzata Lazarek

© Malgorzata Lazarek

Sophie Mayer
My mouth used to hold
your water. A vase I was (say:
vessel) all floral-spoked
& speaking: pure pure pure
as law. This

knuckle clavicle

chewed & throated to you. Choker,
much. Narrow as they say &

o my mouth

knuckle clavicle

unholds your water,
sweet source. Loosener,
marsh-runner, our lady of
statuary hung among
trees. Chatelaine of strange
fruit & the bloodied tunic.
Found object, little wing,
thin veneer of angel
on the verge. Kill me
now, before I turn, before
I fly. I

knuckle clavicle

mouth an O
cannot no
let him leave me
from you. No
nock me, fingers
to my fletch, forever
your girl, prayerful
this fall & broken no


that I am no woman no
dawn gives thanks.
Thirteen times
& strike.
Note: Phylactery – or tefillin – are leather arm bindings worn by observant Jewish men for morning prayers, which include an expression of gratitude to God that he had not made them female.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

Shazea Quraishi
Once more this
pressing of bodies, his desire
beating against me as the eagle’s wings
against the air that lifts him up, up.

My body has learned to soften
and bend, but my heart,
like a child who will not listen, clings
to a soft, grubby thing.

After I have washed the sweat,
the trails of saliva from my skin,
I stand at the open window,
let the breeze dry my face.
Published in The Courtesans Reply (flipped eye publishing, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

Lesson from the Gospel
Helen Moffett
Last night he grabbed my breast,
jerked my hair, called me a whore;
this morning he kneels in church,
eyes shut, hands devout in prayer.
This diptych is no stranger to God’s house:
first, the outrages raining on egg-shell flesh
and reeling ears; next, the pose of public piety.

These events transpired half a life ago.
No helplines then, no thought of blaming
anyone but myself.

But God helps those who help themselves;
like countless others, I survived.
While church, state and law all looked aside,
I harvested a rustling crop of rage:
as a child who tilts a bubbling pot knows pain –
I’d know the stink of whitened sepulchre again.
Published in Incwadi.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from the collection ‘Not just an ICON …’

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from ‘Not just an ICON …’
36″ x 36″ on wood, with cardboard, molding paste and resin

Helen Ivory
My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.
Published in Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’
Oil painting

Karen Jane Cannon
You cloud lenses, suck
colour from the earth to enhance your glow.

Your sister moon brings peace, monthly flows
but you burn with a desire to steal

the glow of young girls, inflict
wounds too deep to salve.

You eat away what the moon has given.

Persephone on pomegranate seeds,
keep her safe in her underworld winter. Let other girls

throw away their clothes, be betrayed
by cancerous rays. Hide

in the shadow of a sundial, worship
a plummeting vial of mercury.

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

From ‘Demeter’
Emer Gillespie

For nine days and nine longer nights,
I searched everywhere.
In shopping malls I put up posters of my daughter,
‘Missing’. In Westfield, gangs of girls linked arms
and passed them by without looking.
The hive hummed on without her.
In ancient times the Minotaur was locked up
deep within the bowels of the Earth.
A winding maze, a Labyrinth,
designed by Daedalus, father of ambitious Icarus,
kept him in his place. The price?
Seven boys and seven girls brought to
satisfy his appetite for human flesh.
All know that Theseus defeated him.
The Minotaur is dead, but the Beast lives on.
This annual harvest of our girls –
year in, year out, it comes about;
no one knows who next or when.
At least in ancient times the victims
found some glory. Their plight, their sacrifice,
bought freedom for the rest.
Now we lose our perfect daughters one by one.
Each sordid story soils our whole society.
I knew someone had seen just her sex –
not my Persephone.
Published in The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

A Prayer for my Children
Geoffrey Philp
When you find yourself in a faraway land
surrounded by men, animals that mutter strange
sounds, do not be afraid: neither you, your parents,

nor your ancestors have ever been alone.
So trust the earth to bear you up, follow
the wind as it leads you through valleys

clustered with trees heavy with fruit –
some that seem familiar enough to eat,
but you still aren’t sure they are the same

as the ones you left on the other side
of the river that you’ve now forgotten.
Eat. Feast on the bounty. Feed the fire

that burns away the knot in your stomach,
sets ablaze the horizon, all that your eyes
can see – that has been promised

to you since your cry pierced the morning air:
your parents bathed you with kisses,
baptized you with caresses,

swaddled you in care before you uttered
your first words to the moon, sun, stars,
wobbled your first steps into unknowing –

all the while rising into your inheritance.
And if you awaken under the branches of a cotton
tree, cradled in its roots, draw a circle around

yourself and all those whom you love, cross
yourself three times before you step over
the threshold. Welcome the ancestors,

all the kindly spirits who have followed you,
your parents across many seas, oceans,
and deserts; entertain them with strong drink

and soft food: rice, yams, bananas, the ever
present rum to bless the hands that have lifted
you up, and sanctified the place you now call home.
Published in Dub Wise (Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

Helen Ivory on writing ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969 and began to write poems at Norwich School of Art in 1997, under the tuition of George Szirtes. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1999 and then disappeared into a field in the Norfolk countryside to look after two thousand free-range hens. When she emerged ten or so years later, she had two collections with Bloodaxe Books and had helped, with her own bare hands, to build several houses.

She is a poet and artist, a freelance creative writing tutor and academic director for creative writing for continuing education at the University of East Anglia, an editor for The Poetry Archive, editor of the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and co-organiser with Martin Figura of Café Writers in Norwich.

She has published four collections with Bloodaxe Books, The Double Life of Clocks (2002), The Dog in the Sky (2006), The Breakfast Machine (2010) and Waiting for Bluebeard (2013). She was awarded an Arts Council writer’s bursary in 2005 and in 2008 an Author’s Foundation Grant.

Her website is www.helenivory.co.uk.
Waiting for Bluebeard 
Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood, where seances are held, and a father drowns in oil beneath the skeleton of his car. When her childhood home coughs up birds in the parlour, the girl enters Bluebeard’s house paying the tariff of a single layer of skin. This is only the first stage of her disappearing, as she searches for a phantom child in a house where Bluebeard haunts the corridors like a sobbing wolf.”

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

“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’.”

– Penelope Shuttle
“A direct approach, via deep folklore and dream imagery, to the conundrum of being a woman … in keeping with what I think we mean when we say ‘women’s writing’. This book is mischievously dark, rich with anti-logic and harnessed to the power of something we used to call magic.”

– Katy Evans-Bush
“She is a visually precise poet, with the gift of creating stunning images with an economy of means … Ivory has established an eerily engaging style. Her poems are like mobiles suspended on invisible threads, charming to watch as they seem to spin by themselves in the air, but capable of administering more than a paper cut on the sensibility of the reader.”

– James Sutherland-Smith

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

When I started writing the poems based on part real, part imagined events in my childhood that make up the first part of the book, I had no idea I was going to go on to write about my experience of living in an abusive relationship which forms the second part of the book. But in retrospect this makes good narrative sense. ‘Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house’. When you find yourself in an abusive relationship, it makes you question who you are. How did I end up there? I’m not that type of person, surely – a victim? An abusive relationship happens so invidiously, even the abuser probably doesn’t notice what has happened. Here I am, perhaps, being charitable.

So, the poems have at their heart autobiography – and form a narrative. When I was writing the childhood poems, there were many specific events I wanted to write about. There are those events from which you remember a detail and then try to construct a narrative as to what might have happened around it. It’s the same with photographs – our brain tells us stories as it tries to make sense for us. I was also attempting to get at a more powerful truth – a metaphorical truth to show what parts of my life have felt like.

There are more poems about my father than my mother in this collection. I think it’s because he was quite a shadowy figure, so I tried to create him in words.
My father was a shadow
who stood at the school gates
fresh from the factory
where he’d pieced cars together all night.

His old-fashioned clothes
were oil-stained and solder-burnt,
and his face wore the aspect
of moonless dark.

One winter, the north wind
pushed me right through him.
It was like losing your way
in the hills, in the rain.
I barely knew him, even though he lived with us. There was a deep feeling of sadness about him and he was incapable of expressing himself. This poem tries to draw him in his natural setting and to show how it felt to be his daughter.

Then there are poems that try to say how it felt to live in a house where your parents have an unhappy marriage that eventually dissipates.
The Inside-out House
The house turned inside out,
innards tumbled onto the grass;
trees watching
with the quick eyes of birds.

One has laid eggs
in the body of her parents’ bed
and is breaking them open
with a pin sharp beak.

It eats the yolk,
leaves the albumen
to dribble down
through the rusty springs.
I was thinking of the house like a doll’s house or maybe a garage sale, where everything is exposed. I think the bird is engaged in some kind of anti-nesting behaviour! This wasn’t a conscious metaphor, it just felt right as an image.

There are family deaths in the first part of the book – indeed, it is dedicated to the memory of my grandmothers, both of my mother’s sisters and my cousin Emma who was a couple of years younger than me and died of cancer at 22. This represents the way that home seemed to fall away from me as I was growing up. I didn’t intend to write such a personal book; it’s only when I think about it in prose that I realise just how personal it is. However, the poems kept coming and I began to think in terms of how I might shape them as a book. That’s when I decided to animate the world and the house in which the child/me lived. Poems like ‘What the Bed Said’, and ‘What the Stars Said’, which are peppered through the childhood poems, making the environment a threatening and dispassionate place.
What the House Said
When the sky feeds me birds,
I cough them up
in the middle of your parlour games.

When you examine them
you’ll see even the most vivid
burnt crow-black.

I do not have to pretend to like you,
we have signed no contract
yet you line my insides with your lives.

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

Then one day I just stopped writing the childhood poems and began to write about a character called Bluebeard. This was a coded way of thinking about somebody who I lived with for over a decade.  Marina Warner writes “Bluebeard is a bogey who fascinates: his name stirs associations with sex, virility, male readiness and desire”. And Bruno Bettelheim writes: “Bluebeard is the most monstrous and beastly of all fairy-tale husbands”. The story is essentially about a man who murders his wives when they become too curious: Here is the key to all of the rooms in my castle. I am just going away for a little while. Use the key to explore any room you want to, but I forbid you to open THAT door. Her brothers rescue the woman the story centres on, in the nick of time, so she doesn’t befall the same fate as her predecessors. The story most people are familiar with is a ‘literary fairy tale’ written by in 1697 by Perrault but in a chapter entitled ‘Demon Lovers’, in From the Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner traces Bluebeard’s ancestors back to the oral tradition of beastly bridegrooms. She points out that in earlier versions of the story, there was no mention of female curiosity, which was the ‘moral’ added later – Bluebeard was simply a wife-murderer. So when it came to finding the perfect man who would use his maleness to subjugate my female protagonist, the Bluebeard character muscled his way into my mind.

The poem ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’ came first, which is part memory, but was also intended to signal foreboding, which in retrospect I did feel standing outside his house for the first time.
Waiting for Bluebeard
The child in the garden wears a coat
collaged from the skins of paper,
sutured with lengths of my hair.
I am inside the house
in a matching coat.

There is no one to tell us not to;
called here, as we were
by the halloo of peacocks
who turned tail
the day we arrived.

We are waiting for Bluebeard,
and when he happens here
in his grey-silver car,
he will unleash wolves
like rain.
This is the last time, for a while, that the narrative ‘I’ is used as the ‘I’ becomes a ‘she’ and the woman moves further away from herself. There is a sequence of poems called ‘The Disappearing’, which forms the backbone of the second part of the book. Although nobody literally dies in Bluebeard’s house, the woman dies a tiny part at a time. As I mentioned earlier, an abusive relationship develops so invidiously – the abuser slowly gains control over the abused by keeping them remote, not allowing them friends nor financial independence. This is the first stage of her disappearing, in which the woman goes through a painful initiation into adulthood.
from The Disappearing
The tariff for crossing the threshold
was a single layer of skin.

She imagined a snake
unzipping itself in one deft move.

She imagined herself lithe
inside the house, her new home.

She didn’t imagine the scarring
nor the painstaking care required

to leave the ghost of herself
on the doorstep like a cold-caller.
Half way through writing these poems, I was a little concerned that Bluebeard was just becoming a big bad bully, so I wanted to write some poems that showed him as a vulnerable person, and to present some of his backstory.
Bluebeard the Chef
You coax the rabbit from its skin,
cradle the bruised flesh ripped with shot.
A deft incision and soon the tiny heart
is in your hand, its stillness
opens up a dark hole in the sky for you.

You climb inside
and all the stars are dying eyes
fixed into you like pins.
So you slice each optic nerve
and disappear.

The knife completes your hand
with such sweet eloquence
you part recall its amputation
when you were wordless
in your father’s house.
In retrospect, this poem touches on a similar relationship with his father as one I wrote about my father and his father.
My Father’s Accident
By then he had stopped painting us
so I picked up his book,
turned it upside-down
and filled up the last pages.

I couldn’t see the absence of floor,
the way the furniture floated on rafts
in a sea of lava,
so I painted in carpet round his chair.

Nor could I see his dead father
beating his stick like a metronome
against the ceiling,
nor the broken bones of his dog.

What I did see was the sketch of a man,
head held together with spiders’ legs
and the smell of the hospital
still trapped in his clothes.
I won’t go too deeply into analysis here, but there does appear to be a pattern emerging! Silent, controlling men who have as their hearts deep wells of sorrow. The poem I have chosen to end the book with conflates the two men in perhaps a disturbing way, but seemed to me to be the most logical way to end the book. It’s based on the Donkeyskin story, which is essentially one of incest, and I should state that there was no incest in my family.
My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.
I always say that we write poems to understand things about ourselves and to explore how we feel about inexpressible things.  Poems come from the same place that dreams do – the unconscious – and when we start delving into the unconscious we are perhaps surprised by what we haul out. If I set out to write Waiting for Bluebeard, I couldn’t have done it.  The poems came to me when they were ready, and when I was ready for them. Writing the poems did not feel exposing, and neither have I felt exposed when reading them at events these past few years. Now the book is out, it does feel a bit that people might be able to see my bones, and writing this piece most certainly does! But I have put the work out there because I must and I have dedicated the book to all of the women who have lived or are living in an abusive relationship, and have spent time inside Bluebeard’s house.
Order Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).

Visit Helen’s website.

Visit Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Helen reads nine poems here.

View Helen’s artwork.

Helen on writing the visual for the StAnza blog.