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
Behind a wood sliding door
the whistling and grinding
of a great machine
brings us slowly, inexorably
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.
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,
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
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
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 –
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.
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
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.
I thought I’d share a few poetry titles I’m looking forward to reading this year. Some have recently been published, some are not yet available. If you’re interested in buying copies online, do make a note of their publication dates or ask your online book store to let you know when they become available.
Four of the poets are relatively new to me – Elisabeth Bletsoe (Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works), Mary O’Donnell (The Ark Builders), Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Inroads) and Anna Robinson (The Finders of London) – and I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with their work.
I greatly enjoyed Naomi Foyle’s bold, imaginative and sensuous collection, The Night Pavilion, and am looking forward to her pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers – A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press), illustrated by Peter Griffiths.
Philippa Yaa de Villiers’s second collection The Everyday Wife, published by the intrepid South African women’s publisher Modjaji Books, follows her popular first collection, Taller than buildings. As a poet living in South Africa, I’d like to mention how proud I am of the strong, beautiful books sent into the world by Modjaji.
Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe), Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren), Katie Donovan’s Rootling (Bloodaxe) and Penelope Shuttle’s Sandgrain and Hourglass (Bloodaxe), have been long awaited. Their previous collections – The Dog in the Sky (Ivory), The Treekeeper’s Tale (Petit), Day of the Dead (Donovan) and Redgrove’s Wife (Shuttle) – are favourites and occupy the top shelf of my poetry bookcase.
Edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe) will be available later this year. The anthology aims to reflect “the multicultural make-up of contemporary Britain” and to showcase the work of talented poets such as Mir Mahfuz Ali, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Karen McCarthy, Nick Makoha, Denise Saul, Seni Seniviratne, Shazea Quraishi and Janet Kofi Tsekpo.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets, also published by Bloodaxe and edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be a feast. I hope, as I’m typing this, my copy is winging its way south from the United Kingdom.
Identity Parade includes poetry from Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Asser, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon Barraclough, Paul Batchelor, Kate Bingham, Julia Bird, Patrick Brandon, David Briggs, Andy Brown, Judy Brown, Colette Bryce, Matthew Caley, Siobhan Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Melanie Challenger, Kate Clanchy, Polly Clark, Julia Copus, Sarah Corbett, Claire Crowther, Tim Cumming, Ailbhe Darcy, Peter Davidson, Nick Drake, Sasha Dugdale, Chris Emery, Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Farley, Leontia Flynn, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Jane Griffiths, Vona Groarke, Jen Hadfield, Sophie Hannah, Tracey Herd, Kevin Higgins, Matthew Hollis, A.B. Jackson, Anthony Joseph, Luke Kennard, Nick Laird, Sarah Law, Frances Leviston, Gwyneth Lewis, John McAuliffe, Chris McCabe, Helen Macdonald, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Peter Manson, D.S. Marriott, Sam Meekings, Sinéad Morrissey, Daljit Nagra, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Katherine Pierpoint, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Diana Pooley, Richard Price, Sally Read, Deryn Rees-Jones, Neil Rollinson, Jacob Sam-la Rose, Antony Rowland, James Sheard, Zoë Skoulding, Catherine Smith, Jean Sprackland, John Stammers, Greta Stoddart, Sandra Tappenden, Tim Turnbull, Julian Turner, Mark Waldron, Ahren Warner, Tim Wells, Matthew Welton, David Wheatley, Sam Willetts, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Tamar Yoseloff.
Are there any anthologies and collections you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on this year?
I’d love to hear what’s on your list.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets,
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)
Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works,
Elisabeth Bletsoe (Shearsman Books)
The Ark Builders, Mary O’Donnell
Inroads, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Grace of the Gamblers, Naomi Foyle
The Finders of London, Anna Robinson
The Everyday Wife, Philippa Yaa de Villiers
The Breakfast Machine, Helen Ivory
Rootling, Katie Donovan
What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo,
Pascale Petit (Seren Books)
Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word,
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra
Sandgrain and Hourglass, Penelope Shuttle