Monday, November 1, 2010

The Breakfast Machine – Helen Ivory

Helen Ivory makes her poetry out of intriguing (and often disquieting) observations, often of impossible scenes or vignettes like something out of a strange dream. Add to this her love of metaphor, and you get something akin to Craig Raine and the Martian poets. Compare Raine’s famous lines
Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

…with Ivory’s:
People are pebbles
and windows are mirrors.

When the moon is pushed
down the chimney’s throat,
the music begins.
In this house, everything sleeps.
Even the walls have relaxed
and the roof is too tired
to hold up the weight of the sky.

What Helen Ivory adds beyond poems like Craig Raine’s is that she trains her metaphors not on observations of the real, but meditations on the unreal. My favorite poem is this:
The Tooth Mouse

All of the teeth
brought by the Tooth Mouse
are piled high in an out-of-town

They are gnashing
and grinding
and want to return
to the mouths of sleeping children.

It is said that they are whiter
than bone, cleaner
than melt-water, more innocent
than the children themselves.

But look at them here
all broken and angry,
chewing at the cold
metal door to get out.

The imagery of discomfort, childhood, and the dark side of maturing bring to mind Seamus Heaney. Ivory’s particular style of free verse are also reminiscent of Raine and Heaney. The lines are extremely well crafted, and there is no sloppiness nor unnecessary embellishment, nor any sentence twisted out of shape. I found myself excited to see what each next poem contained, as if I were opening old jewelry boxes. Each poem was like a curious new picture from a scrapbook of someone’s dreams.

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