The Anatomical Venus by Helen Ivory. Bloodaxe Books, 2019. 64 pages. $9.95, paperback.
Gentlemen, the Venerina is a dissectible young woman
presented voluptuously in her final moments.
from The Little Venus
In the forty-eight poems that comprise Helen Ivory’s latest collection, she herself dissects society’s attitudes to women over the past 500-odd years, from the dark days of puritans and witches to our own (supposedly) enlightened era of AI and ex machina porn. The Anatomical Venus literally refers to an 18th Century wax effigy of an idealised woman, to be examined and deconstructed by (typically male) medical students, but also provides a neat metaphor for every doll, real or figurative, that has ever found itself marginalized, manipulated and misunderstood – or else confined to the eponymous house, in which
A woman lies so tidily
below the belly of her cooking range,
A child presses fingers to a pattern of blood
on the candy-stripe wallpaper,
traces the outline of the pink blanket
draped over the edge of the cot
while her mother explains
that something bad has happened
in the dolls’ house.
from The Dolls’ House Mysteries
Helen Ivory is a feminist, an intellectual, an historian and (very nearly) a scientist, and yet above all she is an artist, not a polemicist, a poet, not a politician, and subject matter that might, in clumsier hands, have become mere manifesto is transformed into gorgeous riffs on a multifaceted theme where
The rattle of clockwork
fell about her feet
as faces blazed down
from every high place they’d been hiding.
And the vesper, that evening star, rang out.
In The Anatomical Venus you will find wit and compassion, intelligence and research, realism and surrealism, allusion and illusion, history and myth. But most importantly, you will gain access to a carefully constructed work of poetry that quite simply needs to be read –
In the third dream
I am shining the silver
of every smoke-tainted
coffeehouse in Vienna.
Spoons queue up –
on the first day of term –
I polish their faces.
All of the girl-children
are folded lace parasols
packed up in a casket
at the back of the nursery.
from Housewife Psychosis
In short, this is a wonderful (in the original sense of the word) collection, a literary wunderkammer, a work of serious intent and deft achievement that deserves an essay, not a review. The essays, I am sure, will be forthcoming. In the meantime, let this review suffice.
—Michael Paul Hogan
Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
I like the idea of writing in coffee shops, and often do drafting there but the main business of writing takes place in my cluttered study at home.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
I mostly work on the computer … Boring, I know.
What is your routine for writing?
With poetry at least, I’m usually working on something else and I’m taken by a line – never by an idea. I try to write the line down as I receive it, and that usually provides a way into something. Often my first draft is quite similar to the final version in terms of the trajectory, rhythm, tone etc. but some of the language will sharpen through drafting. I have more of a set routine writing prose because you can just turn up with prose and some days are better than others, but you know you’ll get something down. With poetry you’re really at the mercy of the Muse.
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I wrote limericks and stuff like that as a kid but I started writing seriously when I began university—so about 22 years now.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
I would have said in the past for as many people as possible, but I have come to the reluctant conclusion that most people like clichés, and as poetry is a war against cliché (a statement that may be a cliché itself) the poet really can’t write for everyone if they want to be true to their art.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
Reading great poetry, especially contemporary work.
I’m not particularly prolific, but I’ve never worried about writer’s block.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I teach, play with my kids, read, watch soccer, and go to church.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
The initial rush of a line, and the final edit.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read all you can … and—if they’re not too famous—seek out those writers you admire and ask for some pointers. Most likely, they’ll have done the same in the distant past, and they will be happy to help. This is an easier proposition if they’re poets. If you are aspiring to be a poet, just enjoy being part of the community and you will quickly improve. Once that happens, never assume a poem you write is good just because you’re a good poet. Resist becoming one of the two or three stereotypes society assigns to poets. … Keep reading.
The issue is available here.
The optional theme is Questions.
Contributors: Bill Abbott, Maya Alexandri, Gary Beck, Adam Levon Brown, Frank De Canio, Kayson Carlin, Satya Dash, Maria Espinosa, Marie Fields, Alexander Garza, Laura Goodman, Kara Goughnour, Jacob Greb, A. Elizabeth Herting, Mark Hudson, Maranda Huffort, Phil Huffy, Caitlin Johnson, Thomas Kearnes, J.D. Kotzman, Michelle Kouzmine, Courtney LeBlanc, Kate Maruyama, John Maurer, Andrew Miller, Keith Moul, Ben Nardolilli, Robert P. Parker, Fabrice Poussin, Nicolas Ridley, Taylor Risinger, John Timothy Robinson, David Rogers, David Anthony Sam, Jessica Seaborn, Margarita Serafimova, David K. Slay, J. Conrad Smith, J.R. Solonche, J.B. Stone, Richard Weaver, Katie Wolf, and Riku Ylönen.
Reviews: The Anatomical Venus by Helen Ivory (Reviewed by Michael Paul Hogan)
Winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award to be announced!
Riku Ylönen is an amateur photographer from Central Finland. He has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, specialized to language philosophy and semiotics, from Jyväskylä University. Ylönen studied creative writing in Open University of Jyväskylä, and his poems have been published in anthologies. He was also a finalist in the national poetry slam competition, as well as annual competition of Kauhava city “Puukko ja runo” (puukko knife and poetry). Among photographing, drawing and writing, Ylönen is interested in bouldering and collecting bladed weapons.
aamupitsi, Harbour, Heartseed, The Gates Within, Meditation, unitalvi, and Campus at Night, Volume 5, Issue 2
J.B. Stone is a writer from Brooklyn, now residing in Buffalo. He is the author of two digital chapbooks, A Place Between Expired Dreams And Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018) and forthcoming, Fireflies & Hand Grenades (Stasia Press 2019). His work has appeared in and/or is forthcoming in BlazeVOX, Occulum, Crack the Spine, Maudlin House, Glass, and elsewhere. His work will also appear in the following anthologies such as Your Body Is Not a Temple: A Tribute to Anthony Bourdain and Mansion: An Anthology.
Ode to Waterfalls by TLC, Ode to It’s the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M., Ode to Heart of Glass by Blondie, and Soliloquy for my 16 Year-Old Self, Volume 5, Issue 2
After retiring from full-time work, David K. Slay completed two years of short story writing workshops, primarily in the University of California, Los Angeles, Writers’ Program. His stories have appeared in Gold Man Review, ImageOutWrite, Wards Literary Magazine (Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction), and elsewhere. He currently is a fiction reader for CRAFT Literary Journal.
Hide and Seek, Volume 5, Issue 2