Helen Ivory (British Working Class Poets)

Helen Ivory,

Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist.  She edits the webzine Ink, Sweat & Tears, and teaches online for the National Centre for Writing/ University of East Anglia.  She has five collections with Bloodaxe Books, most recently, The Anatomical Venus (2019). A book of mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS, and chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City by SurVision.  She has work translated into Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish as part of the Versopolis project.  She is working on her forthcoming collection for Bloodaxe, How to Construct a Witch, from which these poems are taken.

 

Some definitions of Witch

 

Carcass of rags

the dead-rat stink of old milk.

A beyond the pale beggar,

runt of the litter.

 

*

Gleaner of herbs

hallower of the compass.

Cunning hedge rider,

measurer of fire.

 

*

 

Midwife of shadows

low vixen with blood on its maw.

Deliverer of silence

to the henhouse.

 

*

 

Lighter than a bible,

priestly ink is gravity

beneath her flying feet.

Her body writes into the sky.

 

*

 

Blended with the earth

she wears a moss cloak.

Some procure her remedies.

She is a scapegoat for bad luck.

 

*

 

A childless wraith

in a child’s picture book.

The worst mother

man ever invented.

 

*

 

The method of kettling

troublesome women.

A peck of black pepper

in the milk-and-water blether.

 

*

 

Practitioner of forgotten ways;

of rituals, sayer of spells.

Barefoot earth-listener,

older than God or television.

 

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast

William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

Before the first story

sky and the trees sang of themselves

and the seas embraced fishes

as their very own children.

And creatures did as they wont,

not for reasons of story,

but the whyfor of spirit.

 

When Man uncreatured himself

he made all of the gods

in his selfsame image

and hoisted them up to the sky.

You’ll know the stories by now

of the smiting of gods

till just the King of all Kings remained.

 

You’ll know too, it hardly needs saying

that Man said that God said

Man needed a helpmeet

a soft-fleshed companion –

the garden was a lonely place, after all.

So in God’s name he created a Woman

to take in his laundry.

 

What happens then is written in pictures –

she, clothed entire in a snake

she, tearing fruit with her teeth

she, charming him join her in all the tree’s knowledge;

the bite of flesh that sticks in his craw.

This was the first test and they failed,

though it was decreed that she failed it more. 

 

New Rules for the Disenchanted Land

 

The human body and not the steam engine,

and not even the clock, was the first machine

developed by capitalism Silvia Federici Caliban and the Witch

 

Cleanse yourself of incantations –

those superstitious acts employed

when taking beasts into the field –

you cannot sing grass sweet.

 

Nor can you cajole the rain to fall

or placate some green spirit of the fields

to augment propagation.  

You have no power but in your arms.

 

It is understood that hags exist

who’ll feast upon a suckling’s flesh.

There are occult doings in alleyways –

mixed potions of wild wormwood and such.

 

Trust not your women with their bodies –

the unproductive womb is a sin,

and furthermore, a hindrance to progress:

we need more small hands to scare away the crows.


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