Despite the Devil being conceived to direct human baseness away from our goodly selves, there has always been sin in the world. The Bible has it that woman is the weaker vessel, therefore her inferior ways could easily let the Devil into the house, and into her oh so corruptible body – and thus the story begins.
Helen Ivory’s new collection Constructing a Witch fixes on the monstering and the scapegoating of women and on the fear of ageing femininity. The witch appears as the barren, child-eating hag; she is a lustful seductress luring men to a path of corruption; she is a powerful or cantankerous woman whose cursing must be silenced by force.
These bewitching poems explore the witch archetype and the witch as human woman. They examine the nature of superstition and the necessity of magic and counter-magic to gain a fingerhold of agency, when life is chaotic and fragile. In the poems of Constructing a Witch Helen Ivory investigates witch tourism, the witch as outsider, cultural representations of the witch, female power and disempowerment, the menopause, and how the female body has been used and misunderstood for centuries.
With ten collage illustrations by Helen Ivory
Reviews of Helen Ivory's The Anatomical Venus:
‘The Anatomical Venus is an often disturbing journey of how women have been treated by men through the ages. It is historical reportage. It is controlled and focused anger without sentiment. It is subjugation and oppression laid bare in subtle and often mesmerising ways. It is Angela Carter’s eye meets Elaine Showalter’s brain. It is dark, upsetting and erotic. And it’s laced with magic from the first page until the last. It’s the suffering of women, and women fighting back in delicious and unusual ways. It says as much, if not more, about men throughout history as it does about women. Read this book. Then read it again. And again. With each reading, The Anatomical Venus will reveal something new, like all great books do.’ – Mark Connors, Northern Soul
‘Historical it may well be but this collection’s contemporary relevance is searing… This collection is a stunningly curated linguistic exhibition on the historical abuse of women. Enticing and yet flinching, this disquieting house of dolls makes abuse seen and urges us to reevaluate why women are where they are now, and it does so with an eerie and unforgettable beauty.’ – Rachel Smart, Storgy Magazine
'If Waiting for Bluebeard was the collection that not only delivered on the promise of Ivory’s earlier titles but announced itself as a defiant treatise on what it means to be a survivor, then The Anatomical Venus – populated by women who refuse to be tamed, instructed or fit neatly into categories – is a clarion call for the fight back.' - Neil Fulwood, The High Window
‘This is a collection to browse, to devour, to return to. Unless you have a strong stomach for nightmares, it is not bedtime reading. Maybe it is best read in daylight, beside an open window so the ghosts and horrors can escape. Every library, wunderkammer and bookshelf needs a copy of this book.’ - Hannah Stone, The Lake
'The poems deal with women treated as curiosities of various kinds, from the anatomical Venus of the title... to witches, dolls, asylum inmates and even a sex robot... It's an excellent idea, both a history of different sorts of objectification and a mirror of mens' attempts to catalogue what they identify as aberrant, and it works beautifully... an absorbing, intriguing collection.' - Frank Startup, The School Librarian
‘This collection is a rich exploration of the vast difference between men and women at a time when gender definition is becoming blurred and contentious…These poems, at times using archaic language and referencing fixed misconceptions, form a sort of Wunderkammer of precious specimens for us to gaze upon in amazement. As with any cabinet of curiosities, the contents are both beautiful and intriguing, shocking and bizarre, but most of all a reminder of attitudes and practices which should stay in the past.’ – Pat Edwards, London Grip
'...Ivory not only calls attention to the historical practices that have been used to subjugate women, she also reminds us of the process of double-vision: here is an entire collection written in an ironic double-vision, a female writing the female through the male historical gaze. The result is nothing less than what Shuttle describes as “a strong explosion in the sky.” - Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, The North
‘Sometimes a poem, a book, a voice speaks to you, makes you sit up. The Anatomical Venus does that for me, to me, no question… This is a passionately felt collection that quietly seethes with righteous anger and pity, at the world of women who have too often found their only protest in hurting themselves; the ones who resisted, burned or drowned as witches, force-fed as suffragettes, or diagnosed as mad, and treated accordingly. By men.’ – John Foggin, The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb
Helen Ivory: 'The Hanged Woman Addresses The Reverend Heinrich Kramer'
Helen Ivory reads 'The Hanged Woman Addresses The Reverend Heinrich Kramer' from The Anatomical Venus in her 'from the basement' series filmed in The Butchery in Norwich. Kramer was one of the authors of Malleus Maleficarum (1486), a popular handbook for witchfinders at the time.
Helen Ivory: 'Hellish Nell'
Helen Ivory reads 'Hellish Nell' from The Anatomical Venus in her 'from the basement' series filmed in The Butchery in Norwich.
Helen Ivory reads from The Dog in the Sky and The Breakfast Machine
Helen Ivory reads a set of nine poems: 'Learning to Talk', 'Alchemy', The Disappearing' and 'Missing You Spell' from her second collection The Dog in the Sky (2006), and 'Magicians', 'Bedtime Story', 'Sleep' and 'The Beginning' from her third, The Breakfast Machine (2010). Neil Astley filmed Helen Ivory at her home in Norwich in November 2009.
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