I’ve just finished The Handless Maiden, Vicki Feaver’s second collection of poetry. The poems are intensely direct and solid, while also being heavy with a straightforwardness and an unabashed sexuality. All her characters are fleshy and rooted in an earthy domesticity: these are real creatures in a real world whether they are drawn from myths, folklore or everyday life.
Her writing actively takes up and explores the notion of the female voice – Feaver talks very eloquently about this in an interview published in Magma. Some of her poems bravely seek to push the boundaries of what society is willing to discuss, let alone read under the boundaries of ‘poetry’. In an excerpt from the interview, she says:
The courage to write it, as with many of the other poems, came out of a realisation that in my first book I had effectively handcuffed myself. I was brought up in a girl’s school to be a nice girl, and then a nice woman. In life I continue to try to be a fairly nice woman. In poetry I fight it. I try to keep in mind Virginia Woolf’s image of the Angel in the House who strangles the writer.
This really strikes a chord with me. Writing for me really began at a level that was outside of my polite, well-learned day-to-day personality. Even though doing the MA has made me confront my desire to keep my poetry hidden, I still find I want to protect the violent and passionate ‘poet’ in me, to keep it a secret from the world. However, as Feaver is proof of (and Plath, Adrienne Rich, Selima Hill, et al), poetry is a medium that allows you a chance to rip off that mask, to dig deep, to shock, to connect with the vicious, bloody and honest part of our selves.
Here are a few excerpts I like:
I stretched nights into weeks —
lived in the damp, rip, gooseberry rot
of my sheets, feeding my wanderer warrior
on jellies and syrups
In the end, it was me who sent him away.
It made me too sad: hearing
my name on his tongue
like the hiss of a tide withdrawing.
from Beauty and the Beast
he lay in the long grass
of the rose garden,
eyes closed, meaning
to feast on her liver.
He heard her step, tasted
something wet and salt
on his lips, sensed hands
unzipping his furry pelt.
from Judith (which won the Forward Prize for best single poem)
… And I feel a rush
of tenderness, a longing
to put down my weapon, to lie
sheltered and safe in a warrior’s
fumy sweat, under the emerald stars
of his purple and gold canopy,
to melt like a sweet on his tongue
… And I bring my blade
down on his neck — and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.