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This review is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Shedding Skins helen ivory, Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books) £9.95

Helen Ivory's Waiting for Bluebeard consolidates the technical mastery of line and telling image displayed in her previous book, The Breakfast Machine. This large collection (running to 112 pages) is divided into two parts, the first and longest consisting of poems taken from a mixture of childhood autobiography and fiction and the second a sequence of poems built around a young woman's relationship with Bluebeard. Ivory is also a considerable visual artist, creating assemblages in the manner of Rebecca Trevino, and her poems display an analogous technique, collocating images to fashion new realities: 'The goldfish in the garden are buried in matchbox coffins; tiny bones finer than cat whiskers' ('Bird Fish'). These lines, from a poem early in the first part, suggest that Ivory's art has grown out of child's play, which gives her an advantage over the narrative realism of much British poetry. In 'My Two Fathers' Ivory takes a domestic event - her father coming home after work - and makes it magical:

When my father removes his skin
he steps to one side and tidies
the old skin away with a dustpan and brush.

In re-imagining a childhood Ivory succeeds in presenting readers with processes of understanding the world which are both magical and logical in the way people have always sought to explain the mysterious. We live, as auditors might say, in a world of incomplete information, and the imagination still remains the child's way of closing the information gap. Ivory's poems sidestep rational explanation in fascinating and disturbing ...


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