There are two things that attracted me to Helen Ivory's collection, The Breakfast Machine. The first is the beautiful and intriguing cover, a perfect complement to her surname, Ivory. The second is the comment in the blurb that her poems are `driven by the transformations of fairytale where the dark corners of childhood are explored...' As I am interested in fairytales and myths for my own poetry writing, I was keen to learn from an expert.
The drama and mystery of the first poem, The End of the Pier Show set the scene for the whole collection. It transports us to the extraordinary world of a magician and his company of tigers, flames and shadows. It is exciting but scary and the tension of the final stanza is palpable - `music is ripped from the throats/ of a million songbirds/ bled in the fusty air of the theatre...' In the last two lines, we are confronted with a little girl who stands up and puts down her doll, and we are left wondering what to make of this show.
I am hard pressed to choose a favourite from this collection. I enjoyed them all. My reading proved to be more than a journey into fairytale, rather an adventure into a quirky universe, full of surprise and illusion - prompting me to question the nature of my own reality. I loved meeting cowboys with itchy fingers, the woman selling mouldy oranges who waits for rain with outstretched hands and the mannequins in the basement singing in one voice.
Helen Ivory brings her characters to life (or death) using specific and witty narrative in a landscape of strange and startling twists. I easily imagined myself in Prague's Kafka Café - with `walls made of smoke/ ceiling not there' and in the `city the colour of amber' where `firemen scale the impossible walls/ to rescue rats and spiders'.
She contains her poems in well-ordered stanzas so they look neat and appealing on the page. It is the originality of her subjects and imagery that creates the power in her poems freeing her of the need for rhymes and other poetic techniques.
This collection touched something `deep' inside me, which made me feel curious and alive as I connected with bizarre traditions (piers, sideshows, magicians, slot machines etc) and our great storytelling culture. I'm sure I will be returning to this collection again.