In conversation with Helen Ivory

-In conversation with Claire Trévien-
Helen Ivory is a poet and artist.  Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013) She has co-edited with George Szirtes In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry Salt 2012.  She teaches for the Arvon Foundation, The Poetry School and mentors for the Poetry Society. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is an editor for The Poetry Archive.  She will be on a panel on Monday 21 October at Byte the Book on the future of poetry publishing.

Sabotage Reviews: As an editor at the Poetry Archive and the editor of Ink, Sweat and Tears, what do you think is the place of the digital in poetry?

Helen Ivory: I think that having poems online makes it easier to share work.  Before the digital age, if people wanted to read poetry they would have had to get off of their sofas to find it. Now, they can access it on whatever electronic device they happen to have.

It’s also easier to combine other media with poetry- for example on the Archive you can listen to poets reading their work so you can hear the music of their voice and the weight of the silences and words, so the poem’s performance is a working part of the poem.  On Ink Sweat & Tears, we publish work which combines word & image, which can be too expensive to do in print media.

SR: In recent years there has been a resurgence in lo-fi articles, zines that embrace their low-budget, a preference for the hand-crafted over the sleek, I wonder how you feel about this with regards to poetry, and whether you think it’s a movement that is likely to continue to grow?

HI: As a visual artist who makes work from found objects and cuts up ephemera and old publications to make collages, I am very much singing from the same song sheet.  I do think it’s a movement that’s likely to grow because now people are being asked to examine the nature of the media they are using and what qualities they want from it and what that says about the kind of publication they are involved in.

I also think that because of Kindle, books will generally become more beautiful as objects and be valued as such, rather than just methods of giving and receiving information. It seems to me a bit like when photography was invented, when there was a device which could record the world in perfect detail so the reaction was that painters started to explore and question how they approached their medium.

SRWhat has been your biggest challenge when running IST?

HI:Keeping up with the work submitted, which is I suppose a challenge to any editor!  Also, we published two of the poets who have recently been uncovered as plagiarists, they had appeared on the site several times.  This makes us a little bit paranoid, so we have got into the habit of putting lines of work submitted into Google, which is the way that the plagiarists were found out!

SR:On a more personal note, it must have been fantastic to see your latest collection Waiting for Bluebeard do so well (congratulations on making the East Anglian Book Award shortlist in particular!). Are there any ways in which you feel that the process of writing and editing poetry has changed in the last few years for you?

HI: Thank you – I’ve pretty much always written straight onto the screen to gain objectivity, but more recently I have become more attached to using Google as a research tool.  I like the directions a poem can take after doing just a little bit of cross-referencing.  Not too much research though –  I’m more of a magpie.

SR:  It’s rare to find good digital versions of poetry books and I wonder if that was ever in discussion with your editor at Bloodaxe? Do you ever read poetry digitally?

HI: First question – no discussion at all.  Second… I go onto the Poetry Foundation website a fair amount, and dip into various quality online poetry sites.  If I like a poet’s work though, and they have a print publication, I will buy it.  Personally, I wouldn’t buy a digital poetry book unless the book was written with digital media in mind and I don’t think we’ve fully caught up with that yet because it’s still a relatively new format and is yet to be explored.

SR: Finally, what new projects do you have in the pipeline?

HI:I am currently poet in residence for the Curiosity exhibition at the castle Museum, so I am writing from that exhibition.  It plays on the idea of the Victorian cabinets of curiosity and the cross-over between art and science.  I’ve also been working on a commission with immunologist Professor Elizabeth Simpson – the commission is finished now, but we are looking at ways I can get some funding to be the poet in residence in her head.

Also, I’ve been working on some poems based on tarot cards and am playing with the idea of making an artist’s book of collage poems for the entire pack.  To make my collage poems, I have been using old publications bought from charity shops and fleamarkets. I love cut and ripped edges and the physical texture and qualities of paper and also the way one can juxtapose texts which have come from different types of publication, and how meaning can alter and gather weight in their juxtaposition.

The idea that there might be some time in the future where there won’t be materials such as these which have been bought by people, passed through many hands or spent time in peoples’ attics and bookcases, makes something die a little in the part of me that’s an artist.  I guess the idea that I cut up books to make work might seem like an act of violence to some book lovers, but I look at it as a way of giving new life and fresh meanings to materials which have been sleeping in dark rooms and junk shops.


2 thoughts on “In conversation with Helen Ivory

  • October 30, 2013 at 2:37 am

    I’m old enough to remember when the poetry racks of most chain bookstores were filled with the works of Rod McKuen (as in “We had joy we had fun we had seasons in the sun but the stars that we reached were just starfish on the beach”). Hey, the culture survived (and I haven’t seen one of his books in years). Bad poetry such as McKuen’s and the examples cited in this post make me think of trees without roots or branches. They have no roots because they draw little or nothing from the wisdom and techniques developed through centuries of great poetry, and they have no branches because they don’t extend language or perception in new ways. That being said, I find myself struggling to stay interested in modern poetry. I still have a subscription to Poetry magazine, but most of it seems to be written by people and for people in a small, self-sustaining, elitist clique who would rather allow the art form to refine itself into extinction than to allow it to connect with people outside academia.

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