...in a good poem the poet disappears. That's what the struggle with language is all about. The point is that in the finished poem you don't lay yourself bare. You create a strongbox of words. - Vicki Feaver
About Vicki Feaver
Vicki Feaver (b. 1943) grew up in Nottingham “in a house of quarrelling women”, an emotional inheritance which finds later expression in her poetry. She studied Music at Durham University and English University College, London and worked as a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at University College, Chichester, becoming Emeritus Professor. Her collections have been highly praised, the second, The Handless Maiden, including both the Arvon International Poetry Competition finalist ‘Lily Pond’, and ‘Judith’, winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Single Poem. The same collection was also given a Heinemann Prize and shortlisted for the Forward Prize and she has received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Cholmondeley Award. She currently lives in South Lanarkshire.
It’s perhaps significant that both of her major prize-winning poems are narrated by murderous women. A central concern of her work is female creativity and its repression, how, beneath her learnt veneer of niceness, a woman can be seething with passionate hatred or love. The poems negotiate brilliantly between the two realities in a manner Matthew Sweeney has described as “domestic gothic”. Feaver includes the stuff of everyday life in her poems – jam-making, gym classes, ironing – but grafts them onto the transgressive power of fairy-tale and myth. These stories of savagery and enchantment license Feaver to explore the desires women aren’t normally allowed to express, as in ‘Marigolds’ in which the hot orange flowers “remind us/we are killers, can tear the heads/off men’s shoulders.” Not all the poems set the sexes at each other’s throats however – there are also celebrations of tenderness and erotic love as in ‘Hemingway’s Hat’ where the opposing principles of the feminine and masculine achieve a rare moment of unity.
Feaver has described writing as a “kind of gutting” and certainly the title of her latest collection, The Book of Blood, would suggest she remains red in tooth and claw. However, her poetry is also highly sensual and inviting, with a tactile quality her Archive reading brings to the fore. The context she provides for many of the poems is also fascinating, whilst making you admire all the more the transformative power of her art.
Vicki Feaver’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:
“Poetry never has any kindness at all. ” – Stevie Smith
“A poem is a construction of language that uses, tries to use everything that language can do to conjure to summon up something thats not quite knowable in any other way. ” – Adrienne Rich
“A great Poet must have … the ear of a wild Arab listening in the silent Desert; the eye of a North American Indian tracing the footsteps of an Enemy upon the leaves that strew the forest; the Touch of a Blind Man feeling the face of a darling Child. ” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Write about what burns in you, what you can’t forget. ” – Muriel Rukeyser
“The art in which one being calls out to, whispers to, sings to, one other being, in the most intimate way. Our species needs it, perhaps, to survive ” – Sharon Olds
These poems come from a special recording made for The Poetry Archive on April 11th 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London. Producer: Richard Carrington.
Featured in the Archive
Books by Vicki Feaver
The Handless Maiden
Jonathan Cape, 1994
Girl in Red and Other Poems
Scottish Book Trust, 2003
The Book of Blood
Jonathan Cape, 2006
Penguin Modern Poets 2 (contributor with Carol Ann Duffy
Secker & Warburg
Arvon International Poetry Competition (Finalist), 'Lily Pond'Prize website
Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - winner), 'Judith'
Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), The Handless Maiden
Heinemann Award, The Handless Maiden
National Poetry Competition (2nd Prize), 'Bats
Arts Council Writer's AwardPrize website
Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), The Book of Blood
Costa Book Award for Poetry (shortlist), The Book of BloodPrize website