I’m an artist of the hearth;
dresses in tatters
from flying sparks;
from falling logs.
I love fire
and the pictures of fire.
But I love dead fire best:
rolling in cinders
until I’m glittery
with flakes of ash
“Cinderella”, The Book of Blood, pos. 846.
Vicki Feaver (Nottingham, 1943) is the author of four books of poetry. Her most recent collection is I Want! I Want! (2019), which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2020. Feaver was named Professor Emerita by the University of Chichester, where she taught Creative Writing. Her poems “Judith” and “Bats” were awarded the Forward Prize and the second prize in the UK’s National Poetry Competition, respectively. A distinctive feature of her poetry is its focus on the uncanny and on the connections between femininity, sexuality, and violence. Feaver lives in Scotland.
The Book of Blood features poems about animals, flowers, paintings, the body, desire, and death. Vicki Feaver draws inspiration from living close to the woods, in a house “haunted” by the voices of previous poets and by her literary inheritance. Blood, the central symbol of the collection, is both linked to danger and violence and to a life-affirming search for beauty, knowledge, and pleasure.
Among contemporary collections of poetry by women in the United Kingdom, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife (1999) is well-known for its challenge to male-centred history and myths and its innovative use of the dramatic monologue to engage with fairy tales and classical literature. Vicki Feaver’s The Book of Blood, published seven years later, is a lesser known collection that shares the core issue of intertextuality and a focus on monologues spoken by women. Feaver frequently revisits not only fairy tales and mythology, but also paintings. In the former category, The Book of Blood features retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, The Frog Prince, and Cinderella, while her poems inspired by visual art reference Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings. But while Duffy favours humour, Feaver’s writing is much more gothic-oriented.
The cover of the book features a toad, which seems to allude to the subject of “Bufo Bufo”, a poem about a woman who keeps a zoomorphous lover in her cellar. This dark retelling of The Frog Prince speaks of Feaver’s interest in a beauty and the beast paradigm: women are frequently associated with animals in stories about violence, enthrallment, and sexual awareness. In “Gorilla”, a girl becomes captivated by an ape exhibited in a museum. In “Bats”, the presence of a bat colony prompts the speaker to think of how the appetite-driven human life is not that far from the noisy, smelly animal realm. In contrast, “Girl in Red”, while clearly alluding to Little Red Riding Hood, makes no mention of the wolf, and focuses instead on the girl’s love of bold colours and her defiant sexual confidence.
Feaver also writes extensively about female rage and destructiveness: in a poem published prior to this collection, “Judith”, the speaker enters the tent of Holophernes “[w]ondering how a good woman can murder”. In The Book of Blood, these themes are present in poems like “Riddle”, in which the speaker pictures her body as womb, cradle, and coffin, and particularly in two poems about Medea. In “The Gift”, a woman envisions her former partner’s new bride trying on a poisoned gown; in “Medea’s Little Brother”, the title character is capable of both tenderness and extreme violence. In “The Gun”, a woman finds her house and her partner transformed by the presence of the weapon, and willingly takes part in butchering and cooking the kill: like Medea, and like the Fates in Goya’s painting, cooking establishes her as a sorceress or mistress of life and death. Another way in which Feaver defies expectations of femininity as delicate and demure is by linking flowers to sex and death. “Blodeuwedd” is inspired by a Welsh myth about a Pandora-like woman made of flowers who is punished for her infidelity by being transformed into an owl. In the titular poem, “The Book of Blood”, a man discovers an uncanny parallelism between a ledger that records murders and his mother’s book of pressed flowers, leaving unanswered the question of which is the book of blood.
“Women poets aren’t pale imitations of male poets. We have a different history, of being men’s other: either monsters and seductresses, or angels and madonnas; of belonging to the nursery, not the university; of being the servants, not the masters; of being silenced and of silencing ourselves. It is that history that gives us our energy, that fires our determination to write as we want.” (From “Letter to a Young Woman Poet”)
Flores Jurado, Julieta (2023), "Vicki Feaver. The Book of Blood", Lletra de Dona in Lletra de Dona in Centre de Recerca ADHUC—Teoria, Gènere, Sexualitat / Universitat de Barcelona, data de consulta