Poem introduction

By the time I came to writing my second book, The Handless Maiden, I'd got a lot braver. And one of the poems in it is a poem about marigolds. There's a whole tradition of writing poems comparing women to flowers, mostly by male poets. It's a sort of flattery - women are beautiful like flowers - but they are also silent and passive and they fade, of course, quite quickly. So they're often seduction poems - a famous one is Herrick's 'Gather ye roses while ye may'. I wanted to write a poem about flowers that subverted that tradition and took the power for women. There's a quite scary end to this poem - and I've never actually torn the head off a man, I mean not even, I hope, metaphorically, and I don't know any women who have. I was thinking of the women in the Bacchae legend.



Not the flowers men give women -
delicately scented freesias,
stiff red roses, carnations
the shades of bridesmaids' dresses,
almost sapless flowers,
drying and fading - but flowers
that wilt as soon as their stems
are cut, leaves blackening
as if blighted by the enzymes
in our breath, rotting to a slime
we have to scour from the rims
of vases; flowers that burst
from tight, explosive buds, rayed
like the sun, that lit the path
up the Thracian mountain, that we wound
into our hair, stamped on
in ecstatic dance, that remind us
we are killers, can tear the heads
off men's shoulders;
flowers we still bring
secretly and shamefully
into the house, stroking
our arms and breasts and legs
with their hot orange fringes,
the smell of arousal.

from The Handless Maiden (Jonathan Cape 1994), copyright © Vicki Feaver 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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1Slow Reader


3Beauty and the Beast

4Oi Yoi Yoi

5The River God


7The Handless Maiden

8Crab Apple Jelly


10Right Hand

11The Crack

12Lily Pond


14Lacrimae Hominis

15American Newsreel, Japan, 1945

16Li ho

17Girl in Red


19The Gift

20The Red Cupboard


22Bufo bufo

23Horned Poppy


25Hemingway's Hat




29The Man Who Ate Stones

30The Gun