Featured Publication – Maps of the Abandoned City by Helen Ivory

Our featured publication for May is Maps of the Abandoned City by Helen Ivory, published by SurVision Books.

Maps of the Abandoned City imagines a place deserted by its makers. Mirrors are starved of human life, creatures cut loose and the Dark comes home and takes off its boots.

“Ivory’s epigraph – the Serbian proverb ‘Get your moustaches together, you’re going on a journey’ – certainly captures the imagination at work here, but there is something disturbing coming towards us from these poems.” William Bedford (The High Window)

“Helen Ivory’s surreal collection of poems taps into this fascination, using a kind of archaeology of the imagination. It articulates our worst fears about climate change, system collapse and the consequences of our negligent trashing of the natural world.” Kathleen Jones 

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In a Time Before Maps

Long ago when the city was an infant
it lay on its back on a big white sheet
transfixed by the tiny articulations
of its own small hands.

Constellations of eyes beheld from the sky
the city grew vivid, grew hearty,
grew schools and grew graveyards
and when these were replete, it grew more.

Straw begat sticks then sticks begat brick
so the wolf packed its bags
and decamped to the forest.
The city sprouted a gate and then locked it.

Even the city became lost in those days –
took itself for a wander inside its own head,
and simply vanished. Something had to be done.
The cartographer stepped from a fold in the sky.


The Cartographer Invents Herself

Thunder loped across the sky’s wilderness
and clouds stumbled around,
then fixed upon an almost-shape.

The Cartographer feels her hands
for the first time, lifts them to her face
and then expertly moulds her own eyes.

She draws the roads that will carry her blood
and the pathways to order her ribcage,
then hollows out a playground for her breath.


The Cats and the Mice

When all had been absent of human noise
for three turns of the moon,
the cats and the mice came to an understanding.

Mice would reign in the cheese shop
while cats would claim sovereignty
of the fishmongers.

There will be no Tom-and-Jerry-style
absurdities. No sticks of dynamite applied
to the rolled-out tongues of sleeping cats

and no mouse need squander a bead of sweat
on hefting irons to rooves
in the hope a cat would mosey by.

Thus, began a golden age, which like each golden age
will soon prove itself to be composite metal
with gilding shown greenish as it rubs away.

A mouse in a cloak stands on the last cheese wheel.
A cat in a cloak holds the last sole aloft.
It’s the cats’ fault! said the mouse. Greedy mice! said the cat.

And so, the Battle of the Grocery Shop began.
The mouse shouting orders with a mouth full of brie.
The cat screaming attack! spitting sole at the ranks.


Nights in the Abandoned City

Dark comes home to the abandoned city
and heaves off its boots by the fire.
It is astonishing how weary the dark is from its work,
its commute through choking towns and encampments.

It talks to the flames of the things it has seen
of the stilled hearts it has held
between finger and thumb.
It unburdens itself of all human sorrow.

And the fire, pretending for now,
it is a hearth at the centre of a church house,
listens like a priest and bites its own tongue,
imbues the parlour with cloying incense.

In the shadowplay, the dark is a plague doctor’s mask,
a bone-saw, a gathering of spat-out teeth.
Soon, fire will describe a still life of eyeglasses –
their tiny infinities – all their dashed lenses.


Helen Ivory is a poet and a visual artist. Her fifth Bloodaxe collection is The Anatomical Venus (May 2019). She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is a tutor for the UEA/NCW creative writing programme. Fool’s World, a collaborative Tarot with Tom de Freston (Gatehouse Press) won the 2016 Saboteur Best Collaborative Work award. A book of mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS.

Maps of the Abandoned City is available to purchase from the SurVision website.

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