I find it difficult to talk about my own poetry. If I talk about the research I did and the academic sources I read before I could write it, it makes it sound scholarly. If I talk about the very deep, personal and interpersonal feelings it expresses, it makes it sound confessional. If I emphasize the facilitating function of the PENfro Poets workshop I was attending while I wrote this sequence, it makes it sound like just another set of poems generated by good prompts. I suppose it’s all of these things; but for me it feels like a set of poems that could only be written after a lifetime of woman’s experiences. I hope and I believe that these poems reach beyond the academic, the confessional and the current fashion of workshop production to stand as objective correlatives to the experiences of many daughters, mothers and grandmothers. I’ll be interested to know what my readers think!
Here are the responses from two readers:
The past has never been less past than in these sensuous poems by Helen May Williams. The mysteries and rituals of two and a half millennia ago take on flesh and blood and move through her pages in a seamless marriage of the mythic and the all-too-real. Ecstatic, cruel, and deeply literate in human longings and frailties, these poems constitute a profound act of imagination.
Michael Hulse co-editor of the best-selling anthology The Twentieth Century in Poetry, and author of Empires and Holy Lands, The Secret History and, most recently, Half-Life.
In The Princess of Vix, Helen May Williams evokes a world in which blood, libation and the heady opiate of poppy-seeds lead the reader to the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient times. Based on the discovery of the Vix Burial in Burgundy, this is a rich and tightly-wrought sequence of poems. Chthonic deities intertwine with Celtic legend, myth with archaeology, in precise language that never loses its way. Steeped in ritual and ceremony, this intriguing little chapbook is also about the power of women. We are reminded of the blood-vengeance of the Erinyes, of shamans, of the importance of the female role in pagan worship. Complex, fascinating and vividly descriptive, this is a tiny jewel of a collection, a chapbook to delight, inform, and make you think.
Kathy Miles. Author of The Shadow House and Gardening with Deer
Here is an extract from a recent interview, where I tried to introduced the poems for the first time.
Judith Barrow: Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
HMW: The Celtic Princess of Vix, whose burial chamber was discovered at Vix, a small village close to Châtillon-sur-Seine in Burgundy, was crippled due to injuries sustained in child-birth. This sequence dramatizes poetic identification with the female, Iron Age shaman, whose distorted, pained figure marked her out as different. I delve into the strong emotions associated with motherhood, evoking a series of feminine archetypes associated with Greek, Etruscan and Celtic culture. The Vix Princess officiates at an autumn ritual that synthesizes elements of Greek, Etruscan and Celtic culture. Her daughter, the Kore, is at the heart of the ceremony, which thus becomes a rite of passage. The third major figure in this drama is an Etruscan foot soldier, who has migrated to Vix, without having yet had experience of battle. And the fourth major figure is the Hecate or Hag; thus, completing the triple aspect of the Goddess and of women’s lives, from Virgin to mother to old woman, who has seen and experienced it all before and is now a spectator of the continuing, female drama. I would say it is a must read for anyone who wants to think about what it is to be a daughter, a mother, or a grandmother. And it’s not just for women; anyone who is fascinated by Greek and Celtic myth will find a new perspective on some fundamental myths here.
Judith Barrow: What was the inspiration behind The Princess of Vix?
HMW: Complex, varied and deeply personal.
Judith Barrow: How long did it take you to write The Princess of Vix?
HMW: I wrote the first draft of the sequence over an autumn and winter. Each time I completed one poem, the next one would start to emerge. The drama gradually unfolded for me, as it does for the reader.
The Princess of Vix is available for sale from Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/helen-may-williams/the-princess-of-vix/paperback/product-23263439.html