Sunday, May 19, 2013

Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey

A common exercise in a creative writing class has students take a fairy tale and re-write it in poetic form.  The exercise is challenging, but I thoroughly enjoyable.  Jeanine Hall Gailey’s third book of poetry, Unexplained Fevers, helps the heroes and heroines step out of the towers and oppressive households.  She uses these poems as allegories for the problems facing many people today.  Gailey is the Poet laureate of Redmond, Washington.  I was pleased to discover this collection is a serious read.

As we all know, the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales were rather dark, but they all had deep symbolic meaning.  Here is a sample of Gailey’s work: “I Like the Quiet: Rapunzel”:

“Solitude my solace, wrapped around me 

like layers of golden hair.  Stacks of books 
and I can sing as loud as I please all day and night. 
I sleep I kick and snore, during the day, delight 
in eating nothing but radishes and lime leaf tea. 
Who says I need a partner to dance?  Here
 in this tower I am mistress of all; the reindeer, 
the knight’s armor teetering in the corner, 
various discarded disguises, crowns, 
crumbs and bones.  Will you rescue me? 
What kingdom will replace my bounty 
of leisure, what tether of care and nurture 
do you wish to rope my neck with?” (12).

Another poem, “Advice Left Between the Pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” ties a few fairy tales together:

“Life is not a fairy tale, and this isn’t your pumpkin coach. 
You’re not lost in some magic wood, 
and that blood on your hands isn’t from an innocent stag 
at all.  Princess, remember to fill your pockets 
with more than bread crumbs, and  
if you can’t sleep don’t blame the legumes 
beneath the sheets.  One look at that glass coffin 
they’ve set up for you should tell you 
everything you need to know about their intentions. 
Remember a lot of girls end up dismembered, and 
every briar rose has its thorn. / Forget the sword and magic stone, 
forget the enchantment and focus on the profit margin, 
the hard line.  Read the subtext” (60).

The final poem in the collection, “At the End,” reminds the reader of the darker side of fairy tales:

“At the end of our story, we roll along 
with the prince’s procession,  
or wake up to a castle filled with friends, 
their eyes, too, puckering at the light. 
It never occurs to us to flee our fates. 
After all, we cannot sleep forever,  
it’s not our role; we merely rest until we’re touched – 
or jostled – awake by the right man or moment.

How can we lament what we’ve missed, 
asleep in glass coffins and briar-thorn prisons? 
We’ve noticed no change, not the way 
the citizens seem to glare at us as we pass 
or the price of apples. The guns men carry 
now under their coats.  Even the carts 
seem sleeker, prepared to bustle us into the future"  ... (68)

These poems grab our memories of childhood tales and bring us into the reality of life today.  You will find yourself going back over these pieces again, and again.  5 stars

--Chiron, 5/16/13

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