November 23, 2013

Fractured Fairy Tales: A Review of Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue by Angele Ellis

cover credit: Hyacinth Girl Press
Darling Hands, Darling Tongue by Sally Rosen Kindred
Hyacinth Girl Press (2013)

Review by Angele Ellis

“My son knew that Disney does not have the last word,” said Sally Rosen Kindred in Little Patuxent Review in 2012, describing what led her to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, first published in book form in 1911. “That if a story was intriguing, there was a good chance there was a ‘real’ one out there that was even better… Only there was still so much that was missing.”

The startling, exquisitely crafted free-verse poems in Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue supply what is missing by both reimagining and subverting Barrie’s Edwardian boy’s dream, whose simultaneously unappealing and appalling details have either been forgotten or absorbed into our Disney-saturated culture. This chapbook ventures into new territory—a world of what comes afterward, or instead—by remaking and dissecting, sometimes literally, Barrie’s classic tale. (Kindred uses Peter Pan and Wendy, a version abridged for parents and children with Barrie’s permission in 1915 by the British writer May Byron, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1921.)

Kindred reflects and refracts myth to reject, as Andrew Mulvania wrote in Weave Magazine of the Biblical allusions in her full-length collection No Eden (Mayapple, 2011), “the easier and overused.” In “Tinker Bell Thinks About What She Wants,” Kindred conjures a bold woman’s voice for the sprite Barrie describes as “quite a common fairy”:
pull me down. I want you
but wish I did not need your hands

to do my dirt work, your heavy heat to solder
or your pretty mouth to

tell me over, make me more
than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.
Tiger Lily (whom Barrie condescendingly calls “a princess in her own right… the most beautiful of dusky Dianas”), Tinker Bell, and Wendy Darling narrate seven of the fifteen poems in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. As Kindred’s female mythmakers—sharp, demanding, regretful, wanting out—they resonate with rebellion. Her Tiger Lily decides to leave the book altogether:
…If my lips moved in this story
we could talk.
I’ve shut your book. Just think
if my sisters and brothers were more
than a smudge on the page, than Redskins
moving in tandem, marching
in some dim

ellipse, waiting to be elected
for salvation or the Superbowl.
As for Kindred’s Tinker Bell, she not only dies—“a… bright shine of a stain” in the midst of the careless, clueless Lost Boys—but undergoes an eerily beautiful autopsy:
…her blood, gone bronze

now that it’s dried in trails
through the handful
of painted dust
we’re calling a girl:

and here,
two bones from the tongue
of a lark—
I can’t even say.

They smell like apples.
They may have been her hands.
And Kindred gives the last word to her Wendy Darling, returned to drizzling London as a wise but sorrowful adult (“Long-armed now, hard-boned / and wingless”):
… Peter once said I made that world. I lie
with it: guilt simmers my dreams, its ocean
seeps out in pain along my arms
when I wake forgetting why rain
is coming down outside
but my body by a man’s, and bone-dry.
Most poignantly, Kindred reads and rereads Peter Pan and Wendy as a narrative of the frayed but essential bond between mother and child—the endless push-pull (for both) between the need for safety and the desire for freedom and adventure, in a world that wavers between fantasy and nightmare. Nashay Jones’s richly-colored illustration for Darling Hands, Darling Tongue’s cover shows a mother stretching her arms upward toward a child who may be either returning to her or flying away, as petals—or wings—fall around them.

These ambiguities and tensions pervade the dreams of the child and adult personae Kindred employs in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. In dreams, Kindred suggests, begin both responsibilities and escape from responsibilities. The feminist, postmodern poet can change the story and close the book, but the Lost Boys—and Lost Girls—linger in the imagination as more than ghosts or shadows. They are reminders of the fragility of the child-parent bond and of the mortality of the poet’s own child, as in the stunning “One Ending”:
Our story ends, we’re thinking,
when Mr. and Mrs. Darling
throw open all the blue-house windows
to land and adopt the Lost Boys.


That’s one ending.
There’s always another, one
with tigers red
at mouths, their soft paws smearing
the sides of the house
that is his sleeping body,
their tongues a bronze door,
this page
their wild breath at the glass.

November 16, 2013

Lyrical Calls to the Feral Spirit: A Review of Jen Karetnick's Landscaping for Wildlife by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Big Wonderful Press
Landscaping for Wildlife
Big Wonderful Press, 2012

Review by Mindy Kronenberg

Landscaping for Wildlife seeks to reconcile the forces of the natural world with human nature. It uses various poetic forms (including villanelle, pantoum, and sestina) to create observations that are rich and nearly ritualized in their music and lyricism. Jen Karetnick’s poems capture the domestic and untamable sensibility (or one could even say conceit) that resides inside us as we witness scenarios of encroachment—whether of the wild on the familiar, or vice versa.

Panic and tenderness intermingle in “Echolalia,” where a baby’s cries from colic (“Back arching, her legs point into pitchforks, / Stabbing my ribs as we rock and walk.”) are echoed by peacocks. The lines of the poem are styled as its own mirror to call back the night’s shrill events, beginning and ending with the harsh call of the birds. Fear and humor come into play in “Interview with My Son before Snorkling,” and despite visions of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel and the poet’s memory of the movie Jaws—she sees “…a dorsal tipping / every wave"—and watches as her son collects underwater treasures. It is a remarkably poignant moment, summoning the sting of parental detachment:
For brief seconds on his own he collected brain coral,
observed eels scooting under rocks, and I wondered

as all mothers wonder if this is the one I’ll be allowed
to keep, before he finned up from behind to slip into mine

his growing, shriveled hand, that once-familiar
fish swimming in the oceanic eddies of my body
“A Gesture,” like “New England Music Camp,” brings together the transformative power of nature’s pageantry and personal transformation, creating memories that are both intimate and celebratory. In the first poem, a display of dolphins acts as a backdrop to the act of handholding (“…glistening fins and clouds, / light striking on every surface, / his fingers grazed mine, / withdrew, then came shyly to rest.”).  In the second, a sensual rhythm vibrates in the landscape while a young choir sings (“In the sticky sap, / the glacial lake’s mercury / licks at rocky lips. // The groove underscored, / released by an hour’s taut / and stretch, the choir / eclipses this song—”).

An ecological conscience in world’s wilderness beset by human development pervades many of these works, maintaining an eerie beauty amidst the danger. In “Love Poem for the Purple Gallinate,” the bird of the title is heralded in its glossy, abundant environment of the glades. But it is at risk when losing its life mate, diminishing it to a stain: “and should one die, the other will too, become no more than / a freckle of sunspot like the sheen on the surface of oil.” “The Sound of Global Warming: Brief Renku with Myself” is equally haunting:
Traffic rushes by
Like one thousand rivers fed
By icecaps melting.

All night, Iguanas
Thud to the ground like mangos.
Inside, they’re awake.

In visions mythic and modern, concise and elaborate, Karetnick’s poems become a collective cautionary tale. They capture beauty among caveats, dazzling the reader with scenes and images that too suddenly slip from our view.

November 5, 2013

Issue 07 Redux: All Very Surprising by Anthony Varallo

From Issue 07 came a poignant piece of absurd fiction with skillfully blended humor amongst a deeply emotional experience. Humor is often mentioned as a difficult form of writing because a distinct, compelling voice is a vital prerequisite, one that must be discovered through diligence and trained with practice.  In Anthony Varallo's "All Very Surprising" the voice itself is one of the surprising aspects of the the story, and the fact it is done in such a natural way helps the reader jump gleefully right into the action. We loved it before in Issue 07, and find that years later the story has aged like fine literature.
Frank Jackson
Web Editor, Weave Magazine
 All Very Surprising by Anthony Varallo
      What were the chances her baby would be born talking?
      “Slim,” the baby said. He had just unburdened himself of his hospital blanket, which fell from his pink shoulders and exposed the umbilical stump still clinging to his belly button. “They don’t give you a big enough blanket, do they?” he said. He offered her a toothless smile. “Oh, already I seem to feel the chill of death!” he intoned.
      His mother began to cry. They’d been home from the hospital one week, and already she’d given up trying to understand.
      “Please don’t cry, mother dear,” the baby said. “For I am prone to melodrama.”
      The mother lived alone, her husband gone, her house fitted out with the rocking chair, bassinet, crib, changing table, Pack ‘n Play, and books and toys her mother had purchased secondhand for her. “Don’t show up at my doorstep one day,” her mother warned. “Understand? I given you what you needed and I’ll continue to give you what you need, but don’t show up at my doorstep one day.”
      “I won’t show up at your doorstep one day,” she said, but her mother only laughed.
      “Always the last to know,” she said.
      At night the mother bathed the baby in the plastic bathtub she was able to fit inside the kitchen sink. She rinsed the baby with the detachable sink nozzle, the baby neglecting to close his eyes as she maneuvered the spray above his head. In the bathwater, the baby looked suddenly tender and helpless, and the mother found herself whispering, “I love you,” as she shielded his eyes from lather. The baby gave her a curious look and said, “What is you definition of love, mother dear?”
     The mother stopped rinsing him and cleared her throat. “Well,” she said, and then offered several explanations cribbed from popular songs and movies and the few Bible verses she could vaguely recall from her childhood. The baby nodded without comment. But later, when she was slipping him into his pajamas, the baby said, “You know, I wasn’t very impressed with your definition.” The mother rocked him in the rocking chair and read him the books her mother had chosen: Goodnight, Moon; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; Guess How Much I Love You; Go Dog, Go. She thought the baby might be nodding off, but he only shook his baby head and said, “These books are full of lies, aren’t they?” He gave her a look. “And me so wee and glee.”
    Mornings, the mother took her baby to Starbucks, where people gave her looks for placing a sippy cup of iced macchiato in the stroller’s beverage holder. She sped the stroller through the door. “If there’s one thing I simply cannot abide in a barista,” the baby said, sucking noisily on the macchiato, “it’s chuffiness.”
    Afternoons, they went to Target, where the mother picked up some diapers and wipes, and checked items in the clearance isle. “Savings,” the baby said, inspecting the garden tools at stroller height. “More like the idea of savings, right-o, mother dear?” A woman approached them and knelt down to see the baby. “Ooh, what a cutie patootie we have here!” she said. “With a wittle face that’s so squeezy-weezy! Ooh, yes it is, yes it is!” She held his face as if it were a rare and delicate fruit. When she was out of earshot, the baby said, “What is the sorrow that drives her?”
    One evening the mother put the baby in his car seat and carried him to the car, which had already been packed with boxes of baby clothes, toys, the plastic bathtub, the stroller, and the Pac ‘n Play hastily folded into its carrying sack. “Oh, but I am an unwanted puppy en route to a strange farm!” the baby said. The mother began to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that this is all—“ and she gave way to sobbing.
    “It’s just that this is all very surprising,” the baby offered.
    The mother nodded, and began to wail.
    “Don’t cry, mumsy,” the baby said, “for there is no end to the all very surprising things, is there?”
    The mother was about to answer when the sky opened up and rain began to fall.
    “Ah, who knows the caprices of the weather?” the baby said.
    When the mother arrived at her mother’s house, she placed the baby in the stroller and pushed him to the doorstep, where she would leave him with the boxes, bathtub, Pac ‘n Play, the crib, and all the other items her mother had purchased for her. The rain had picked up; the mother fastened a canopy over the stroller and pulled it low. “How the winds do blow, mommy-o!” the baby said. “So suiting our current mood!” The mother leaned beneath the canopy and kissed the baby on his head. His skin tasted faintly of old milk. The baby’s eyes met hers. “Believe you can do it, me mutter; believe it as best you can.”
    And she’d nearly made it out of the neighborhood when the storm worsened; rain slapped her windshield like a rebuke. Would the canopy hold? She circled back to her mother’s house, saw the stroller on the doorstep with its canopy bucking in the wind, and saw, as clearly as she saw the years lengthening before her, where she would raise this baby into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; that, as much as she’d like to imagine she could deposit her baby into her mother’s care, she could never really leave such matters to chance.

Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, and Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His third story collection, Think of Me and I’ll Know, is just out from Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books. Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.

This story originally appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 07, October 2011