Thursday, December 29, 2011

The boy has found a gold key/and he is looking for what it will open

The final book I read for the readathon was Anne Sexton's Transformations, a collection of poems that transform/re-tell/subvert traditional Grimm's fairy tales. I love fairy tales, be it a straightforward collection of them, an annotated collection of them, a series of essays about what they mean and even a couple fairy tale re-tellings. So when I read Sexton's poem "Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)" in a college writing class, I was hooked. I had to read more. And when I found out that there's a forward by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. well, that just sealed the deal.

Now I'm not the biggest poetry fan. I would like to be, but I have a hard time reading poetry. Especially outside of a classroom where someone walks me through it. It seems when I study poetry, I find lots to love. When I try to just read a book of poetry myself I get distracted. Not that it's difficult to distract me, but still. Stories can hold my attention in a way that poetry just cannot. I still can't focus on these poems like I can with a traditional story, but the fact that these start with the familiar (a fairy tale) it means that it's easier for me to follow.

Some of the poems are close to a straight re-telling of the tale (like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs") with some added humor ("The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred --/something like the weather forecast") or some commentary ("Snow White, the dumb bunny"). Other poems ("Rapunzel") shine a new light on the story ("A woman/who loves a woman/is forever young"). And then some of the poems ("Briar Rose") bring out a more disturbing subtext ("He [the prince] kissed Briar Rose/and she woke up crying:/ Daddy! Daddy!")

This is one of the only collection of poems I've completed* because it's short (only 112 pages, plus illustrations!) and because it's familiar. The poems are funny and though-provoking. These are not necessarily my favorite poems. They don't have a lyrical quality to them and I don't find myself reciting them, like I would a song that's stuck in my head. But the fact that they're about fairy tales really makes up for that.

*Other than Shakespeare's sonnets. Technically I read all of them for a class but, I know there were big sections that my eyes passed over, and I can't recall for the life of me. Appreciating poetry because I read it for a class is lost a bit when I have to read ALL the poetry at once. Besides those 2 I have other poetry books that I've read some (or even many) of the poems in, but never all of them.

Title quote from page 2

Sexton, Anne. Transformations. First Mariner Books, 2001. Originally published 1979.