Back in March, I wrote a post about my choice to write and rewrite fairy tales and mythology in my poetry. This is a significant part of my writer’s aesthetic and also a significant part of Blameless Mouth. In the book, I rewrite the story of Eve as told by Eve in a crown of sonnets. I also have standalone poems about Snow White, Persephone, maenads, Jack Sprat and his wife, Hansel and Gretel, and others I’m probably forgetting.
In an effort to bring this part of my aesthetic to light, I am reposting the majority of my original March post. Consider this the answer to the question: “Why are there so many fairy tale and mythology poems in Blameless Mouth?”
I write about fairy tales and mythology because:
I Am Reinterpreting the Female Journey
Most of the stories we tell in Western culture seem to center upon the male quest. In some ways, this seems to be the main trope of the stories we tell each other. From Beowulf to The Hangover, a man (or a group of men) battle against a series of obstacles to emerge victorious. In all of our mediums, we can quickly see the arc of male development. Strike out on your own. Defeat the monster. Earn fame and glory.
But, if you scratch the surface of these stories, there is a female journey running concurrent with the male journey. Even better, a lot of fairy tales, myths, and children’s stories highlight the female journey over the male journey. We can see the outlines of an arc for female development. But in these journeys, it isn’t always as clear cut as the male journey. Navigate a maze. Find your path. Escape.
Prior to the modern feminist movement, the female journeys we celebrated and retold focused on the pursuit of a mate. Become beautiful. Win the prince. Live happily ever after. But in the more interesting stories, we find female characters navigating a perilous path in order to find themselves. When I think about the stories I like to rewrite and re-vision, I choose Alice in Wonderland or Persephone over Cinderella. Or more accurately, I attempt to dig deeper in all of the stories to find the journey towards the self.
I Am Making Sense of Unintelligible Worlds
As I mentioned above, the female character often has to navigate a maze or a perilous path. In stories like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz or The Little Mermaid, the main character has to make sense of a world that is not her own.
In my mind, this is an excellent metaphor for living as a grown-up in modern times. All of us live in a world that we did not create, yet we have to find its internal logic and obey its rules. Sometimes, we wake up to find ourselves in a landscape we don’t understand and we have no idea how we got there. We have to learn the language, find the landmarks, and forge ahead.
At the ripe old age of 33, I have found that so much of my life is lived in a state of internal confusion. I spend so much time making sense of the world I live in that I neglect my internal development. What’s so interesting to me about these narratives is that the character often develops as a person while she navigates the strange exterior worlds. I struggle against this part of the character arc, because it doesn’t always ring true to me. I find myself writing that struggle, between the internal and external, over and over.
Of The Persistence of Archetypes
My final reason for working within these narratives was actually my primary inspiration, back when I begun this practice. Within feminist literature, I admired those women who came before me and rewrote myths and fairy tales. I’m thinking of poets like Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, H.D., Louise Bogan, andLouise Gluck.
Often, these women highlighted and explored the archetypes in the fairy tales and myths. Of course, the narratives are chockfull of archetypes: the witch, the virgin, the ugly sister, the mean stepmother. When I began rewriting myths, I consciously explored the archetypes and looked for ways to subvert them (or at least poke holes in them). For a long time, I found this to be valid work.
However, the longer that I write within this tradition, I find that this work is not as important to me as it once was. Mostly, I think that there are writers (like the ones I’ve listed above) that have done it better than I can. There is a huge body of literature that subverts the archetypes and stereotypes and I don’t know how much more I can contribute to it.
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