- The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales
This anthology of twentieth-century fairy-tale poems is a publishing desideratum finally come true. My own compilation entitled Disenchantments: An Anthology of Modern Fairy Tale Poetry (Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 1985) has been out of print for a number of years, and it was high time that someone undertook the necessary task of editing a new collection of this fascinating subgenre of lyric poetry. Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson have put together a superb anthology, and they are to be commended for their careful and sensitive selection of poems. They have purposely stayed away from duplicating authors and poems from my earlier anthology. In fact, only 14 of the 78 authors included in Disenchantments also appear (usually with different texts) in The Poets' Grimm, with the latter volume featuring poems by 112 poets. This handsomely produced book with its fairy-tale-like low price is thus a treasure throve of fairy-tale poetry, a volume designed for the general reader but also most suitable for the classroom. Disenchantments had found considerable use in English and folklore classes, especially in Women's Studies courses, Honors programs, and first-year special topics seminars. There is no doubt that this new and more comprehensive anthology would be a perfect textbook, and I hasten to urge its adaptation both on the advanced high school and college level.
The two editors provide a mere six-page introduction, arguing convincingly that earlier fairy-tale poetry usually consisted of retellings of commonly known fairy tales, to wit poems by Alfred Tennyson, Bret Harte, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Whitcomb. This modus operandi changed at the beginning of the twentieth century, when poets well versed in the fairy-tale tradition started to reinterpret the tales or parts of them in innovative and thought-provoking fashion. As I have argued in my entry on "Poetry and Fairy [End Page 331] Tales" in Jack Zipes's The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000), "the basic message of most 20th-century poems based on or at least alluding to fairy tales is one that this is a world of problems and frustrations, where nothing works out and succeeds as in these beautiful stories of ages past. And yet, by composing their poems around fairy-tale motifs, these authors if only very indirectly seem to long for that miraculous transformation to bliss and happiness" (388). This is certainly very obvious in the fairy-tale poems of some of the best English-language poets as, for example, Randall Jarrell, Anne Sexton, Sara Henderson Hay, Olga Broumas, Hayden Carruth, Louise Glück, Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin, Lisel Mueller, Allen Tate, and Jane Yolen. As expected, these poets are represented in The Poets' Grimm, but the editors have also included many less-known poets, among them Regie Cabico, Mike Carlin, Anna Denise, Meg Kearney, Elline Lipkin, Margaret Rockwell, Maria Tarrone, and Estha Weiner.
For the most part, these poets and the many other authors who have written one or more fairy-tale poems reinterpret the Grimm tales in a humorous, parodic (at times nonsensical), ironical, cynical, or satirical fashion, thereby turning the positive wisdom of the tales into so-called anti-fairy tales. The themes of the poems are as universal as the insights into the human condition expressed in the traditional tales. Every imaginable human or social problem is treated, from love to hate, from politics to war, from marriage to divorce, from decency to criminality, and from sexual politics to emancipation. But there are also themes of deception, vanity, loneliness, manipulation, lovelessness, manipulation, frustration, and power. The happy ending of the fairy tales is transformed to express the complexities and anxieties of the modern age that seems far removed from the world of fairy tales. But it is the juxtaposition of the original tales with the innovative interpretations in these poems that leads to effective and insightful poetic communication. There is indeed something for everyone in...