- All Kinds of Fur: Erasure Poems & New Translation of a Tale from the Brothers Grimm by Margaret Yocom
With sensitivity and a keen eye and ear, Margaret Yocom’s new translation of the Grimms’ version of ATU 510B, “All Kinds of Fur,” is deceptively simple and beautifully insightful. A quick read, this is a welcome contribution to the growing body of work that connects the creative and critical impulses of fairy-tale work. Folklorists, fairy-tale scholars, and poets (as well as those of us who occupy more than one of those identities) will find much to enjoy, learn from, and return to in this slim book.
Fairy-tale scholars and folklorists have debated the merits of various translations, translators, and translation theories, especially in regard to the Grimms’ tales, and thus a new translation is always a pleasure to investigate. Yocom’s translation of the 1857 edition’s tale text is not terribly far from other popular translations, such as those by Jack Zipes, Maria Tatar, or D[ee] L. Ashliman. For instance, Zipes writes in his translation of the 1857 text, “When she was grown-up, the king looked at her one day and realized that her features were exactly the same as those of his dead wife. Suddenly he fell passionately in love with her” (The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 2003, 239). This is Yocom’s translation of the same passage: “Once, when she had grown up, the king looked at her and saw that she in every way was like his dead wife, and suddenly he felt an intense, hot-tempered love for her” (5/6). The differences are subtle, but whereas the Zipes translation allows the passionate, romantic love of the king for his daughter to pass unremarked, the Yocom version substitutes other words that make the love seem off-kilter and unhealthy, thereby interrogating the ways in which love is framed in the tale.
What Yocom changes most notably in her translation is arranging the lines by using the ethnopoetic methods pioneered by folklorists, which is a choice she defends in the afterword, stating, “Although the Grimms burnished their tales with literary language, I wanted to indicate that the oral tales they were based on resemble poetry more than prose fiction” (83). Indeed, I recommend reading Yocom’s afterword before reading the translation itself, because, for me at least, understanding some of her choices helped me appreciate the [End Page 348] translation and the erasure poem more. As someone who has not been exposed to much erasure poetry, for example, I benefited from seeing Yocom explain (on page 83) how the phrase “but you must be back here” (spoken by the cook to All Kinds of Fur) can, with erasure techniques, yield “steer.” Yocom’s playful use of language that shows the tale’s protagonist alternating between human and nonhuman/animal identities is in keeping with both creative and scholarly approaches to the tale that investigate her alterity through metaphor and symbol.
The erasure poem is overlaid by using shaded text onto Yocom’s new translation, such that if you read all the text you will get the translation, but if you only read the black text and ignore the gray-scale text, you will get the erasure poem. One example of how the text might differ is from pages 39/40, with the tale text reading,
Now, when she came into the kitchen to resume her work and sweep up the ashes, the cook said, “Leave it be until tomorrow and, instead, cook the king’s soup for me. I would also like to look on a little upstairs, but don’t you let a single hair fall in the soup, or else, in the future, you will not get anything to eat.” So the cook went away, and All Kinds of Fur cooked the soup for the king, a bread soup.
In the erasure poem, words are grayed out to leave us with the following text—“Now resume ashes and starfall...