Thursday, August 25, 2011

Escape Into Fairy Tale

Imaginary background music/lyrics: “Fairytale,” Sara Bareilles, Little Voice 

I’m not really advocating “escape” into fairy tale here.  Neither is Sandy Longhorn, with her title “There Are No Fairy Godmothers on the Prairie,” a guest blog entry at Escape Into Life. She’s looking closely at fairy tales to see how they function, transformed, in her poetry, and how they always functioned, as cautionary tales often about coming-of-age experiences or handling life’s “dark undertones,” as she puts it.

Or disillusionment, as I see it.

There's an irony. Fairy tales as illusions that record our disillusionment, and then restore us. Yes? Restore our innocence? Make us whole after a terrible fracturing? 

The Grimm versions help make that clearer. Open your eyes. Do not go gentle into that weird forest….

That’s how fairy tales often strike me—as something at once gory & useful, containing the awesome/awful truth that my innocence might be shattered and nothing can help me but magic…or wit and grit. Plus courage in the face of the worst. “Don’t give up,” I learn and relearn from fairy tales…

In this poem, first published in Ekphrasis, I look at a painting titled The Fairy Tale, and imagine the mother telling her daughter a fairy tale, side by side with an autobiographical moment of closeness with my own mother, who left a drunken party (to which wives & children were invited) in mixed patience and disgust.

The Fairy Tale

                                    William Merritt Chase, The Fairy Tale (1892)

The woman and the girl are pink and white confections
on the picnic cloth
in the center of the grassy field.

They wear their necessary layers,
but the fabric is tissue thin,
the parasol laid aside for the thrill of the story.

It is safe here at the seaside, away from the men,
to be so exposed,
the girl’s face all raw color inside the white bonnet.

And in the tale, the prince will hack away at thorns
to offer the princess love
and a kingdom, even as she sleeps her long sleep.

From this far away
both painter and viewer can justify the blur
but I can see more clearly

my mother one summer day,
walking away from the party, sitting at the base of a tree
to wait for it to end.

I use the “it” at the end here with an Emily Dickinson-like looseness and precision, to mean, of course, to wait for the party to end, but also the “fairy tale” of marriage and family life, the long sleep of women who believe in that fairy tale, and perhaps even the tree…for it will take a long, long time for that to end, won’t it?

Alternate background music: “Hard to Be Soft,” by Paula Cole, on the Courage CD

Or Peter Gabriel & Paula Cole singing “Don’t Give Up” here on youtube.  (Or, with Kate Bush on the So album, which has “Sledgehammer” on it, a song I played over and over, wildly dancing….)  

Really, don’t give up!


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks again, Kathleen, for inviting me to write for EIL's blog. I love what you say here and really enjoyed the poem. That ending is wonderful.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Sandy. You gave us a lot to think about, in your poems and in the blog entry, and I hope readers will join the fairy-tale conversation, here or there!

Jeannine said...

I agree, Kathleen. I think those early fairy tales - especially the pre-Grimms' versions - were definitely written as coded cautionary tales for children, particularly female children. Your father may indeed cut off your hands, your parents abandon you in the woods, and the prince's mother may kick you out (with baby) into the desert...

Kathleen said...

Scary to think of it as historical/familial/cultural truth, but that's a good reminder, Jeannine.

And I still take fairy tales as metaphors/images for all kinds of disillusioning experiences. And cautionary tales gone wrong, too, or too far!

Collagemama said... Just wanted all your mid-career poet readers to learn of the University of North Texas' new Rilke Prize.

Kathleen said...

Thank you, Collagemama!