Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fairy Tales and the 21st Century Poet

Today is the birthday of Jacob Grimm, who, with his little brother Wilhelm, collected hundreds of fairy tales. Most of my students are only familiar with these fairy tales because they've seen the Disney movies; they are often shocked, and sometimes horrified, to read the originals.

The subject of fairy tales and the actual fairy tales can lead to all sorts of interesting questions (which could lead to interesting essays in the Composition or the Intro to Lit classes). I begin with one of the most obvious questions: Would you read these to your child? And then it's easy to move to this fruitful question: what's the message here for children? Of course, we think we would do no such abusive thing like read dark fairy tales to our own children, which can lead to the next writing prompt: where do we see similar darkness in today's popular culture for children? And then there can be the fun writing; students could write their own fairy tales--and if you're an ambitious teacher, have them write analytical essays that deconstruct their own fairy tales.

I've been thinking about writing prompts for me. I submitted a proposal for the College English Association, which is being held right in my backyard this year (well, not right in my backyard, but 5 hours away in St. Petersburg)--it was accepted! My paper will look at the way that women poets of the mid-20th century used fairy tales and compare to the way that women poets are using fairly tales now. My thesis will likely be that while women poets have used fairy tales to explore what it means to be a woman in society, 2oth century women poets didn't focus on issues of work the way that 21st century women are. There's also the issue of technology, which might have shifted (Cyborgia, a volume I first heard about from Kathleen Kirk's blog post, is currently on its way to me!).

If you think of any poems based on fairy tales that I absolutely must see, let me know. Any and all suggestions welcome.

I've also been thinking about interviewing some poets who are using fairy tales in their work. At first, I thought I wanted these interviews for my academic paper. Now I'm thinking that it might make an interesting series for the blog. I'm also thinking it would make a great book, particularly if I broadened the focus so that I'm not just focusing on fairy tales. If you're a poet using fairy tales (and/or other types of popular culture) and would be open to an e-mail interview, I'd love to hear from you.

Full disclosure: I've never interviewed anyone in quite this way. It would be a new art form for me. But I've spent my life from adolescence onward avidly devouring these kinds of interviews. So, if we should write in genres that we love, perhaps it's time for me to explore the idea of interviewing authors and other creative types.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Looking forward to hearing more about your paper. Definitely willing to talk with you; however, my fairy tale poems are NEW fairy tales, not based on the classics. Not sure if that fits.

Anonymous said...

Modern woman, fairy tale, technology...? This morning NBC Today interviewed a mother. She had an egg donor resulting in twins. Two other women carried a twin each. She is having the three women involved in the children's lives. She is telling the children that the "gestational carriers" carried the children in their "tummies". She has a fairy tale developed to explain the egg donor. She is the fairy godmother that was sprinkled with magic seed. Modern Fairy Tale

Di McCullough said...

I can't think of any fairy tale poems off the top of my head, but I must highly recommend Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Jungian work with fairy tales, which COMPLETELY changed them for me. Especially Women Who Run With Wolves. (I admit: I first tried to read them about 4 years ago, wasn't interested. When I came back to them this year, they were magical.)

Kristin said...

Thanks for the reminder, Di. I haven't thought about "Women Who Run with the Wolves" in years. Happily, it's still on my bookshelf.

Sandy, at some point, I'd love to talk to you about your technique, and whether or not you see yourself working in a new tradition of inventing fairy tales, or if you see literary forebears doing it too. More later!

Anon, great modern fairy tale, one that wouldn't have been possible back in 1968. Thanks!

Thanks, all, for commenting!