Monday, April 15, 2013

Let "Unexplained Fevers" Infect You

Here it is April 15.  Income taxes are due, if you haven't yet gotten around to it.  But you don't need me to tell you that.

It's also the halfway point of National Poetry Month.  I haven't done as much to celebrate as I do some years.  I'm not writing a poem a day, as I have in some years.  I haven't read as many new poetry books, as I have in some years.

But the good news:  it's not too late!

If you need a boost to your poetry or a reward for getting through tax day, let me recommend Jeannine Hall Gailey's newest book, Unexplained Fevers, just out from New Binary Press.  A week ago, when we returned from the creativity retreat, the book was waiting.  I consumed it all in one sitting.  Through the week I've gone back to savor it.

Gailey returns to the world of Western fairy tales for inspiration and what enchanting spells of poems she casts from them. We see Red Riding Hood at the car dealership and Sleeping Beauty undergoing an MRI.

Gailey does far more than updating fairy tales into modern situations however. I love the poems where she weaves Biblical imagery with the fairy tale roots. Don't miss "The Princess Becomes a Prophet."  She uses imagery of John the Baptist, and the poem makes me not only want to write poems of my own, but create mixed media creations of the haunting angels that she depicts.

I found myself returning to the poems that used imagery from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," a fairy tale that's haunted me since I first read it as a child.  My favorite:  "The Princess Turns to the Sea."  I love this picture of a mermaid turned human who lives on a northern shore, baking bread for otters, seagulls and rats, swimming with seals in a sea so cold that it turns her skin blue.

Just as fairy tales do, these poems analyze the society in which we're all rooted.  And the poems analyze fairy tales too, along with other pop culture narratives.  In "Advice Left Between the Pages of Grimms' Fairy Tales," we get this piece of advice:  "Forget the sword and the magic stone, / forget enchantments and focus on the profit margin, / the hard line.  Read the subtext."

These lines demonstrate what I most love about Gailey's poems.  I typed those line, and it was the first time I took in the part about the profit margin.  Hmmm.  Are profit margins a different kind of fairy tale?  What does Gaily really mean?  I'll ponder this one off and on all day.

In this way, her poems are both accessible and haunting.  I know that some may object to the term "accessible," but I mean it as the highest compliment.  I could give this book to a reader who claims not to understand poetry, and that reader would be fine.  

But there's much to ponder here.  These are not accessible poems that leave you alone.  I found myself chewing over lines and images long after I first read the poem and understood it.

If you loved her first book, be sure to add this one to your list of must-reads. And if you have yet to discover this wonderful poet, you're in for a treat.

1 comment:

Supervillainess said...

Thank you for this kind and thoughtful review!
And yes, I think there might be a connection between fairy tales and those profit margins...