After the long, formidable Cat's Eye, my next book from the Reading Dangerously challenge was the short, formidable Transformations by Anne Sexton.
As a book of poetry and having only 112 pages, it was a refreshingly quick read. (It took me an hour or so.) Anne Sexton chose seventeen of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales and put them to verse with such a distinct voice, having never read Sexton before, I can imagine that I would be able to recognize her work. I found the poems engrossingly entertaining, but also knew that I was missing a lot with only a first reading.
The format is this: you are given the title, Anne gives a sort of intro about whatever she feels is the poignant aspect of the tale (in verse, of course) and then you read her poetic transformation of the well known story. Before Snow White she speaks of virgins, before Iron Hans she describes how people can not bear the insane, before The Little Peasant she paints lust. As far as being a novice poetry reader goes, I felt that this allowed me to better understand her poetry. The stories themselves were easy enough to understand, it was the intro verses that, without knowing they were discussing the tales, would have been far more difficult to "get."
And this stuff ain't light, either. Sexton is funny, sarcastic, disturbing and blunt. I loved how she treated certain aspects of the stories. For example, in Rumpelstiltskin, we already know the same scene is re-enacted between the little man and the princess on three consecutive nights. Sexton cuts to the chase,
"Again she cried.
Again the dwarf came.
Again he spun the straw into gold."
No embellishment, no descriptors, just the facts. It's like she's saying, "Yeah, yeah, we know, let's get on with it." I also enjoyed how she would comment on certain aspects that only occur in fairy tales. For instance, in the White Snake she writes,
"At the next town
the local princess was having a contest.
A common way for princesses to marry."
I couldn't help but smile.
Even though it is funny, it's not. She's pretty biting and cynical, in general, with some pretty disturbing ways of looking at Rapunzel (the old witch was her lesbian lover) and The Frog Prince (insinuates a bit much went on when the frog shared the princess' bed). You can see her disdain for the common ending of these stories:
"So, of course,
they were placed in a box
and painted identically blue
and thus passed their days
living happily ever after --
a kind of coffin,
a kind of blue funk.
Is it not?"
So what did I really think? While I don't agree with her, it was an interesting view on the Grimm Brothers' work. Enough so that I want to reread them and really dissect what she was trying to say. While her opinions are mostly obvious, there were some things that were just too abstract for me to "get." So I guess, in the end, I didn't so much like it, as I was intrigued. (And, to be honest, disturbed. But mostly intrigued.)