Says the Forest to the Girl. Sally Rosen Kindred. (Porkbelly Press, 2018) 40 pages. $10.00 at porkbellypress.com/poetry/says#
Review by William Shaw
Says the Forest to the Girl by Sally Rosen Kindred offers a taut, visceral, and surprisingly funny take on fairy tales and the women embodied by them. It stands in the feminist tradition of re-appropriated folk tales alongside Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Like Carter, Kindred’s work is inventive and empowering, because of, and not in spite, of its consistent sense of the otherworldly.
The title poem is evocative and unnerving, with shades of the gothic conveying a sense of intergenerational predation:
Am a ladder of ravens.
Am blazon and bloom.
Bones in a stem: your mother’s bones.
Things get creepier when the forest proclaims:
Want your sleep’s thick
castle, its fruit-weight
to fill me. Will tell you a story if you’ll just lie still.
And yet the poem’s ending is ambivalent, implying both a connection with ancestry and a sinister putting-to-sleep:
is the story: to wake
you must claim it, crow-close in the telling. Climb
in. Lid to root. Am singing you down.
More playful, but equally imaginative, is “Said Rapunzel to the Wolf.” The poetic voice drolly notes that “My story cried out for a wolf.” But the poem’s whimsy facilitates a mature reflection on injustice, grounded in the visceral:
My story starts in the throat.
The throat is a tower: the story climbs out
of that red cage, personal, burning
The chapbook’s final two poems are even more explicit in their reclaiming of the narrative. In “Little Red: Morning,” the poetic voice reflects:
Nobody ever told me a story
where the woman’s
body, mean and squinting, gets
While “I Tell What Kind of Girl” concludes:
Through the white door
she could hear
the pinched hearts of asphodel —
and then it opened
like mercy, like breath
when she began to tell.
The reference to “asphodel” suggests the Elysian fields — the protagonist’s fate is decidedly ambiguous — but it is resolutely hers, and it marks a powerful ending to the chapbook. Says the Forest to the Girl is a rich and finely-worked collection; its best images linger like a bloodstain on the snow.
William Shaw is a writer and poet from Sheffield, England. His writing has appeared in Star*Line, Space & Time, Imperica, and Doctor Who Magazine. His first book, The Black Archive #42: The Rings of Akhaten, is available from Obverse Books. You can find him on Twitter @Will_S_7
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