Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects by Catherynne M. Valente

I'll start this review by saying that I have no business reviewing this book. This is an absolutely gorgeous and haunting collection of poetry by Ms. Valente that takes more time than I put into it to truly appreciate. Though I appreciated it enough at a surface level and was moved more than once while reading this collection of verse, I'll be the first to admit that much of it went over my head. It's a text that I would love to study with a group.

This collection reminded me of a cross between Anne Sexton's Transformations and Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, but presented as only Catherynne Valente could present it..and by that I mean in a genius way. What Valente does with this collection of poetry is take some of the classic folktales that we know, the tale of Cinderella and her stepsisters, the tale of Baba Yaga, and puts her own spin on them. She looks at them from an angle we may have never looked at them before.

We always picture Baba Yaga as an old crone, but what was she like when she was young and how did she become what we know her to be? What other atrocities did Cinderella face that we're not familiar with. Aside from specific folk tales, she studies folklore in general with this collection as well, writing poems based on the classic diatribes of folk tales, yet she goes deeper and looks at the politics, the gender roles, the horror of our traditions.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that this was a difficult collection for me and it was. But there were these moments of light that just awed me throughout the collection. Moments that were just there that I didn't need to go any deeper into. Pictures that Valente painted that I got lost in. I'll leave you with one of those passages from her poem, "The Seven Devils of Central California":

My wings are tangled in grapevine
and orange-bark,
pearwood and raw almonds,
green skin prickles my shoulder blades,
lime-flesh and rice-reeds,
soybean pods and oh,
the dead-leaved corn. I can hardly fly
these days.

But I burrow, and stamp,
and how the radishes go up in my path.

If you're looking for a good poetry collection for RIP VII, this may just be the one for you!!


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

It's been quite some time since I've read poetry, but I love that this is perfect for the RIP challenge as well. I might have to check this out - and I think you did a wonderful job reviewing this!

Chris said...

Natalie, You should totally check this one out!! It was really a fantastic book that I really need to go back to and dedicate some more time too.

Carl V. said...

I had the exact same problem reviewing this one Chris when I read it a few years back. It was lovely and at times pulled my right in but more often than not I felt as if I was woefully lacking in knowledge about various fairy and folk tales, knowledge that would have helped me better "get" what she was trying to say. I am glad I've read it and hope to learn more over the years so that maybe a return read will yield a more fruitful experience.

Fay said...

Contemporary fantasy is really not my genre, but the poetry format sounds appealing, and this poem has punch. I will check the library for this book and maybe expand my reading horizon.

Jeane said...

You know I don't read much poetry but that passage you shared I keep mulling over- something about it very vivid even though I don't know what it's saying! Almost tempts me to find this collection...