KINSFUR: The Art Book edition

 

After my reading of my erasure poems–ALL KINDS OF FUR: Erasure Poems & New Translation of a Tale from the Brothers Grimm–at Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, last night, a friend told me, “I’m going to take my book home and type into my computer all the black words, so I can see—all in one place—what the girl says.”

“Thanks!” I told her. “I’m so glad you’re interested! It’s amazing—I’ve had several other friends who’ve been so interested in what All Kinds Of Fur has to say about her journey from betrayal and abuse to a new life that they’ve typed out her words, too.

“Here’s something you might like to see. It might be just what you’re asking for. “I want to make an art book edition of ALL KINDS OF FUR. It’s been my hope all along to have my book appear like this.” And I put these pages that you can see, below, in her hands.

“See,” I said, as I laid page 1 / 2 down on the table in front of her, “I’d like to have each “page” in the book you have be made of two pages—the top page would be translucent with a section of the Grimms’ tale printed in gray font on it, the Grimms’ tale, that is, minus the words and letters that I’ve selected for the erasure poems. The underlying page would be white paper with the erasure poems in black font. When the top page lies on the underlying page, you can read both Grimms’ tale and erasure poem”:

 

 

As she looked, puzzled, at the stapled sheets of paper lying before her, I said, “Just turn the top page only, the translucent page. See, as you do that, you’re lifting the gray words of the Grimms’ tale up and away. You’re erasing the Grimms’ words, yourself, to reveal the poem underneath:

 

She gasped as she started reading what remained. “And now, what you see,” I explained, “is what you’ve asked for—just the words that the young woman All Kinds Of Fur says, herself. In black, with all the spaces around them”:

 

 

“Oh, wow!” my friend said. “I want a copy of that book! When will it be out?”

“Well,” I told her. “My publisher, Deerbrook Editions, and I are working on that. Right now, we’re trying to find a company or a printer or someone who can print and bind a book like this, a book that would have 38 translucent pages in it, and whose translucent and white pages could line up so that the gray and black letters would all fit with each other.

“Keep your fingers crossed for ALL KINDS OF FUR: The Art Book, and me!”

 

 

“Found” Ekphrasis? Anne Siems and KIN S FUR

There’s ekphrasis, of course, the writing of poetry in response to works of art—paintings, sculptures, and more—to amplify and expand the possibilities of both.

And, there’s found poetry, the writing of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. (See the recent work of poet J.R. Solonche, for example).

But, is there “found” ekphrasis?

The other week, I was looking online through the new paintings of Anne Siems whose “Bear Girl” graces the cover of my book ALL KINDS OF FUR: Erasure Poems & New Translation of a Tale by the Brothers Grimm. And I saw “Courage”:

“Courage” by Anne Siems. Thanks to Anne for allowing me to post this image here

I knew right away that “Courage” was my erasure poem “all is red” on page 15/16 of  ALL KINDS OF FUR:

Anne Siems didn’t paint “Courage” in response to my poem, and I did not write my poem in response to her painting, but—there they are. Together, poem and painting grant to each other visions and possibilities that, separately, they could not have had.

In 2008, when I wrote some of the first erasure poems for ALL KINDS OF FUR, I searched for an image in red that could be placed by the poems “man piece” (now “the night herder’s maw,” page 9/10) or “all is red” (now page 15/16). I wanted to put into visual language the anger that All Kinds Of Fur, the heroine of this fairy tale, would have felt as she tried to dissuade her widowed father, the king, from his intent to marry her against her will—to rape her, really, on the wedding night.

“night herder’s maw,” page 9/10 from KIN S FUR, 2018.

This photo, below, of my poems from the May 6, 2008 visual poetry exhibit—the culmination of Prof. Susan Tichy’s MFA poetry seminar at George Mason University—shows the red image I paired with my poems, then:

2008 KIN S FUR, Poetry Exhibit at George Mason University

What so startles me about Anne’s painting “Courage” is that it puts into the language of oils just how I imagine All Kinds Of Fur felt when she faced a terrible truth: the true cost of her mantle of furs.

To try to save herself from incest and rape, she required of her father a mantle made from a piece of fur from every animal in his kingdom. Surely, she reasoned, he could not do this, and she would be safe. Did she consider the enormity of her request—what would happen if her father could do this, would do this? How far would any of us go to save ourselves?

Alas, her father did accomplish this “impossible” task—or he found someone, somewhere who did. A legion of hunters unleashed upon the woods? How did she feel as her father placed the mantle in her arms and the rough furs brushed against her skin? Did she think of the animals whose skins had been pierced? Of the blood?

 

Yes. Certainly.

 

 

 

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Summary of the Grimms’ version of the tale “All Kinds Of Fur” (“Allerleirauh”):

“All Kinds Of Fur” tells of a princess whose widowed father develops a strong, carnal desire for her. She looks just like her dead mother, he explains, and, after all, her mother forbade him to marry unless he found someone who looked exactly like her. The princess gives her father four impossible tasks:  bring three gowns and a mantle stitched of a piece of fur from each animal in their kingdom. These tasks, alas, prove only too possible. When her father announces their wedding is the next day, she wraps herself in the mantle, covers her face and hands with ashes, places her gowns and three tiny gold treasures in a nutshell, and escapes into the forest. The neighboring king’s huntsmen find her sleeping in the hollow trunk of a tree, call her “All Kinds Of Fur,” and take her to the castle kitchen where she labors for years with the cook, until the king, in search of a wife, holds three balls. She disguises herself as a beautiful woman, dances with the king at the balls, and then disappears into the kitchen to make the king’s midnight soup. She drops one of her gold treasures in his soup bowl each night. During the last ball, he slips a ring on her finger, follows her, removes her fur mantle, and realizes who she is. They marry.

How do I “read” visual poetry like KIN S FUR?

Here’s an email from friends in Portland, Oregon, who wonder the same thing:

“Hi, Peggy.  . . . We stayed just one night at Cannon Beach and brought your book along. We read it aloud, first the [Grimms’ tale] text that combined ghosted print and boldface print, and then the poems in boldface. Is that how you’ll read it? Or some other way?”

Well, they’re close, but—I read ALL KINDS OF FUR some other way.

Because the conversation between the Grimm Brothers’ tale and the heroine of my poems has always been so important to me, I have always included both voices when I’ve read my poems—just as my friends surmised. But—since I want to highlight the juxtaposition, the contrasts, the differences between the two voices and to make them sound as immediate as possible, I have the two voices speak close together in time.

Rob Lively reads the story sections during his and Peggy’s performance at Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine. (Photo by Eileen Sypher)

Also, I ask a friend to help me perform my poems—always a gentleman friend, to keep in front of my audience the gender of the Grimm Brothers and to encourage people to wonder about gender issues in the tale and the poems.

So, my friend reads the tale section—the gray and black texts—on pages 1 / 2 of ALL KINDS OF FUR and then, immediately afterward, I read the erasure poem—the black text—on that same page. He and I read back and forth in this way for three to five pages, and then I read the additional erasure poems myself.

As we—and then I—read, I project images of the book’s pages on the wall behind me, using a digital projector and a PowerPoint program on my computer. This way, people can see the text of the Grimms’ fairy tale even when I am reading the erasure poem, alone.

Usually, I start my reading with a few slides that show examples of erasure poetry. And, for some audiences, I also discuss the surprising history of this controversial tale of the Grimms—a lesser-known version of “Cinderella” that opens with incest—and its international versions.

You can see what this performance looked like when I gave a lecture on the tale “All Kinds Of Fur” at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and included a reading of several poems. My George Mason University colleague and MFA Poetry graduate Kevin Stoy graciously agreed to read the part of the Grimm Brothers that day. Our  reading begins at minute-marker 44 at this youtube site.

It has been a great pleasure for me to have friends such as Rob and Kevin accompany me on this journey to bring All Kinds Of Fur’s voice to life. I am grateful to them and to others who have helped me—and who are planning to help:

Kevin Stoy, Honors College, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.  Readings at the Library of Congress (2013) and upcoming at George Mason University’s literary Festival, Fall for the Book (October 2018).

— Matt Blakley, MFA Poetry graduate, George Mason University. Lecture in ENGL 325, GMU

Joseph Sobol, Prof. of Storytelling, Faculty of Creative Industries at the University of South Wales. Presentation at American Folklore Society.

— Rob Lively, Assoc. Provost, retired, Univ. of Maine at Farmington; President of Western Maine Storytelling.  Readings at Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, Maine, and Ecopelagicon Nature Store, Rangeley, Maine.

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Summary of the Grimms’ version of “All Kinds Of Fur”

 “All Kinds Of Fur” tells of a princess whose widowed father develops a strong, carnal desire for her. She looks just like her dead mother, he explains, and, after all, her mother forbade him to marry unless he found someone who looked exactly like her. The princess gives her father four impossible tasks:  bring three gowns and a mantle stitched of a piece of fur from each animal in their kingdom. These tasks, alas, prove only too possible. When her father announces their wedding is the next day, she wraps herself in the mantle, covers her face and hands with ashes, places her gowns and three tiny gold treasures in a nutshell, and escapes into the forest. The neighboring king’s huntsmen find her sleeping in the hollow trunk of a tree, call her “All Kinds Of Fur,” and take her to the castle kitchen where she labors for years with the cook, until the king, in search of a wife, holds three balls. She disguises herself as a beautiful woman, dances with the king at the balls, and then disappears into the kitchen to make the king’s midnight soup. She drops one of her gold treasures in his soup bowl each night. During the last ball, he slips a ring on her finger, follows her, removes her fur mantle, and realizes who she is. They marry.