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.

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

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 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.

________________________________________________________

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.

Upcoming readings of KIN S FUR

Here’s where you can hear me read ALL KINDS OF FUR— and learn about the controversial tale from the Brothers Grimm that it’s based on. Come experience erasure, a contemporary form of visual poetry. Copies of my book will be available, and I look forward to talking with you and signing your book.

But– how can a poet like me read such a visual form of poetry like erasure??? For me, readings of ALL KINDS OF FUR are more like performances. More on this in another blog, here.

 

— 28 June 2018, Thursday. 6:30 pm. At Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers. Farmington, Maine.

Thanks to all who came! Almost 50 people! I was so glad to read here  because I first started going to this bookstore in 1984, when I began, in earnest, my folklore fieldwork in Rangeley, just up the mountain from Farmington.  It was a wonderful break to drive down the mountain to this bookstore and spend delicious hours remembering my life as a reader and writer. Then, in the 1990s when my books / exhibit catalogues on folk arts of the western Maine timberwoods came out, DDG carried them.

Thanks to Kenny Brechner who provides such a vital cultural resource for all of us in the region– readings, partnerships with local schools, special programs for families and children, and much more.

He has copies of my book for sale in the store, now.

 

— 5 August 2018, Sunday. 6:00 pm. Featured poet at the Hugh Ogden Memorial Evening of Poetry, held annually at Ecopelagicon (nature store). 7 Pond Street, Rangeley, Maine. 207-864-2771.

What fun this was! 52 people came, our largest audience for the Ogden Evening of Poetry yet.

11 October 2018, Thursday. 1:30-2:45. George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. In Prof. Debra Lattanzi Shutika‘s folklore class “Personal Experience Narratives and Storytelling. Robinson Hall 106B. I’m looking forward to being back on campus, talking with students in the Folklore Studies Program I founded in 1977.

  13 October 2018, Saturday. 11:30 am to 12:45 pm. 1204 Merton Hall. Fall for the Book Literary Festival. George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. I’ll be sharing the hour’s reading with my dear friend, the poet J. Michael Martinez.

What an honor to be invited “home” to the university where I taught for 36 years! Our Folklore Studies Program at Mason has partnered with Fall for the Book since at least 2002 and has brought many folklorists–and writers who weave folklore into their works–to this literary festival: Michael Bell on New England vampires, Ray Cashman on Northern Ireland folktales and folk customs, Bill Ellis on many things otherworldly, Elaine Lawless on women escaping violence through silence and story, Elizabeth Tucker on campus ghostlore, and many more.

 

— 18 October 2018. 7:00pm. Featured poet at the Dan Crowley Storytelling Concert at the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society. Buffalo, New York.

 

Reading KIN S FUR by skype

So, how to talk at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, about my new book ALL KINDS OF FUR if I couldn’t get south from Maine in time?  Skype!

My friend and former English Department colleague Susan Tichy ordered pre-publication copies for her ENGLISH 619 seminar “Book Beasts,” a course for Master of Fine Arts: Poetry students on many contemporary poetry practices—visual and concrete, pulled text, erasure, mesostic and acrostic, constrained and procedural, land-based avant-garde, altered book, and more.

Susan and I have had a lot of adventures in teaching together. In my last decade or so at George Mason–I taught there from 1977-2013, Susan and I co-taught a course for folklorists and creative writers on the English and Scottish Traditional Ballad. And, we’ve done joint presentations, such as the one in Helmsdale, Scotland, at the Timespan Cultural Centre—a marvelous place, well worth a visit to their museum and archives,  and for their programs. At Helmsdale, we combined Susan’s poetry from her forthcoming book with Ahsahta Press (The Avalanche Path in Summer) with my storytelling (“The Black Laird, the Cattleman, and the Mossy Green Boat,” from the telling of the great Scots Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson) to consider life in the borderlands and on the edge—between land and sea, masculine and feminine bodies, and the human and spirit worlds. You can read more about this presentation here.

This Skype session, though, was very special for me because it was in Susan’s “Book Beast” course of 2008 that I learned about erasure poetry and began writing  ALL KINDS OF FUR. And, I was really looking forward to talking with MFA students who had studied erasure poetry.

Here are Andrew, Shaun, Kayla, Nichole, Whitney, Ann, Caroline, Alexandria, Elspeth (not in the order you see them in the photo). Among this talented group are editors at so to speak, a feminist poetry and art journal housed at George Mason University, and an intern for the University’s annual October literary festival, Fall For The Book:

 

To prepare for class, I wrote out several pages of talking points with questions and topics I thought we might discuss.

I started my presentation by reading from the first pages of the book, in the way that I really like to do: I ask a gentleman to read the story text on the first page and then I read the erasure poem, the words in black font, on that same page. This performance sets up the back-and-forth between the Grimms’ tale and the way All Kinds Of Fur herself is telling her own story. Andrew read his part just perfectly, and we read pages 1 / 2 and 3 / 4.

Here are some the topics we went on to talk about together—

— Why did I keep the words of my source text, the tale of the Brothers Grimm, “ghosted”—present in gray font—on the page, instead of whiting or blacking it out, or making it invisible? I wanted to enact a conversation, a debate on the pages between the Grimms’ version and the tale that a woman—and a survivor of abuse—would tell.

Gray font – source text; black font – erasure poem.

— Why I took a liberty most erasure poets do not: I changed the appearance of my source text. I placed the Grimms’ story text in short lines, similar to the appearance of a poem, rather than leaving it in blocks of prose. I discussed how, as a folklorist” my practice of “ethnopoetics” influenced me. That is, when I “translate” the oral stories I collect into written form for publication, I type the words in lines, with the appearance of poetry, rather than placing words in paragraphs, as blocks of text with the appearance of short stories, novels, or prose. Such lining out of oral tales is “ethnopoetic” practice, begun by poets (such as Jerome Rothenberg), anthropolgists (for example, Dennis Tedlock), and folklorists (most of us, including me).

— What is shape-shifting and how is it reminiscent of writing erasure poetry? Shape-shifting in many folktales (such as “All Kinds Of Fur” and “The Woman Who Married A Bear), in legends of the selkies, and in many more tales reminds us of erasure itself, of changing the shape of words to create new poems.

— How did I find the words for my erasure poems and how did I revise some of the poems? I used my blog post  “Writing KIN S FUR” to discuss my revision process and to show images of my revisions of several poems.

— How did I find the “ending” to my poems? How did I write the last pages? I begin this project not knowing how I would end All Kinds of Fur’s story, and writing erasure itself led me to see what she would say.

— What was my revision process? Did I keep part or all of the chosen text on a page or did I start from the beginning?

— Whitney asked, “Do you think we could we compare writing erasure with translating?” Yes!  When people translated the tale “All Kinds OF Fur,” they used “girl” and erased the agency of the heroine who calls herself “child” to protect herself. Likewise, the use of “she” and not “it.” And “princess” instead of “Königstochter” erases the idea of the king and abuser. (This idea is what scholar Katharine Young wrote in her blurb of my book).

— What work does the inclusion of magic—ashes, chants, charms—do in the book? Why include it?

— What is the sexual symbolism of the spinning wheel? Why is the resonant practice of sorting so important in this and other folktales? I talk about many things, including how sorting is a powerful act of self-definition, for through it we discern who we are at that moment.

And, we ended class with me reading from page 67 / 68 to the end of ALL KINDS OF FUR.

What a fine class! Thanks to Susan Tichy and all of her “Book Beast” students!

One more scene from Helmsdale, Scotland, because it is so beautiful:

Writing KIN S FUR

Here is an example of how I went about writing the erasure poems of my book ALL KINDS OF FUR, published by Deerbrook Editions. I’ll add more detail later, but for now, I hope these images show you glimpses of my process.

I would choose a section of my translation of the Grimms’ tale “All Kinds Of Fur” that I thought might work as a moment of the story. Then, usually, I would “ghost” out the text, put all the words in gray font so I could more easily let words rise in my imagination. (Here, you’ll see, I left the words in black). Then, I’d start writing all around the sheet of paper some of the words I saw available to me, and I’d ask myself if any of them were words that All Kinds Of Fur, herself, would say at this point in the tale:

I’d write several versions of the poem, and often, I’d take the most recent version to my colleagues in the workshop I was attending at George Mason University’s MFA Poetry Program. Here’s what I showed to others in the 2012 Heritage Workshop taught by poet Eric Pankey:

I kept working on this page, and I took it to another workshop session, during the MFA course I was auditing with Susan Tichy on “Sequence, Collage, and Daybook” in 2013. I wanted to think about what sections were working and what sections were not. Here are my notes on what the graduate student poets and Susan said:

I was still unsure of this page. I liked the parallelism and the power I was placing in the domestic, but– if All Kinds of Fur were stalling, could her hands be “fully” hers? So I showed many of the poems to one of my most trusted readers– Susan Tichy. Between us, we decided there were some serious problems with the page, and I knew I needed to rewrite substantial parts of this page and the next. Here are the notes I took from that 2014 conversation:

More writing. And, here are the pages (29/30 and 31/32) as they appear in my book ALL KINDS OF FUR, published by Deerbrook Editions in 2018:

and

I revised the pages–rearranging lines, increasing spaces between some lines–to enact a moment of transformation when All Kinds Of Fur, who has been long “castled,” finds a way to move forward. Her reclaims her ability to read ashes and to use the power of the nutshell once more.