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, sometimes, other poems of mine) — 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.

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.

Please scroll to the bottom for my upcoming reading, 1 December 2021.

— 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.

13 December 2018. I was the featured author in my women’s book group in Farmington, Maine. Thanks, everyone, for your support!

25 April 2019. I was the guest speaker in Professor Susan Tichy‘s graduate poetry seminar at George Mason University, 4:30 – 7:10pm. It was in one of Susan’s classes that I first learned about erasure poetry and began writing what would become my book. I’m looking forward to being with her and her students. Here’s information on the MFA: Poetry at Mason. When I taught in the Folklore Studies program at Mason, I offered a course called “Living Words: Folklore and Creative Writing,” and Susan and I co-taught a graduate seminar in the English and Scottish Traditional Ballads.

20 June 2019, Thursday. I read from KIN S FUR at the Carrabassett Library in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. 4:30pm. Rob Lively was once again be my co-reader. Free and open to the public.

10 November 2019, Sunday. 1:30pm. At a talk sponsored by The Shiretown Bookers, I discussed the Grimms’ tale “Allerleirauh” (“All Kinds Of Fur”) that my poems are based on. And I read from the first section of my book. University of Maine, Farmington. North Dining Hall. All are welcome. Free.

22 February 2020, Sunday. 3:00pm. I performed ALL KINDS OF FUR at the Thomas Memorial Library, 6 Scott Dyer Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Part of “The Local Buzz” writers series organized by Portland poet laureate Linda Aldrich and former Portland poet laureate Marcia Brown. I read with biographer Mark Griffin. Free and open to all.

— 21 August 2020, Friday. 7-9pm. On Zoom. With poets Wesley McNair, Sidney Wade, and Felix Acuna, I’ll read my poems set in Maine. We’ll be celebrating the opening of the new writers’ retreat– The Oranbega Retreat Center in Orland, Maine. Email the Center at infoAToranbegacenterDOTcom to receive a link to Zoom and join us!

1 December 2021, Wednesday. 6-7:00 p.m. 

2021-12-01 UNE_LIB_MWWC_PoetryReading

Zoom link and live stream info here.