Read This: Poetry by Erica Wright & Jeannine Hall Gailey
Like Anne Sexton, Jeannine Hall Gailey has taken familiar fairytale heroines and transformed them in her latest collection, Unexplained Fevers. Unlike the original source stories, these girls are self-aware, self-possessed, witty and dangerous. For example: Sleeping Beauty feels her ions being pulled apart as doctors perform an MRI; Snow White realizes she's become something akin to a reality television show as people and cameras gawk at her in her glass coffin; Jack and Jill take their tumbling act on the road only to find they aren't cute past the age of 30; and Alice's fall down the rabbit hole brings her into a Tron-like, high-tech wonderland from which there is no escape. In these poems, princesses rescue themselves and run away to other lands to start over, mourn the children they can never have, aren't afraid to blame their cruel mothers and the Big Bad Wolf is a sleazy used car salesman, but this Little Red has a knife under her cloak. Try not to expect too much magic, one princess warns, but their is magic and dark beauty to spare in Gailey's wonderful new book.
Animals, blood and brooding landscapes thread through Erica Wright's Instructions for Killing the Jackal like a fevered dream. She writes in accessible language, but her word choices and turns of phrase give you pause, or require a second reading because they are loaded with imagery and subtle variations of meaning that allow each reader a different interpretation. And like Jeannine Hall Gailey's Unexplained Fevers, there are echoes of old fairytales, including a mermaid tired of her rural life who wishes to be thrown back into the water and "wolves and wayward girls" who find themselves in dark woods hunted by prey. Lost children, illness and old loves are here, too, but not rendered in the way you would expect. In "On Having Forgotten the Exact Shape of Your Mouth," Wright becomes a Tennessee Williams-like heroine who promises a departing lover restraint and no sad love songs as they dance silently into the night. It's these kinds of subtle, unexpected turns that make Wright's poetry worthy of your time and repeated readings.
My recommendation: these two collections are good companions. Read them back-to-back on a rainy afternoon.