Fairy Tale Poetry—Daniel A. Rabuzzi, Guest Blogger
Daniel A. Rabuzzi (he / his) has had two novels, five short stories, 25 poems, and nearly 50 essays / articles published. He lived eight years in Norway, Germany and France. He earned degrees in the study of folklore & mythology and European history. He lives in New York City with his artistic partner & spouse, the woodcarver Deborah A. Mills, and the requisite cat.
Poets around the world are reframing and repurposing fairy tales and tropes from folk traditions to produce some of the most inventive and dynamic English-language poetry today. Their poetry matters, speaking and listening as it does to a growing audience and expanding the appetite for poetry. Fairy tale poetry is essentially a wisdom literature, most importantly wisdom for a collective, a commonweal, based on shared (if sometimes contested) memory and the drive to repair, heal and grow on the collective’s own terms.
By “fairy tales,” I mean a wide variety of traditional wonder stories from all over the globe, including fables, animal tales, supernatural legends, and kindred species within the forest of folktale; story in the wild rarely conforms to strict classification. Most English-language fairy tale poets have used stories from Europe, e.g., the Märchen, contes de fées, Jack-tales and equivalents known through the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, d’Aulnoy, Lang, Asbjørnsen & Moe, Basile, Pitrè, Afanasyev, Disney, and so on. This includes the “literary fairy tales” (Kunstmärchen) of, for instance, Goethe, Hoffmann, Andersen, Wilde, Asturias, and Arguedas. Think of the many poems that retell, subvert, fracture, or otherwise address a specific fairy tale: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” for instance in Harryette Mullens’ “European Folk Tale Variant” or “The Frog Prince” in Tara Bergin’s “Faithful Henry.” Some poems engage with several stories at once, as in Hayley Mitchell Haugen's “What The Grimm Girl Looks Forward To.” Some poems deploy fairyland imagery to evoke a mood of the otherworldly, the uncanny, the enchanted; some feature fairies, elves, witches, nixies, and their kin without attachment to a specific fairy tale.
Especially exciting are the poets writing in English who de-center the European tales and how they are told. Examples include Niyi Osundare’s use of Yoruba poetic and folkloric forms, and Amitav Ghosh’s translation of the Bengali folk epic Bon Bibi Johuranama. Diasporic poets in particular are reshaping the English language, reinventing old poetic forms and breathing life into new ones, often yielding hybrid compositions that reverberate in multiple tongues and within multiple settings. I look forward to reading poets retelling in English the stories sung at Tamil vilpattu performances, Wolof léép, the cuentos populares from a hundred places, the tales woven by Arabic hakawati—the possibilities astound and delight. Relatedly, much of the most innovative work in fiction today draws on mythologies, legends, and folktales from among hundreds of different cultures in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas.
If this topic interests you, The Critical Flame: A Journal of Literature & Culture (Issue 71, June 2022) published my c. 3,500-word essay "On the Fairy Tales School of English-Language Poetry." The Critical Flame does not publish footnotes, so I placed the citations and bibliography on my author website, here. As I draft a follow-up essay, I would be grateful for feedback and recommendations (my email: firstname.lastname@example.org). I conclude by thanking Professors Del George and Cramer for allowing me to post here.