Red Riding Hood
There among the roots and trunks
with the mushrooms pulsing inside the moss
he planned how to eat them both,
the grandmother an old carrot
and the child a sly budkin
in a red red hood.
He bade her to look at at the bloodroot,
the small bunchberry and the dogtooth
and pick some for her grandmother.
And this she did.
Meanwhile he scampered off
to Grandmother’s house and ate her up
as quick as a slap.
Excerpt from Red Riding Hood , Ann Sexton.
The image which accompanies this short introduction to Ann Sexton’s book Transformations is from that other mistress of the dark tale/fairy tale’s pen, Angela Carter. The image is from the Neil Jordan produced movie, The Company of Wolves , which Carter scripted based in her collection of Fairy Tales and Wolf stories of transformation and Metamorphoses. The tales did not include those which sit outside of the theme of the movie and are among her classic writing, so I’d generally urge readers who like women’s novels, fiction, prose and critique to seek out Ms Carter’s opus which is available in book shops and on Amazon. High on my list of personal recommendations is The Bloody Chamber (Bluebeard), The Lady of the House of Love (Vampire) and her essays Expletives Deleted.
I bought Transformations on Friday morning to read on the way home from a brief holiday in my usual haunt, The Rare and Interesting Bookshop, in Mayo, as I have given up on Newspapers doing anything but horrifying me (and not in the delightful Carteresque manner).
Here are Briar Rose, Cinderella, wicked step-mothers, Rumpelstiltskin, The Little Peasant and the coterie of Grimm falling out of the slim but packed volume of tales of transformations and metamorphoses. The twist is in the language and schemes, as opposed to the twists and turns in Carter’s feminist and microscopic eye in her versions.
a girl who keeps slipping off,
arms limp as old carrots
into the hypnotist’s trance,
into a spirit world
speaking with the gift of tongues.
She is stuck in the time machine,
suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,
as inward as a snail,
learning to talk again.
She’s on a voyage.
She is swimming further and further back
up like a salmon,
struggling into her mother’s pocketbook.
Briar Rose, by Ann Sexton.
Do read the book, it isn’t by any means a new book , but all books are new when discovered , bought or found. And no-one can really tell how one will react to the images, content or stories therein. Always new books are something critics and interpreters forget are an adventure to the mind.
I have included at the end here the name of a collected Carter, the title of the Sexton and a link to another Ann Sexton poem which is on Poethead.