No Fairy Godmothers by Guest Blogger Sandy Longhorn

Today’s guest blogger is poet Sandy Longhorn, and you can read “Midwest Nursery Tales,” “Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm,” and more at her poetry feature here! You’ll find more of her “process notes” on writing poetry at her blog, here. Art by Dan-Ah Kim.

Let us know what you think about fairy tales in poetry and as coming-of-age or cautionary tales. Have you been shocked to read grim Grimm versions after seeing the Disney versions? What transformations of folk or fairy tales in art or literature have moved you?

A Guest Post for Escape Into Life ~ Sandy Longhorn

Creating a series of poems that told new fairy tales from the Midwest was not something that I set out consciously to do. Doing a little backtracking in my files, “Midwest Nursery Tales” was the poem that led to the series. In a blog post on 19 February 2010,  I noted that I was inspired by Mary Biddinger’s book Prairie Fever. Although not a book of fairy tales, I was impressed with the way Biddinger presented some of the darker undertones of living in the Midwest. Another book that served as inspiration along the way was Rachel Contreni Flynn’s Tongue. Again, not a book of overt fairy tales, but one that uses some of the same dark undertones in coming of age poems.

Once I had drafted the initial poem, the idea of fairy tales took hold of my imagination and I became, frankly, obsessed. I went back and read several of the iconic fairy tales as presented by the Brothers Grimm, and while I’d known about the violence they contained, it was still a shock to read the non-Disneyfied versions. Also, while other writers and artists have retold traditional fairy tales many times over, I wanted to say something new, to capture my Midwestern reality, a reality built on self-reliance and a demanding landscape. I came of age during the farm crisis of the 1980s, and I learned early that there are no fairy godmothers on the prairie, no magic spells to save the day.

As I began to weave my tales, I left out the fairy godmothers and focused instead on the idea of transformation that is so prevalent in most fairy tales. However, instead of a magic wand, the girls in my tales are often transformed by the weather, the land, and the industry around them. The main character of each poem is always a girl, as the Midwest of my reality was soaked in the masculine labor of agriculture. And perhaps this is why I embraced the fairy tale form but wanted to make it new. In the Disney fairy tales of my youth, the girls were molded to fit a feminine ideal: soft beauty, a pretty singing voice, and of course, being vulnerable to the evil step-mother or witch. In my formative years, none of these traits were reinforced by the life I saw all around me. To show a vulnerability would be to invite disaster into the house. Instead, male or female, children needed to be able to stand in the face of disaster and plow through. Tenacity and perseverance, those were the traits rewarded in those around me.

The idea of fairy tales as cautionary tales meant to impart some moral lesson is at the heart of my obsession with writing these Midwestern fairy tales. We are, if nothing, a cautious group, careful not to shine too bright a light on our achievements and always on guard for the next disaster.

Sandy Longhorn is the author of Blood Almanac (Anhinga Press, 2006), which won the 2005 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, judged by Reginald Shepherd. Her work appears in Anti-, The Dirty Napkin, Lake Effect, New Madrid, Redivider, Spillway, and elsewhere. Her work has also been featured on Verse Daily. Longhorn lives in Little Rock, AR, is an Arkansas Arts Council fellow, and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.

2 responses to “No Fairy Godmothers by Guest Blogger Sandy Longhorn”

  1. Christina Wegman says:

    Beautiful insight into the ideas and experiences that inform the creation of poetry. . . thank you Sandy and Kathleen!

    Fairy tales arise out of the cultural needs and conditions of certain times and places. . .it only seems natural that Sandy would adapt her fairy tales to the world she grew up in.  I think what is very interesting is how many people don’t realize that fairy tales are constantly being revised, re-written, and re-evaluated as time goes by.  The archetypes remain constant much of the time, but the settings, interpretation, focus, and tones of writing take different twists and turns along the way.  The most enduring tales leave behind a trace of universal wisdom, but even the most subjective tales can spark thought and worthwhile discussion. . .

    German legends and fairy tales have left the strongest mark on me personally (my specialization was German). . . but I have come across tales from all over the world that have offered both practical moral wisdom and fodder for the imagination!

  2. Kathleen Kirk says:

    I’m struck today by the phrase “on guard for the next disaster” as people getting ready for Hurricane Irene.  

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