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“I did not belong in the village/ where people would point and laugh,” the speaker in Catherine Garbinsky’s fairytale themed poetry collection, Even Curses End. “They did not see my robin’s egg heart/only the crooked branches of my body.”
The pieces in this book tend to flip the narrative, telling the fairytale from the witch’s perspective in a way that is heart-stoppingly gorgeous, balancing gruesome, dark imagery with bejeweled, magical images. The balance between the two in Even Curses End is as close to artistic perfection as I think I’ve ever seen.
The poem, quoted above, titled “Gingerbread House,” is from the perspective of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Instead of the witch being the villain, it’s the children who are evil—
“Their eyes grew cold/as they shoved me into the blue flames./My cries became tinder./ My body melted into night.”
After all, those presumed to be witches were often innocent. The story of the witch is the story of the outsider, usually an individual who is wise in the ways of nature and magic, but is most often rejected by society.
The book discusses mental illness, and uses fairytale tropes as a lens to look at bipolar disorder in a way that is as stunning as it is heartbreaking. A lot of the time, when speaking of any mental illness, descriptions of symptoms tend to come out sounding metaphorical, bordering on the magical—arms and legs feel leaden, there’s an odd, heavy ache like a hole in the middle of your chest, or being so happy that one literally feels light and sparkly. In that respect, Grimms’ Fairytales and their conventions lend themselves well to poems about mental illness.
In “The Princess and the Thorns,” the speaker says: “Not every girl survives the forest./Sometimes she becomes it.” There are so many layers to this piece. On one, there’s the story of a girl who gets lost in the darkness. On another, there’s the story about how she grows into something and someone else.
“But there are flowers amidst the thorns…/ a sweet fragrance promising a happy ending,/dangerous and desirable at once./Lay down your swords, there is no way in,” the speaker warns the reader. There are good things about this princess, but those good things could, potentially, be a lure.
“She wears a crown of twilight, a blanket of thistledown./Princess of fingers pricked, princess of blood.”
With her feral nature, and her thorns, she’s still beautiful. There’s strength in what she’s gone through, how she’s survived. The story of how a person gets their scars is the story of their becoming. Garbinsky’s poetry is masterful, and Even Curses End is darkly beautiful, with the sense that there’s hope. I highly recommend this book, which is available soon from Animal Heart Press.