Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea, and Other Fairy Tales to Foment Revolution is a fresh and lively collection of reimagined fairy tales in poetic form.
Nominated for the 2023 Elgin Award, this book is full of rich wordplay and provocative imagery.
As Mother Goose warns in the prologue, these are tales of “angry daughters/ and mad wives,/ of stolen children/ and disrupted lives,/ of teeth broken and dull/ filed sharp anew.”
- “After the Kiss” is Sleeping Beauty’s story after awakening, everyone she loved crumbled to dust long ago. She tells the prince “This is not going/ how you imagined,/ I’m sure./ This is not going/ how I had imagined/ either.”
- “The Ashes of her Feet” is an evocative and horrifying retelling of Cinderella’s story, with survival and revenge at its dark heart. “The Sisters and the Knife” is a similarly disturbing (in a fabulous way) retake of Cinderella’s tale, through a lens of chronic pain and empathy.
- Based on The Shoemaker and the Elves, her poem “The Cobblers” is a meditation on the stories we tell to justify our material comfort. The final lines might be uttered by anyone profiting from the labor of others: “I pull the blanket over my head,/ my belly full,/ hug my children close,/ and sleep.”
- There are three terrific versions of The Twelves Dancing Princesses. In the first, “The Daughters of the King,” the princesses plot escape: “Only when the/ sky beyond the high, barred window pales/ from black to blue…only then do/ they climb into their beds, close their eyes,/ so very patient, so very still/ and wait.” The second version, “A Tale Told in Five Voices,” features a vengeful king, a mad queen, a resourceful princess, an old witch-woman, and a loyal soldier. “We the Dancers,” the third take, is told by one of the sisters who sacrifices herself in marriage to the soldier to protect her eldest sister: “when his eyes lit on her/ i stepped between them/ eyes downcast/ i let the blanket slip/ just a bit…”
- “The Flower Bride” is a haunting horror-poem based on the ancient Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd. Initially at the mercy of her husband the king, the flower bride’s regenerative fertility proves overwhelming in the unforgettable ending.
- A modern twist on The Princess and the Frog casts him as a creepy won’t-take-no frog-man trying to steal more than a kiss in “The Frog.” The capable young woman’s chutzpah and unapologetic attitude give the story a fresh slant, reminiscent of the empowering stories in Shit Cassandra Saw.
- “The Green Knight” fuses King Arthur lore with Johnny Appleseed for a powerful and hopeful tale of reforestation, when a boy pulls a rusted sword from a tree stump and becomes a mythic character: “...blunted sword in/ hand, seeds upon his breath, his tears/ saturating the earth, forests/ and fields and meadows rising in/ his wake…”
- “The Last Wife” is a moving and surprising retelling of Bluebeard. It begins: “I can hear them/ my sister wives./ I can hear them/ through the walls…”
- The title poem “Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea” is a wonderfully subversive romp that entirely upends the original tale (The Princess and the Pea): “There was a pea./ That much is true./ There was also a cat,/ but he usually/ gets left out of the story…”