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Fairy Tales

June 2016

Fairy tales are a type of short story that typically features fantasy characters (dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, witches) and usually some magic or enchantments. They differ from other folk narratives such as legends which generally involve some belief in at least some truth to the tale.

We usually think of fairy tales as children's literature, but authors have also written modern and more adult fairy tales.

Like many of us, author Michael Cunningham read fairy tales as a child, but he continued to wonder about what happened after the tales ended. In his collection of stories, The Wild Swan, he answers that question for a number of fairy tales. Cunningham is best known for his novels The Hours and The Snow Queen (which was inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story).

He gives us a a modern day lazy boy named Jack who lives in his mother's basement rather than get a job. One day he trades a cow for some magic beans. His poor widowed mother is stuck with this kid who is "not a kid who can be trusted to remember to take his mother to her chemo appointment, or to close the windows when it rains." But her opinion of him changes when he climbs the beanstalk and comes back with bags of gold. Mom invests in stocks and real estate. They build a mansion for themselves. He climbs the beanstalk again, More gold and they are able to buy everything they ever wanted. But Jack goes back again for even more gold even though "there's nothing left for him and his mother to buy."

In Kissing the Toad by Galway Kinnell, he takes that idea that appears in several fairy tales.

We also use the term "fairy tale" to describe something unusually, perhaps unrealistically, optimistic, as in "fairy tale ending" or a "fairy tale romance." Of course, not all fairy tales end happily, and some are quite grim (or Grimm).

In her book, Transformations, Anne Sexton has a number of poem-stories in her retelling of seventeen Grimm's fairy tales, including "Snow White," "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Frog Prince," "Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel".  She takes the original Rapunzel story and gives it a modern turn that goes much further than the modern Disney version of the character, as this opening to the poem shows:

A woman
who loves a woman
is forever young.
The mentor
and the student
feed off each other.
Many a girl
had an old aunt
who locked her in the study
to keep the boys away.
They would play rummy
or lie on the couch
and touch and touch.
Old breast against young breast…
Let your dress fall down your shoulder...

For this month's prompt, you may choose from several fairy tale possibilities: - Continue a classic tale, or following Cunningham and Sexton, rewrite a classic for our times. - Choose a part of the plot or an element from a tale, as Kinnell did or as in A.E. Stallings "Fairy-tale Logic."

I found in my local library a copy of Disenchantments which anthologizes a good number of modern day fairy tale poems.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


How to find such a Well, and carry its water
home, as the wicked stepmother demands?
All the ponds have dried up, the girl barely
has water to mop the kitchen floor – water
she saves drop by drop in a thrifty basin.
And lo, when she dips her mop, out swims
a frog. The girl carries the frog outside,
where he’ll be safe from the kitchen cat.
She doesn’t know fairytale frogs are princes
in disguise. She doesn’t know her step-
mother has turned the basin into a sieve.
Nothing in a fairytale is as it seems, every-
thing’s a tool of transformation. She’ll follow
the frog to a cool mossy place, he’ll teach
her to see the mop-basin – a sieve full of holes –
as a night sky full of stars, himself as her
prince in a land where Stepmother’s Well
of the World’s End has gone forever dry.

Taylor Graham


And you may not believe me,
but I saw a fairy hiding under a flower pot.
Some say fairies make themselves
invisible around people,
but I know that isn't always true
because I saw a fairy dancing in a meadow
with my own two eyes.

I've heard it said that fairies live in legends
but fairy tales live in imagination.
Fairies have been around for hundreds of years
and the sandman still puts "sleepy dust"
in children's eyes to help them sleep.
And the tooth fairy never forgets to put
a tooth under a pillow
so the bogeyman won't steal it.

Fairies don't always look alike.
Most fairies are smaller
than mother and daddy,
but they still look like them
and they are pretty.

Trolls are short and ugly with crooked noses
and banshees have long hair
and their eyes are red from crying.
Brownies wear brown clothes
and fairies live alone or in a group
but a banshee is the kind of fairy
that lives alone and cries a lot.

Lots of fairies live in Fairyland with
a beautiful queen. Fairies can live
almost anywhere, even under tree roots.

Fairyland looks like the human world,
but it isn't. Hundreds of years
have passed by in one night.

And there were so many fairies
not every fairy could have a happy ending.

Bobbie Townsend


The beast flew in from the East,
Away and past, a magnanimous shadow cast.
A curse wrought, and with supposed blood sought,
A monster whom feasts, upon man and fleece.
Naught an animal cast asunder, fear creating false wonder.
Legend from lips cast, of many a hero of the past.
Slay the great serpent, whom plagues land and sea.
Is she the last?
Eyes of old, look upon a fledgling world so bold.
Tiny creatures who scourge, and of the land purge.
A home for creatures of many or few.
Great or small, once this world accommodated all.
Now tiny monsters plunder, burn, and wonder.
Where is more?
A home invaded, truly a beast created.
A monster or a mother of the same world.
A brood to protect, eggs, food, and her nest.
Still they came for what they desired theirs.
Dreams of gold, or glory drove them there.
Some by foolish choice, other with zealotry their voice.
A war of kingdoms, of earth and land by stone and man.
Now a lonely demon flies, damned by ignorant eyes.
A broken heart once filled with rage, now empty in a lifeless cage.
Now flies the skies, over a world that is no longer theirs.
But still they wonder.
Whence came the beast?
So begat from beasts

Cody Puffs


I loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as a child.
Some day my prince will come,
I would sing
and wonder about my prince.
Leslie at 13 told us that
some day my prince will come
means sex,
though no one in my pink bedroom,
including Leslie,
could see how that was possible.
Some day we'll meet again,
I thought. When I am older.
And away to his castle we'll go
To be happy forever I know.

And there was a some day
when spring was here
that I thought I would find love anew
And the birds would sing
And wedding bells would ring.
Still believing there was a way
that love was really near.
A some day when my dreams come true.

Pamela Milne


Yes, he's good-looking, certainly, and sweet,
even-tempered, sensitive to my needs
and generous to a fault with worldly goods:
the sort that any girl would like to meet.

He treats me like a princess, proud to stand
between me and the dragon of despair.
When I can't pay the bill for car-repair
he rides in with a credit-card in hand.

What is it then that so disturbs my rest,
insistent as a single pea concealed
under a dozen downy duvets filled
with softest feathers from the eider's breast?

In truth, the answer's obvious enough:
I wish I were, but I am not in love.

Ama Bolton


Right after 9/11,
Grandpa was babysitting us,
Settling us down on the front porch swing,
To tell us we weren’t properly frightened of the world.

“You think just because you live far from the city,
Bad things can’t happen to you.
But let me tell you,
That even out here in the suburbs, there are mad, crazy men.
And if I was one of them, you know what I’d do?
I’d take those garden gnomes
That your mother finds so adorable,
And I’d fill their hearts with plastic explosives.

Take that cute one winking behind the dahlias;
Or the playful one whistling while he sinks his shovel into the earth,
Or that bushy- bearded one who looks like Rasputin,
Pushing his wheel barrow through the irises.

The only reason he’s smirking is because he has little solar collectors in his eyes,
Which power the timer in his chest and the receiver in his floppy red hat.
All of them are laughing inside, thinking of our destruction,
Just waiting their master’s signal to detonate,

Laying waste the peonies, uprooting the roses,
Shredding those gloves on top of the sundial,
Those gloves that have labored so long
To transform this farmland into a decent place to live.

Those gnomes are pure evil, I tell you, and they’re everywhere,
Daring us to show how brave we really are
By getting down on our hands and knees
And placing an ear to their ticking chests.

But you’re lucky Grandpa’s here,
And he won’t let you.”

Ron Yazinski

Sleeping beauty
What a cutie
that I’ve found this day!

I’m Prince Charming
So alarming
seeing her this way!

A torrid kiss
will bring such bliss
to both of us today!

Aha! She wakes!
But heaven’s sakes!
It pains me so to say

She’s very fine
but won’t be mine
because, you see, she’s gay!



Pouch full of sloths, clambering out
A race to avoid the big Saranac mouth
They play and they try to suppress their doubts
Some traipse to the north, some to the south

The way can be hard, as tasteless as lard
when it seems that no humans will care
Your poor lovely slothness must surely be jarred
But you must know your feelings I share

O sloths, my sloths, I pray you survive
this horrible squinch of a world!
With luminous fribbles I beg you to strive
till in my arms finely you’re curled

R. Bremner


The prince did not like
The glass slipper deal
Or that Cindy, who ever she was
Wore those super high heel shoes
That made foot doctors happy
With fractures of the ankle.
He was modern, reluctant to accept
Any one who did not seem right.
What about the other women
At his family's grand ball
With Rossini or Prokofiev
Writing the special dance tunes
Would they approve of him.
He thought as a royal,
He had a grand right of entitlement
An arrogant word progressives used
When they talked of their right to curb his wings.

These were changing times:
And the idea she came to him
Through the machinations
Of a fairy God mother
Whether male or feline was unimportant
With good or evil intentions
How could she come to him in a pumpkin
That fall to pieces at midnight.
He punned could she pump
Or would he have to do all the work.
His kingdom was poor,
The prince had monetary concerns
Since he had expensive habits.
Which he was not prepared to suspend.

Yet his body focused on simple things
All she needed were beautiful lips
That knew how to kiss,
Affectionate at all times
Her arms to touch all parts
And a sweet tongue
That is as the proverb says
Treated him as mother in the morning
The best friend in the day
And in long nights as a pro.

Edward Halperin


I am one of two lizards, watching
through a knot-hole in a wooden door:
I see their dancings and their writhings
they do not entice me

these elf maidens in lace collars.

the raven flies with invitations in its talons
some bristling from its hackleback,
blacksome few
tied ‘round its throat
with a careless twine
and while he brushes nightpaint
against leaden sky

with wings of progress
scattering missives behind
on roofs and chimneys and crosses,
the table is heaped
with delicacies: skewered frog,
fungus salad, mustard seed.

weddings are in the offing, the king
says, breathing on his crown
polishing it with an invitation left behind.
other hands reach up
to gloss the moon.
when no guests at all arrive,
food and fairy-rings gone
to waste,
all the potential bridegrooms

slip under the crack in the door, escape
before dawn; none of the prospective brides
are sorry they have gone.
this is all I see: dancing, a king

charmed & beguiled

into taking a lace-collared elfin wife,
some unusual

celebratory dancings, including

the will-o-the-wisps and their
extinguished torch-lights,
put out by the wayward
grooms -- this is all I see,
my lizard eye all pressed so tight

against the prophetic peephole
of last night.

JM DeCrignis