Poets Online Archive
As a model, we use Peter Murphy's poem "The Stubborn Child" from his book of the same name which was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. The poem has its inspiration in the Grimm's tale by that name.
The original story is a creepfest in itself. Try reading this one to a kid before he goes to sleep.
THE STUBBORN CHILD
Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him and let him become sick.
No doctor could cure him, and in a short time, he lay on his deathbed.
After he was lowered into his grave and was covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out.
So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.
from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Jack Zipes, translator, 1987
Of the poem's genesis, Peter says:
"I had a deprived childhood in that I never read a fairy tale till I was in my late 30's, and when I did, I fell in love with the surreal, violent and familiar families portrayed by the Brothers Grimm. This was not Disney. This was Cinderella's evil stepsisters lopping off their heels to squeeze their fat feet into that impossibly tight glass slipper. Perverse entertainment till I came across "The Stubborn Child," perhaps the shortest Grimm tale. "Damn," I thought. "That's my childhood!" And it was, so I proceeded to write 40 or 50 drafts trying to get it right. Somewhere in this frenzy, I realized my own stubborn child was asleep in the next room, and that's when the poem found its ending and its shape, the transformation of the speaker from abused child to wounded father, trying, perhaps too hard, not to repeat the mistakes made on him.
Many stubborn children of all ages inhabit my book Stubborn Child as the poems branch away from my childhood and adolescence to the students who taught me for 30 years in Atlantic City, to other stubborn children, friends and family, who ghost the adult years of my life. "
Peter's poem has the child emerge from the grave, live on, have a daughter to pray over and protect. He resurrects the willful child who is more than stubborn, and who still loves his mother who he knows loves him. It's a story of transformation, as is the poem a transformation from the original.
If you want to try the prompt yourself, you can check a book of the tales, or Google a Grimm title that you know, but a good site to start with is SurLaLuneFairyTales.com. It includes tales that we are all familiar with like "Goldilocks and the 3 Bears", and ones I had never read, like "The Girl Without Hands". The tales there are all annotated, so you get some good background information that might well serve as your inspiration. There's a list of the Grimm tales on Wikipedia too.
Peter E. Murphy is the author of Stubborn Child (Jane Street Press, NY, 2005), a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. His poems and essays have appeared in The American Book Review, The Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, Cortland Review, The Journal, The Shakespeare Quarterly, Witness, World Order, and elsewhere.
Peter taught for many years at Atlantic City High School, and since retiring has focused on professional development programs in writing for educators. He is the founder/director of Murphy Writing Seminars, LLC.
He has received fellowships for writing and teaching from The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Yaddo, The Folger Shakespeare Library, and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.
For many poets in the northeast, Peter is also known for creating the very popular Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, a retreat for poets & writers held annually in Cape May, NJ. He also maintains the Poetry NJ group site at Yahoo! which lists readings and poetry event in and around the NJ/NY/PA area.
There's more information about this prompt, Peter Murphy and the Brothers Grimm, plus the opportunity to post your own comments about all this on the Poets Online Blog.
If all you learn in one year is dog-talk,
Sobbing, the young
But nothing can surpass
The liquid solidifies no longer,
THE YOUNG PRINCE, WHILE OUT HUNTING
rolls off a rock and a chunk of broken concrete
of metal with ungloved hands, eyes blinded
for the squirm of ribbonous snakes, the braided knot
its heavy edge grooving his palm, one knee nobly planted
the insect trill rising from fields of Queen Anne's lace,
strewn with rubbish under a frayed canopy of maple,
inviting him to explore their texture, to feel in his fingers,
each strand extrudes—electric cables twisting the height
the bright window at whose sill the enchanted world
MY KING HAS GIFTED ME HANDS
Stumbling through the woods every thicket whips scars
The hind’s eyes and tongue in a silver basin by the bed
He has darkened the door and held my pinkened hand in his
Home now as remote
GIRL WITHOUT HANDS
Not because of some birth defect or accident,
This miller, to save himself, is told by the Devil
child, if I do not cut off both thine hands,
That's bad enough, but when she replies
I had to stop reading.
Did she get them back? Did the Devil win?
THE GLASS COFFIN
She lay in her glass coffin
She lay in her glass prison
“Kiss me!” she cried
The brave man complied
I am the one
I am the one who cooks it
I am the one who dishes it
I am the one who shows baby
I am the one who interrupts his crying,
I am the one who says,
I am the one who sees wet footprints
I am the one who notices
I am the one to follow the footprints
I am the one scandalized
And I am the one tempted
out the window
THE TAILOR IN HEAVEN
Reading Grimm I chance upon this tale
A tailor arrives at the gate and Saint Peter refuses him entrance.
The poor tailor begs, but all he has to wait for God to come back from
Who could resist. He sits.
God comes back right then. Go figure.
Of course, the tailor gets kicked out of heaven.
So I told him what I could recall:
like Hansel alone, with no Gretel.
Too dark to see things discarded
maybe that's where Gretel was now.
Let's talk about that, he said