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epub TransformationsAuthor Anne Sexton – Wildlives.co

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10 thoughts on “Transformations

  1. says:

    A retelling of Grimm Fairy tales combined with some confessional verses. I feel like personally poetry is very hit and miss for me and I just didn't enjoy this that much. I also never really enjoyed Silvia Plath's poetry to be fair and Anne Sexton is similar in a sense. I also felt pretty uncomfortable reading Rapunzel with it's undertones of sexuality between an older woman and a younger woman because there are allegations of sexual abuse against Sexton from her own daughter and the whole time I was like please god let that not be what she's alluding to. Anyways the poems are okay, nothing that really moved me but it was cool to see things like the more blatant allusions made to sexual desire for red riding hood which I had heard of in other contexts as one interpretation of the subtext of the original story.


  2. says:

    Poetry is like wine to me. I enjoy it occasionally but I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to write elaborate tasting notes.

    Like wine, I enjoy poetry on a more intangible level, the only difference is that of course, I am not more likely to go to bed with you if we end up reading poetry for the whole evening.
    Therefore, I won’t write a proper review of Anne Sexton’s Transformations. But even Kurt Vonnegut Jr didn’t write anything sensible in his foreword to this edition.
    ‘Transformations’ are poetic retellings of Grimm’s tales. This world is more than familiar to me. I used to live in their tales when I was a child. I read them over and over again and this was a nice way to revisit the world of my childhood.

    In Anne Sexton’s versions of the famous fairy tales they all live creepily ever after. She doesn’t change a thing, she just changes the lightning which makes everything a little bit more grotesque, and we realize that regardless to what our parents had us believe it wasn’t always good that won. Sometimes the good lost.

    “Red Riding Hood” opens with Sexton’s musings on deceivers and pretenders. Like a wolf dressed as a grandmother we all sometimes put our more benign face on when facing the world:

    "And I. I too.
    Quite collected at cocktail parties,
    meanwhile in my head
    I’m undergoing open-heart surgery.
    The heart, poor fellow,
    pounding on his little tin drum
    with a faint death beat.
    The heart, that eyeless bettle,
    enormous that Kafka beetle,
    running panicked through his maze,
    never stopping one foot after the other
    one hour after the other
    until he gags on an apple
    and it’s all over."


  3. says:

    A collection of the mundane deconstructed to resemble the Grimm more than the silly and retold in verses oddly anachronistic yet alluring. What Sexton transforms is more magical than the droll tales of our childhood.


  4. says:

    Sexton takes specific fairy tales, starts each with a modern-day prologue and then tells the tale in her own fashion while being faithful to the plot of the original. Some of the humorous allusions she uses are now dated, such as describing Rumpelstiltskin's body as not being Sanforized; but as a whole, each poem extends the universal truth of the Grimm tale, as with Cinderella's prince's "marriage [meat] market."

    I've probably read a Sexton poem here or there, but this was my first extended reading of her; and from the first, I saw her influence on her student Julie Kane, a poet I love. (Kane was a student in Sexton's graduate poetry seminar at the time of her teacher's suicide.) Both share a wry, sarcastic sense of humor and stare unflinchingly into the darkness.

    Before (or, in some cases, after) reading some of the poems, I reread the corresponding Grimm tale. Whenever I come across complex retellings of fairy tales such as these, I understand more why I was so drawn to them when I was younger. Back then I gulped them one after the other, hardly stopping to swallow, much less digest. I fear I may have done that with these poems to a certain extent. Though I've reread parts of each and some of all, I know there is much in the poems that I've missed. The lack of the fifth star is due to my failure as reader, giving me impetus to delve even deeper next time.


  5. says:

    An essential part of my early-life feminist awakening. Observe Cinderella as viewed by Anne Sexton:

    You always read about it:
    the plumber with the twelve children
    who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
    From toilets to riches.
    That story.


    Or the nursemaid,
    some luscious sweet from Denmark
    who captures the oldest son's heart.
    from diapers to Dior.
    That story.


    Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
    eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
    the white truck like an ambulance
    who goes into real estate
    and makes a pile.
    From homogenized to martinis at lunch.


    Or the charwoman
    who is on the bus when it cracks up
    and collects enough from the insurance.
    From mops to Bonwit Teller.
    That story.


    Once
    the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
    and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
    Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
    down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
    The man took another wife who had
    two daughters, pretty enough
    but with hearts like blackjacks.
    Cinderella was their maid.
    She slept on the sooty hearth each night
    and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
    Her father brought presents home from town,
    jewels and gowns for the other women
    but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
    She planted that twig on her mother's grave
    and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
    Whenever she wished for anything the dove
    would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
    The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.


    Next came the ball, as you all know.
    It was a marriage market.
    The prince was looking for a wife.
    All but Cinderella were preparing
    and gussying up for the event.
    Cinderella begged to go too.
    Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
    into the cinders and said: Pick them
    up in an hour and you shall go.
    The white dove brought all his friends;
    all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
    and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
    No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
    you have no clothes and cannot dance.
    That's the way with stepmothers.


    Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
    and cried forth like a gospel singer:
    Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
    send me to the prince's ball!
    The bird dropped down a golden dress
    and delicate little slippers.
    Rather a large package for a simple bird.
    So she went. Which is no surprise.
    Her stepmother and sisters didn't
    recognize her without her cinder face
    and the prince took her hand on the spot
    and danced with no other the whole day.

    As nightfall came she thought she'd better
    get home. The prince walked her home
    and she disappeared into the pigeon house
    and although the prince took an axe and broke
    it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
    These events repeated themselves for three days.
    However on the third day the prince
    covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
    and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
    Now he would find whom the shoe fit
    and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
    He went to their house and the two sisters
    were delighted because they had lovely feet.
    The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
    but her big toe got in the way so she simply
    sliced it off and put on the slipper.
    The prince rode away with her until the white dove
    told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
    That is the way with amputations.
    They just don't heal up like a wish.
    The other sister cut off her heel
    but the blood told as blood will.
    The prince was getting tired.
    He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
    But he gave it one last try.
    This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
    like a love letter into its envelope.

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favor
    and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
    Two hollow spots were left
    like soup spoons.

    Cinderella and the prince
    lived, they say, happily ever after,
    like two dolls in a museum case
    never bothered by diapers or dust,
    never arguing over the timing of an egg,
    never telling the same story twice,
    never getting a middle-aged spread,
    their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
    Regular Bobbsey Twins.
    That story.


  6. says:


    I have never been quite what to make of this book. Reimaginings of the classic fairy tales by one of the brightest intellects and darkest souls of American poetry would seem like an almost guaranteed classic, a marriage of genius and subject matter made in heaven … hell … or both. But the poems themselves have never quite convinced me. The metaphors, though occasionally illuminating and shocking, are often slapdash and cutesy; the verse line is slack, lacking the grace and force that should shape the narrative. This is far from the formalist classics of To Bedlam and Partway Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962), or from the looser, daring confessional experiments of Live or Die (1966).

    Still, the dark narratives of Transformations (1972) continue to speak to me. Sexton’s voice, though necessarily less confessional here, is still God-ridden and Holocaust-haunted, and—for perhaps the first time—consciously feminist. The old tales retold gain new resonance here, if not quite a new shape—as they do, for example, in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber--and to hear them articulated by a great poet, a woman who perpetually awakened beauty from its spell, who continually released her captive soul from its dark tower (always—alas!—temporarily), is an illuminating and unsettling experience. I shall return to these poems again.

    These narratives are a little too long—and frankly, a little too uneven—for me to include a complete tale for a sample. Instead, I’ll pick three excerpts:


    SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

    The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,
    walked three times around Snow White,
    the sleeping virgin. They were wise
    and wattled like small czars.
    Yes, it’s a good omen,
    they said, and will bring us luck.
    They stood on tiptoes to watch
    Snow White wake up. She told them
    about the mirror and the killer-queen
    and they asked her to stay and keep house.

    RUMPLESTILTSKIN

    Inside many of us
    Is a small old man
    who wants to get out.
    No bigger than a two-year-old
    whom you’d call lamp chop
    yet this one is old and malformed.
    His head is okay
    but the rest of him wasn’t Sanforized.
    He is a monster of despair.
    He is all decay.
    He speaks up as tiny as an earphone
    with Truman’s asexual voice:
    I am your dwarf.
    I am the enemy within.
    I am the boss of your dreams.
    No. I am not the law in your mind,
    the grandfather of watchfulness.
    I am the law of your members,
    the kindred of blackness and impulse.
    See. Your hand shakes.
    It is not palsy or booze.
    It is your Doppelganger
    trying to get out.
    Beware … beware

    CINDERELLA

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favo
    and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
    Two hollow spots were left
    like soup spoons.

    Cinderella and the prince
    lived, they say, happily ever after,
    like two dolls in a museum case
    never bothered by diapers or dust,
    never arguing over the timing of an egg,
    never telling the same story twice,
    never getting a middle-aged spread,
    their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
    Regular Bobbsey Twins.
    That story.


  7. says:


    “He turns the key.
    Presto!
    It opens this book of odd tales.
    Which transform The Brothers Grimm.
    Transform?
    As if an enlarged paper clip
    Could be a piece of sculpture.
    (And it could.)”

    -from The Gold Key


    I am reading Transformations as part of The Complete Poems, but feel it should be discussed separately as it differs from this poet's usual style of confessional poetry. Although that is not quite true, as each of these fairy tale retellings does have a few stanzas of introduction that are modern reflections upon the larger theme, more similar to her usual work. In them topics such as deception, insomnia, remembered youth, insanity, and even incest are discussed. Each one is tied to the traditional fairy tale that follows in a thought-provoking new way, relating it to modern day issues or concepts (some of them dark or even Freudian). That was interesting.

    After the introductory lines the fairy tales mostly stick to the script and are quite funny. Sexton possesses a real wit. In Red Riding Hood the wolf becomes for the reader “a strange deception: a wolf dressed in frills, a kind of transvestite”. In The Frog Prince she describes the princess’s revulsion as the frog, perched on her dinner plate “sat upon the liver, and partook like a gourmet”. So icky, yet fun to imagine! There is also humor throughout as the author wonders aloud over some questionable plot lines. For example, when Red Riding Hood sets off to visit her ill grandmother with a bottle of wine and cake, Sexton says:

    “Wine and cake
    Where’s the aspirin? The penicillin?
    Where’s the fruit juice?
    Peter Rabbit got chamomile tea.
    But wine and cake it was.”



    Despite her humor many of the poems do have an undercurrent of darkness running through them. Partly this is due to Sexton’s faithfulness to the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales which can be gruesome in some of their details. Early versions of these tales are often more edgy and even shocking to one who knows only Hollywood adaptations. So when Sexton’s dark side comes out it is not entirely out of place. I’m especially referencing the book’s final poem, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty). Here is a haunting description of a girl who seeks escapism from incest by going into a coma-like sleep. She never truly recovers even after being awakened by the kiss of the prince, and suffers insomnia thereafter that requires “the court chemist mixing her some knockout drops”. An uncomfortable interpretation of the fairy tale to be sure, but entirely brilliant in its execution.

    I’ve read some of this poet’s other confessional poems and found them difficult to read (although I’m not ready to give her up just yet!), but I really loved this collection. I would encourage others who aren’t quite sure about her other work, or anyone who enjoys mythology and folk tales to read Transformations.


  8. says:


    Anne Sexton puts her spin on seventeen of the classic Grimm Fairy Tales -- simultaneously funny, twisted and dark. Each of her stories opens with a poem that introduces the tale with a comparison to modern culture.

    For example, for Cinderella she writes:

    You always read about it:
    the plumber with the twelve children
    who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
    From toilets to riches.
    That story.

    Or the nursemaid,
    some luscious sweet from Denmark
    who captures the oldest son's heart.
    from diapers to Dior.
    That story.

    Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
    eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
    the white truck like an ambulance
    who goes into real estate
    and makes a pile.
    From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

    Or the charwoman
    who is on the bus when it cracks up
    and collects enough from the insurance.
    From mops to Bonwit Teller.
    That story.


    And from there she begins her version of the Fairy Tale.

    There are the classic tales which we all remember from childhood--Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel--but there are also many that were new to me. Since I own The Complete Grimm's' Fairy Tales (never knew that there were over 200), I decided to read the two versions side-by-side in order to familiarize with the original.

    While all of Sexton's poems were four and five star worthy, my favorites were The Little Peasant (aka The Little Farmer) and Cinderella. I enjoyed this collection immensely and plan to continue reading the rest of the Complete Fairy Tales. Maybe just one or two right before bedtime...






  9. says:

    Some of the references can be dated for younger readers, the language is beautiful and at times disturbing. I can feel some of her suicidal tendencies in her poetry. A troubled soul with some wonderful insights into people.


  10. says:

    Fairy tale poetry which is scary, sexy, funny, and astonishing.