Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Tackling a number of issues from body image to freedom to sex, POISONED APPLES is a dark and well-crafted book of poetry that uses fairy tale imagery and ideas to subvert and challenge. Not afraid of using classic tropes to address very real and very disturbing subject matters, the poems manage to be both humorous and hitting. Though the collection is short, the strength of the poems is enough to break the skin, to imbed some meaning and feeling into the reader and leave them wounded but craving more.
At its surface, POISONED APPLES seems innocent enough. At least, the idea of poems dealing with fairy tales sounds like it might be geared toward quite young readers. That is quickly dispelled, though, with language and themes that are definitely more mature and seem challenging enough for young adults as well as older readers. The collection aims squarely at the beauty-driven, fairy princess marketing that dominates the young girl landscape. Instead of presenting a glittering and pretty image of princesses and princes and happily ever after, the poems show the darker side, take more of the tone of the original grim stories, filled with death and pain.
"Though the collection is short, the strength of the poems is enough to break the skin, to imbed some meaning and feeling into the reader and leave them wounded but craving more."
The author does a nice job of setting up the goals of the collection, using fairy tales as cautionary, as a way to subvert the dominant male gaze that makes up mainstream marketing and messaging. The tales are dark and often seem hopeless, the characters trapped in their own suffering. And yet there is also an energy of rebellion, of fighting back. The poems openly discuss topics that are often hushed up and glossed over, especially when dealing with teens and younger adults, and their power seems to come from that frank and direct confrontation. The idealized future of balls and dresses and true love is replaced with the harsher realities of eating disorders, abusive relationships and crushed expectations.
The book also includes a great deal of photography, with each poem matched with a photo or photos. The use of images is striking, as they too are rather dark and disquieting. Most of the time the poems and the pictures work well together, giving the whole experience a sort of surreal feel while grounding it in actual people. These are not illustrations, after all, and the photography helps to blur the line between the real and the magical elements of the poems. There were perhaps a few instances where I didn't think the pairing of text and picture enhanced the meaning of the work, but those were rare. Mostly, POISONED APPLES succeeds at providing a thought-provoking experience through the poems and the play between the words and the images.
Overall, I think that POISONED APPLES is a very striking and rewarding collection of poetry. Like the name implies, there is a sort of sweetness associated with fairy tales, and yet at the same time that sweetness often masks something much darker. Playing with both the idea of the commercialization of fairy tales and their moral roots, the collection manages to unsettle even as it entertains. There is a dark humor that pervades, but doesn't dull the bite of the words. And while short, it still manages to pack a punch, and leaves something of a bittersweet taste remembered long after it has been set aside.
Reviewed by Charles Payseur on November 5, 2014