Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale by Andrea Blythe
Interstellar Flight Press (September 7, 2020)
64 pages, $9.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Andrea Blythe is a well-recognized name in speculative poetry. She is a widely published author, as well as a podcast host. Blythe is most known for her work with fairytales and folktales, and her newest collection, Twelve, based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses, is a potent and exquisite addition to her already impressive body of work.
Twelve begins with a prelude that summarizes the story for those who don’t know it. The bulk of the book is a series of prose poems, each one dedicated to a different sister and her individual story. Blythe takes the women in the tale, women who were pretty much props to support the king and the soldier in the story, and gives them voice and agency. As such, this is a feminist retelling of the tale, which works to both investigate and deconstruct the original story. In doing so, Blythe challenges her readers to investigate themselves and their own preconceptions, making for a rich and eye-opening read.
To add to the poems, Blythe offers an author’s note explaining her fascination with fairytales and, in particular, this story. This lyric essay is almost a poem in and of itself, offering insight into the story about the math and psychology of the story that her poems hinted at. Readers will find themselves compelled to reread the poems again with this new insight, discovering images and ideas that they missed in the first reading, peeling back the layers with which Blythe has so elegantly constructed her poems.
I’d like to say it’s impossible to pick a favorite poem out of the dozen, but “The Third Sister,” which speaks to the power and magic of literature, is quite appealing, and “The Eleventh Sister,” which addresses the old woman in the forest from the original tale, stand out as particular favorites for me. But it’s difficult to choose, and having been enchanted by these poems and having read this book half a dozen times already (yes, it’s that good!), I find myself remembering particular images or narratives at various times, proving that each poem in this collection is striking and potent.
Some readers will be upset as these are prose poems and not the more traditional lineated poems. It’s true that these works have no line breaks, that they are composed of sentences as opposed to many prose poems which use fragments, that they have a narrative. There are those who would say this is a flash fiction collection, or even a novelette in twelve chapters. So, a warning to readers: these are prose poems. Know that going in, recognize powerful writing as powerful writing in any form, and enjoy this collection.
Andrea Blythe’s collection Twelve takes a centuries-old fairytale and reworks it as a feminist narrative. In doing so, Blythe not only moves the tale beyond “Happily Ever After” into a more honest story, but forces her readers to think about fairytales in general and how they affect readers. She does this with well-crafted language that is both easy and quick to read, but also striking and hypnotizing in its imagery. Fans of dark fantasy and folkloric horror will thoroughly enjoy this collection.