Where the Wolf by Sally Rosen Kindred
Diode Editions (June 15, 2021)
82 pages; $18.00 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Sally Rosen Kindred is a well-known poet and teacher. She has multiple chapbooks and full-length collections published. She has also been the recipient of two Individual Artist Awards in Poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council. Her upcoming collection, Where the Wolf, was the winner of the Diode Editions Book Prize.
Where the Wolf takes classic horror and dark fantasy imagery, including fairy tale imagery, and creates a narrative about a young girl becoming a woman becoming a mother, and how she uses the werewolf or fairy tale wolf imagery to convey that change and the protection she needed while going through those changes. She uses the wolf image as a metaphor for adaption, change, and even survival:
I say wolf
but I mean gown
of changed night:
forecast of bones falling
from the rooks’ tongues,
the weight of a hundred skies inside.
In tapping into this imagery, she takes a classic monster or villain from the tales and reinvents it as an icon of womanhood. This is something that Kindred is known for doing, taking known characters from fantasy or fairy tales and giving them new, unheard, voices to powerful effect, and Where the Wolf is no exception. That being said, Kindred also acknowledges the danger and seduction in the wolf characters from these tales:
And what if a wolf is telling
this story, Her mouth wide
not to bite but hold it
out to you on a rug of snow? And it is safe
to lie down just now: you’ve both
walked so far.
Kindred does not shy away from becoming the wolf in these poems, but also doesn’t sugarcoat that transformation, either, which makes for a richer and more nuanced collection of poetry.
Kindred also intersperses less fantastic poems from her own biography amongst these other poems. This only serves to enhance the collection because readers see a modern speaker engaging with themselves and their personal histories. For example, the poem “Letter to My Nineteen Seventies” begins:
Dear Nixon, dear apron, dear child’s candied tongue:
there’s been a wrinkle. You left the sprinkler on.
The curling iron plugged in.
On the table, no note–you’d remember it–
Dear ones, my groovy dead, it never said: forgive me.
There is little, if any, fantasy or myth or horror in this poem, but that helps increase the strength of the other poems in the collection. By tapping into personal memory in this and other poems, by moving away from the mythic and metaphorical into the all-too-painful reality, Kindred is able to build a more honest, intimate connection with the reader, so that they know when they’re reading other poems that are more fantastic, those emotions are just as palpable and real for the speakers. This helps eliminate the potential distance between the reader and the speakers in the poems and forces readers to fully experience the emotional impact of all the poems in this collection.
Sally Rosen Kindred has created another magnificent collection with Where the Wolf. It’s post-modern in its approach to poetry, horror, and myth, and really works to create new narratives from ancient stories. Horror and dark fantasy fans will love the dark imagery that Kindred taps into from various fairy tales and legends, and the poetry is so rich and well-crafted that readers will be swept away by these speakers and their stories. This is a highly recommended read and must for any fans of dark poetry.