This Is Not a Fairytale

Did they sleep that night? Were they startled when the phone by the bedside rang?

We talked with “This Is Not A Fairytale” poet Laura Kasischke

TINaFTBy Ethna McKiernan

MCKIERNAN for MOPO: “This is Not a Fairy Tale” is at once eerie, ominous, and ultimately mysterious. I’m struck by any number of things, but will limit myself to three dynamics in the poem — tone, voice(s) and the question of why you chose this particular form; whether you feel it’s a “poem” or a “prose poem.”

The initial tone is a neutral, reporting voice stating facts that don’t yet elicit emotion. There may be some question or mystery at the end of this very long sentence, but we don’t yet know what’s awry.

In stanza two, the first sentence continues this tone but then swerves to the narrative shift of “God help us, they went home.” Here, the speaker not only reveals her perspective but suddenly includes the reader with “us.”

LKKASISCHKE: Yes, when I read accounts in a newspaper of inexplicable events, there’s, for me, a moment when I try to fill in the details myself. Because a news story like that always leaves out the things one most wonders about, to write about that for me is to fill in those details, and in that moment I am trying to reveal the process of that—when and where the imagination of the reader intersects with the facts being read about.

That same narrative shift deepens in the 3rd stanza with the stereotypical utterance “These people.” We have disgust (drugs) and an effort on the speaker’s part to understand (the parenthetical statement). And the speaker again uses “we,” pulling the reader into her own perception.

I’m thinking about the effect the questions at the beginning of the next stanza have (“Did they sleep that night?” etc.). Do they serve to suggest ambivalence on the speaker’s part?

I guess I meant for those moments to suggest the judgment and questioning I had as a reader/consumer of these details.

The tone just after this shifts to a more neutral one, the “reporter” again, with maybe the exception of the “toddling” verb used, which pulls at our sympathies. I’m taken by the last sentence in this stanza: “This much was in the paper.” Suddenly questions of perception and fact are raised. Do we believe everything reported in the paper?  What other levels of reality may exist? 

Yes, I think that’s the consideration here. There are facts, and then there are details—and the details in this case are unknowable to the reader except, maybe, emotionally.

The speaker alludes to those other levels of reality in the next stanza by creating a world of obsessive imagining.  What fascinates me most here are all the “you’s.” Is the “you” the reader?  Does the speaker include herself here?  Is the community included here; are the parents?  And that dash at the end of “between,” pulling everything short, stopping emotion —

I like the idea that it’s the community, but I believe that as I wrote this I was considering myself to be the you.

And suddenly the poem enters mystery. “Your mind” becomes both the reader’s mind (or does it?) and the boy’s mind, and everything feels blurred. The poem enters a more conventional format, with its shorter lines, each end-stopped and factual, yet so evocative “your mind is full of trees” and “someone has tied your tiny shoes for you.” With lesser poets, the adjective “tiny” might sentimentalize things, but it’s such a perfect word choice here, bringing us squarely back to the boy and the horror.

Thank you. I wanted it to sound songlike.

Lastly, I’d be interested to know why you chose the layout for the poem that you did, and whether you consider it a poem-poem, or a prose-poem. I confess to holding some biases against prose-poems, viewing them at times as the weak stepchildren of “real” poems. But if you say it’s a prose poem, then I say it’s one of the very best I’ve read. 

Thank you. It’s a prose poem, I suppose, in that I seem to be claiming it’s a poem! But it’s mostly prose.

Ethna-portrait-150x150Ethna McKiernan‘s third book, Sky Thick With Fireflies, was published in 2012 by Salmon Poetry, Ireland. A Minnesota Book Award nominee, she has twice been awarded  grants from the MN State Arts Board. McKiernan holds an MFA from Warren  Wilson Community of Writers and lives and works in Minneapolis, serving the downtown  homeless population.