Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey builds on the poet’s exploration of popular myths and legends centered on women, only unlike Becoming the Villainess (my review) where the characters become vengeful, these characters are striking out for parts unknown, examining their legends, and telling the real tales behind the fairy magic.  From Jack and Jill who vowed to stay together against all odds who find themselves in Ohio to Alice in Wonderland who merely gets lost in a coat closet, Gailey is poking fun at the fantasies that rely on women being beautiful and little else to prove their worth.  These heroines are set free, and outside the confines of their tales, they are able to contemplate their past choices and their futures in ways they never though possible.

She Had Unexplained Fevers (page 3)

some nights she just wasn't
herself, skin pale and damp as a child's
they lay her in a glass coffin
told me there was something in her throat
and I said yes we've all swallowed a lot of crap
choked down broken promises like apple.

In looking at these tales, Gailey is not only calling into question their validity but also their impact on the generations that have read them. Are women supposed to be only beautiful and only want that prince to come rescue them? And by the end of the collection, the poet asks readers to think about how much has changed even in the modern world. May be there are few princes with castles and white steeds, but don’t they have other “enticements” like good paying jobs and the house in the suburbs that women continue to gravitate towards as safe and what they should want from their lives?

Like “Alice, Through the Looking Glass,” there are poems that are more universal and do not stick as closely to the stories as some other poems do, and in these poems, Gailey raises questions about body image and the prevalence of women in advertising to not only sell products, but also to sell an idea of what beauty is and should be for every woman. The narrator in “Alice” asks, “What am I doing here in this white room/with no smell but dust and soap//” Meanwhile, Snow White asks the reader in “I Like the Quiet: Snow White” to get her out of our own looking glasses — break free from the need for a certain appearance — readers would see their true selves and who each of us really is and how we matter without the constant need to live up to a beauty standard. Snow White is just like all of us, wanting to spend time alone, wanting space to decide the course of our lives, wanting not to rush into a marriage even with a prince, and all the trappings and decisions we make in our lives.

Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey easily parallels the myths and stories we’ve read and memorized as children with the current modern lives we lead.  Though lest you think all of the poem narrators are female, there are male narrators, including one knight who did not get the fairytale ending he was expecting.  In this way, Gailey is calling into question the fantasies that men are fed as children as well; must they be rescuers and be the strongest and bravest to get the girl?  A phenomenal collection from beginning to end — one that has a permanent place in my library, right next to her others.

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, WA and the author of Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers, available spring of 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches part-time at National University.

This is my 19th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

Mailbox Monday #218

HAPPY EASTER to those who celebrate!

As tomorrow is the kick-off of National Poetry Month, I’m posting this meme early, and it may be on hiatus for the rest of the month until the blog tour is over.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. April’s host is Mari Reads.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received for review:

1.  Writers on the Edge:  22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown from Modern History Press for review.

Writers On The Edge offers a range of essays, memoirs and poetry written by major contemporary authors who bring fresh insight into the dark world of addiction, from drugs and alcohol, to sex, gambling and food. Editors Diana M. Raab and James Brown have assembled an array of talented and courageous writers who share their stories with heartbreaking honesty as they share their obsessions as well as the awe-inspiring power of hope and redemption.

CONTRIBUTORS: Frederick & Steven Barthelme, Kera Bolonik, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Maud Casey, Anna David, Denise Duhamel, B.H. Fairchild, Ruth Fowler, David Huddle Perie Longo, Gregory Orr, Victoria Patterson, Molly Peacock, Scott Russell Sanders, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Linda Gray Sexton, Sue William Silverman, Chase Twichell, and Rachel Yoder.

2.  Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey for review from the poet.

“Unexplained Fevers plucks the familiar fairy tale heroines and drops them into alternate landscapes. Unlocking them from the old stories is a way to “rescue the other half of [their] souls.” And so Sleeping Beauty arrives at the emergency room, Red Riding Hood reaches the car dealership, and Rapunzel goes wandering in the desert – their journeys, re-imagined in this inventive collection of poems, produce other dangers, betrayals and nightmares, but also bring forth great surprise and wonder.” – Rigoberto González, author of Black Blossoms “Unexplained Fevers begins with that most familiar of phrases, “Once upon a time,” but the world we find inside these covers is deeply defamiliarized. Trapped by physical ills, cultural expectations, and the constraints of marriage, these heroines interrogate the world and propel themselves through it with cunning and sass. We follow, for example, Jack and Jill though a prose poem where they “somehow turned thirty without thunderous applause,” after having sworn they “would follow each other anywhere, but anywhere turned out to be a lot like Ohio.” At the center of these poems – urgent, mysterious, evocative – we find the great topic of all fairy tales, transformation. Read Unexplained Fevers, and be transformed.” – Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Unmentionables.

What did you receive?