Monday, October 4, 2010

Ava Leavell Haymon

Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread: Poems

I am gearing up for the next two weekends here in my hometown of Nashville.  This weekend is the Southern Festival of Books at which a few authors who have worked with fairy tales will be in attendance.  (The following weekend is the AFS Annual Meeting.)  The Southern Festival of Books is one of my favorite weekends of the year since it is about books and writing and reading.  Wonderful!

As I was mapping out my plan of attack from the Festival Schedule, I discovered another author/poet I wasn't familiar with until now: Ava Leavell Haymon.

She has a panel on Friday:

1:00-2:00 pm, Room 12 : The Future of the Imagined: Alice and Gretel Tweak Their Myths : Melanie Benjamin, Ava Leavell Haymon

So I had to read more about her:

Ava Leavell Haymon is the author of the poetry collections Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread, Kitchen Heat and The Strict Economy of Fire. She teaches poetry writing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and directs a writers' retreat center in the mountains of New Mexico. Why the House is Made of Gingerbread.
And then I went to her website to learn more about Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread: Poems which was released in March of this year.

In Ava Leavell Haymon’s third collection, an unremarkable, harried, contemporary woman named Gretel finds herself at midlife overtaken by the Grimms’ household tale “Hansel and Gretel.” The violence and terror in that story supplant the memory of her own childhood, and the fairy tale retells itself in a sharp succession of surprising poems. The witch, the sugar house, Gretel’s brother, her passive father, his cruel second wife, the sinister forest—all these and more rise like jazz motifs to play themselves in the present. Addressing themes such as hunger, child abuse, betrayal, cannibalism, and murder in a tone by turns disturbing and humorous, Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread is most certainly not a book for children.

Here's a poem from the collection:

The Witch Has Told You a Story

You are food.
You are here for me
to eat. Fatten up,
and I will like you better.Your brother will be first,
you must wait your turn.
Feed him yourself, you will
learn to do it. You will take him

eggs with yellow sauce, muffins
torn apart and leaking butter, fried meats
late in the morning, and always sweets
in a sticky parade from the kitchen.

His vigilance, an ice pick of hunger
pricking his insides, will melt
in the unctuous cream fillings.
He will forget. He will thank you

for it. His little finger stuck every day
through cracks in the bars
will grow sleek and round,
his hollow face swell

like the moon. He will stop dreaming
about fear in the woods without food.
He will lean toward the maw
of the oven as it opens
every afternoon, sighing
better and better smells.

Kitchen Heat: Poems

And that's not all! Her second collection was Kitchen Heat:

Kitchen Heat records in woman's language the charm and bite of domestic life. Ava Leavell Haymon's poems form a collection of Household Tales, unswerving and unsentimental, serving up the strenuous intimacies, children, meals, pets, roused memories, outrages, and solaces of marriage and family.
Some of the poems are comic, such as "Conjugal Love Poem," about a wife who resists giving her husband the pity he seeks when complaining about a cold. Others find myth and fairy tale lived out in contemporary setting, with ironic result. Others rename the cast of characters: husband and wife become rhinoceros and ox; a carpool driver, the ominous figure Denmother.

An elderly female is Old Grandmother, who creates time and granddaughters from oyster stew. The humidity of Deep South summers and steam from Louisiana recipes contribute to a simmering language, out of which people and images emerge and into which they dissolve again.
Needless to say I plan to sit and listen on this panel.  And I wasn't trying to ignore her co-panelist, Melanie Benjamin, either.  Her work with Alice in Wonderland sounds interesting, too, but we all know fairy tales are my first love here.

And, no, I was unaware of Ava Leavell Haymon's work until this past week, so hooray for book festivals!

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