Saturday, April 30, 2011

The White Witch by James Weldon Johnson

The book of American Negro poetry

In my adolescence I enjoyed a short obsession with poetry and checked out book after book of it from my middle school library. I would type up my favorite poems and I remember loving James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes in particular. My middle school library was filled with the works of African American poets--it must have been a soft spot and quest of my adored African American librarian at the school. "Go Down Death" by James Weldon Johnson resonated then and it still one of the few poems I can quote parts to myself. (I am a horrible, horrible memorizer so that is a feat.) 

Anyway, this poem is Johnson's own invention and has many possible interpretations When rereading it this month, I was also reminded of The Snow Queen, so I decided to share it here. That's the beauty of poetry. We bring our own experience to it which gives it other meanings the poet perhaps never intended. Of course, this one has many layers considering Johnson's heritage, but he creates a parable type story where it can be as innocuous or as subversive as one would like.

The White Witch
by James Weldon Johnson

O brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
Trust not your prowess nor your strength,
Your only safety lies in flight;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

The great white witch you have not seen?
Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
Like nursery children you have looked
For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth;
But no, not so; the witch appears
In all the glowing charms of youth.

Her lips are like carnations, red,
Her face like new-born lilies, fair,
Her eyes like ocean waters, blue,
She moves with subtle grace and air,
And all about her head there floats
The golden glory of her hair.

But though she always thus appears
In form of youth and mood of mirth,
Unnumbered centuries are hers,
The infant planets saw her birth;
The child of throbbing Life is she,
Twin sister to the greedy earth.

And back behind those smiling lips,
And down within those laughing eyes,
And underneath the soft caress
Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
The shadow of the panther lurks,
The spirit of the vampire lies.

For I have seen the great white witch,
And she has led me to her lair,
And I have kissed her red, red lips
And cruel face so white and fair;
Around me she has twined her arms,
And bound me with her yellow hair.

I felt those red lips burn and sear
My body like a living coal;
Obeyed the power of those eyes
As the needle trembles to the pole;
And did not care although I felt
The strength go ebbing from my soul.

Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,
And heard your laughter loud and gay,
And in your voices she has caught
The echo of a far-off day,
When man was closer to the earth;
And she has marked you for her prey.

She feels the old Antaean strength
In you, the great dynamic beat
Of primal passions, and she sees
In you the last besieged retreat
Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,
Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.

O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
O, younger brothers mine, beware!
Look not upon her beauty bright;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry, edited by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1922. (Found on and elsewhere on the web.) This one is out of copyright.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fairy Tale by Ron Padgett

You Never Know

Today's poem is "Fairy Tale" by Ron Padgett from You Never Know from You Never Know. It doesn't reference a specific fairy tale, but it is impish and earns its name.

As always, this is copyrighted and shouldn't be copied and pasted and is offered as an image from the book to discourage such. I am offering as promotion of Padgett's book and work which is linked here. And now for the poem:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Russia and Ukraine in bun fight over fairy tales

I thought this published yesterday before it appeared everywhere on the net, but here it is now for posterity at least.

Oh, ha! I'm not sure how much of this is simply media hype. After all, those of us in the know, know that tracing fairy tale origins and claiming them as uniquely your own is well, flummery. That's not to say they can't claim specific variants by authors and have fun with it. I say hooray for any country that promotes its fairy tale and folklore heritage. And squabble about it if it makes the media write about you because any news is good news in the world of fairy tale PR.

From Russia and Ukraine in bun fight over fairy talesBy Steve Rosenberg:

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a large empire. It was called the USSR. One day, all of a sudden, it disappeared.

Among the Soviet states left behind were two giants: Russia and Ukraine.

They began to argue: about borders... about territory... even about who owned the gas pipelines.

Today they are fighting again - but this time, it is over fairy tales.

Russia has published a controversial national fairy tale map laying claim to some of the most popular folk tales in the Russian-speaking world.

The map displays three dozen fairy tale characters which, it maintains, have Russian roots.

And it ends with:

After all, towns and cities which can claim to be the birthplaces of popular fairy tales can expect to attract more tourists and make more money.

"This summer we'll see the first ever Fairy Tale Tours in Russia," predicts Alexei Kozlovsky of the Association of Russian Communities, the organisation which has produced the map.

"There will definitely be tours in Yaroslavl, Ulyanovsk and Kirov regions."

Financially rewarding

But Ukraine is up in arms.

It has its own national fairy tale map and argues that Kolobok, Ilya Muromets and Kurochka Ryaba all have Ukrainian roots.

Really just click over and read the entire article. It's not long but it is entertaining and fascinating.

And here's another article about it Russia and Ukraine squabble over fairy tales by Evgeniya Chaykovskaya:

Kolobok’s disputed origins

Ukrainian scientists also say that Kolobok, a living ball of dough similar to the western gingerbread man who met an untimely end at the jaws of a fox, was really made by a grandma and grandpa in Chernigov.

“Around Chernigov 100-150 years ago they did not grow wheat, only buckwheat. So I can definitely say that this fairy-tale is from an agricultural people,” the Ukrainian fairy tale researcher Konstantin Oliynyk is quoted by as saying.

The Ukrainians joined the fight for Kolobok when Russian scientists created a new science, Kolobkovedenie, and announced Ulyanovsk region as the home of Kolobok, as well as suggesting making Kolobok a mascot for the 2018 football World Cup in Russia.

An Ulyanovsk University professor announced that Kolobok was from their neck of woods, basing the claim on the word “kolebyatka” from Dal’s Russian dictionary, which was used in Ulyanovsk long before anywhere else.

In Ukraine, however, there is a statue of Kolobok in a Donetsk park. Kolobok is also considered one of the country’s national fairy tale characters and graces a postage stamp released in 2002.

Fairy tale confusion

Creators of Ukraine’s map of fairy tales left both Kolobok and Ilya Muromets on their map. Now they are present on both the Russian and Ukrainian versions.

However, from now on the Ukrainian map is only filled up with characters with authors. One of the characters on that map is Neznaika, because his creator Nikolai Nosov was born near Kiev.

The decision to leave the same characters on both maps ditches the original agreement made when the two countries unveiled the idea in February.

The authors of both maps agreed to exchange information about new editions to prevent the same characters appearing in both.

But copyright legislation does not apply to fairy tales, meaning no court can ensure that either side can live happily ever after.

And here are some links, such as one version of the Russia Fairy Tale Map from Moscow News. It is in English and it is interactive so I can't copy and paste it. I couldn't find the Ukraine map but there is folklore info at

One Day Sale: Robin Hood: The Complete Series

Robin Hood: The Complete Series

Robin Hood: The Complete Series is on sale today only for $41.99 on Amazon. (Royal Wedding Week means BBC set deals in the Gold Box all week.) It's a good price for the first two seasons although I recommend completely ignoring the last season (3rd). This show was the opposite of Merlin which had its best season so far in its third. It's light and silly and fun but it is Robin Hood and we had fun with it until they killed off Marian and made the third season unwatchable. It's no surprise it didn't get a 4th season.

I really, really hope the producers of Merlin have learned from the mistakes of Robin Hood. Both of these series are along the lines of family entertainment like Doctor Who, some scariness and such, but overall clean and suitable for perhaps 8 and older. Actually, I think the Doctor is often the spookiest with the strange aliens walking around in our world. Merlin and Robin Hood are historical fantasy and have an element of disassociation with them accordingly.

Merlin: The Complete First Season Merlin: The Complete Second Season

The Mythicals Nail Polish

Those who know me in real life know that I have a *slight* nail polish obsession. I've posted several fairy tale related collections on this blog and this new one isn't fairy tale influenced, but it is folklore/myth related and so, of course, I am enchanted by it thanks to the theme and the colors. It's only missing a great green color.

Yes, it is a collection of nail polish inspired by King Arthur and Camelot from A-England.

You can see some fans' swatches of various colors on their blogs:

Edge of Sanity

ommorphia beauty bar

A Study in Polish

Fashion Polish
My birthday is in eleven days so perhaps I can justify a small splurge on a few of these.  We'll see. I missed a promo earlier in the month so I am bummed about that.

Return to Magic by Clive Sansom

Return to Magic by Clive Sansom is an old, long out-of-print collection of fairy tale poems first published in 1969. I acquired a copy years ago but the book is hard to find and expensive, even more now, perhaps in part because it's been listed on SurLaLune for years--I believe all the scans of the cover on the internet are my original one. (That yellowing on the bottom of the image is foxing on my particular copy that I never color corrected.) The poems are charming but usually not very profound. One of my favorites is his interpretation of Bluebeard, "The Forbidden Room," which I have scanned and am sharing with you today.

This is copyrighted and shouldn't be copied and pasted. I'm providing an image instead of copiable text to discourage such. It's here as a promotion of a forgotten book and poet who deserves to be remembered for doing something those of us here love, sharing fairy tales.

New Book: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Abandon  Avalon High

A few years ago I sat on a panel at Dragon*Con discussing King Arthur and Camelot in the Young Adult track and one of the books I read to prep was Meg Cabot's Avalon High. And I enjoyed it. It had fun with the story while not being enslaved to it. To be honest, I was rather burned out on heavy, depressing Camelot stories with Guinevere usually annoying me no end, so Avalon High was refreshing. And it even got me more willing to deal with Camelot again despite the burnout. Enough so that I am actually enjoying the third season of Merlin that just finished to the point where I am eager for season four. If you only tuned in to the first season of that series, it has improved each season. The first season is the weakest, especially since the soccer player turned actor who plays Arthur has improved along with the writing although I admit it is Colin Morgan's Merlin that has hooked me. And John loves it even more than me and owns seasons one and two on DVD.

So I have to admit I am now interested in Meg Cabot's newest release Abandon. Yes, I know Cabot teeters on the "we're too cool or literary to admit we enjoy her" edge, but when I am looking for entertaining light reading, she often fits the bill just fine for me. I get rather annoyed at times by that attitude, too, especially when I am guilty of it. That's why I try to cover just about everything here but erotica which I don't touch on the blog trying this at least PG-13 around here. I say if people are actually buying books and reading, hallelujah! Even if they are borrowing books and reading, hallelujah! Fairy tales get the same kind of dismissive treatment and you in the choir here know they can be anything but light and innocuous...

And now Abandon is intriguing because it hits even closer to my own turf by being a Persephone interpretation. So it goes on the summer reading list. Don't know when, but I imagine it will happen!
Book description:

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.

But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

And here's a video:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hay Festival: Work with Michael Morpurgo on a fairy tale

War Horse Amazing Story Of Adolphus Tips Kensuke's Kingdom Private Peaceful (After Words)

From Hay Festival: Work with Michael Morpurgo on a fairy tale:

The Telegraph will be offering the chance to work with star children's author Michael Morpurgo.

We are thrilled to announce that we are launching a search for the nation’s favourite fairy tale, in association with Waterstone’s. Is it Beauty and the Beast or Jack and the Beanstalk? The Three Little Pigs or Three Billy Goats Gruff? Cinderella or Thumbelina – or one of the hundreds of other fairy tales that have charmed both children and adults for centuries?

The winning fairy tale will be announced at the Hay Festival, whose title sponsor is the Telegraph, in May, and Morpurgo will then write a brand new version of the story, which will be published as an illustrated picture book in 2012.

And who will illustrate the book? Well, that’s where we come in. The Telegraph and Waterstone’s want to find a new illustrator to work with Morpurgo on his book.

Full details of the competition, Picture This, will be announced in The Daily Telegraph in May, but aspiring artists should start practising their castles, princesses, trolls and fairies now.
So which fairy tale do you think will win? Perhaps its time for me to do a new list of the top traffic on SurLaLune, in other words see which fairy tales are currently the most popular on there. Cinderella is always first place, but it should be interesting to see where Rapunzel currently is thanks to Tangled.

Waiting for Anya The Dancing Bear Twist of Gold Beowulf

Witch-Wife by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Collected Works of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today's poem is Witch-Wife by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay was one of the first poets I felt a connection to as a young reader when I discovered "grown-up" poetry as an adolescent. Her most famous fairy tale related poem is Bluebeard which I will feature next month for a Bluebeard theme. However, this one simply works with a general fairy tale theme so I wanted to share it here. This poem appears in many collections, but I have confirmed it is available in Collected Works of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.

The Witch Has Told You a Story by Ava Leavell Haymon

Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread: Poems Kitchen Heat: Poems

I featured Ava Leavell Haymon's work on the blog back in October--read it to learn more about her and her fairy tale related poetry--but I didn't want to leave her out of this month's poetry feature which is almost done. But since I have featured here here before, I will post two poems today because I feel that spunky and the month is almost done! What am I going to do for May?

This is copyrighed so don't copy and paste, please.

Here's the poem:
The Witch Has Told You a Story
by Ava Leavell Haymon

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.