Reviews, Vol. 1.2, Sept. 2007
A Midsummer Night’s Press
Paperback, 30 pp., $6.50
Reviewed by Cynthia Reeser
Within many of the most well-known and best loved fairy tales lies a transformation at the heart of the story: poor put-upon Cinderella has a fairy godmother who transforms her into a belle worthy of a prince; Sleeping Beauty is awakened from a long sleep by her true love’s kiss. But if a fairy tale’s transformative power lies in magnifying the smallest hurts or rejections to engender the most brutish, callous predators in the form of nose-in-the-air publishers and established authors, then the poems in Lawrence Schimel’s petite chapbook from A Midsummer Night’s Press have succeeded in their transformative intent. This is a book of poetry, not fairy tales, but since it is a book of poetry encompassing those tales, the line between the two necessarily becomes blurred.
The premise is clever—the title of each poem is from a fairy tale, and Schimel grounds his subjects to situations all writers face: The Little Mermaid is a burgeoning talent who gives up her “voice” to please an established (and admired) author; Sleeping Beauty is an aspiring writer who feels “just one tiny prick of criticism” too acutely, and who is written in what is perhaps an overly sympathetic manner, coddling her insecurities.
But where Schimel grounds his subjects in believable scenarios, his characters are more loosely invoked. Reading the selections as themed poetry rather than poetry-blurred fairy tales, the archetypes never quite take that crucial step out of their roles as prototypes to become writers whom a reader could relate to, much less with whom one could sympathize. Unfortunately many of the poems’ subjects read simply as stereotypes whose experiences are less meaningful than they deserve to be. Some of the poems become so general as to read nearly more like synopses of loosely detailed essays than poetry. “Little Red Riding Hood” begins
Sometimes a young girl goes out into the world
unprepared for who or what she’ll find out there.
It’s not that she hasn’t been forewarned, but
sometimes she just doesn’t recognize the wolf
in his disguises, or that she should be wary of him.
Where the above passage might be a likely opening as a prose beginning to a fairy tale, as poetry it falls flat. “Hansel & Gretel” begins similarly: “Two writers attending the same MFA together/ might from [sic] a bond that rivals that of siblings.” This could be anyone, any two writers, any two faceless strangers, who merely float away without the weight of meaningful description to ground them into consciousness. Schimel’s stereotypes/archetypes are bound up for the reader in feel-good poetry targeted, as far as can be told, for the novice writer who has not developed sustainability through perseverance, who gives up at “one tiny prick of criticism,” and whose endeavors are not sufficiently motivated to allow the continued pursuit of writerly goals.
One could imagine the Frog Prince, kissed by his mentor-princess and awakened into authorial undertakings. Would Schimel have him yield at criticism’s first sting, or would his enabler encourage him to let others’ judgment make him a stronger writer and a stronger frog-person?