One of the best feelings when reading a new book to review is starting out and forgetting I’m supposed to critically think about it. I just read, get lost into it, and come back after way too many pages, having to read it all from the start because I didn’t take notes (which I absolutely need because my memory is absolutely terrible).
I am extremely happy to say this is what happened when I started out on Every Poem a Potion, Every Song a Spell by Stephanie Parent.
From the first poem, When Everything Else Was Gone, Parent reminds us of the power that stories have over us. She brought me back to when I was a little girl, feeling very much alone, seeking refuge in books that I didn’t know yet would have been with me while growing up. How we see the stories changes, of course, but they’re still always there for us, and keep giving us strength and telling us that there are girls like us somewhere, going through so much and always making it through–and they’re never just stories.
Throughout the collection, Parent revisits different fairy tales, some more famous and others less known, but re-written so that the reader is able to follow the story if new, while masterfully avoiding that feeling of already-seen that retellings can awaken. It’s an enjoyable read if you want to go back to your childhood stories, or if you want to find out about new ones. Personally, there are at least a few I didn’t know and will definitely look for now, like Jorinda And Joringel and The Juniper Tree.
With poems like Into The Forest Parent brings a new perspective to the forests in fairy tales, and to a lot of things women have to hear when growing up, which seem to have changed form but not content.
“Fairy tales tell us
We all have a forest within us
Men might march through
With axes and torches
But women slip sidewise
Through the branches
Welcoming fear and shadow
As familiar friends
(don’t touch the spindle
don’t go out in the sunlight
don’t grow up and become too
beautiful—but not too ugly either—
never dare to become too much
for the world to bear)
These curses still exist
Though the names they go by
Have become mundane”
Part One: Strange Creatures describes another experience that I find is universal with girls, and that some of us bring well into womanhood: that wish to be anything other than a girl. We want to be mermaids and fairies and naiad and anything inhuman–and if we have to be human, we want to still look like something else, something different and unattainable, something that isn’t flawed. And when we inevitably can’t, we seek refuge into the idea that maybe, in another life, in another world, we are something else.
With this collection, Parent brings us back to the fairy tales that shaped us, but lets us see them under a new light, and reminds us all of how universal our thoughts were, even while we believed ourselves alone with these old words, and worlds.