WOLF SKIN follows a modern woman whose mother told her dark fairy tales when she was a girl. Many of the poems retell the tales of the Brothers Grimm from the perspectives of minor characters, such as the huntsman from Little Red Riding Hood, the witch from Rapunzel, and the woodcutter’s wife from Hansel and Gretel. Others look at the stories of popular characters in a fresh light.
"Who knew that a poet would come by one day and reanimate the ancient, tragic fairytale figures of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel? And that she would not only reanimate those uneasy ghosts stalking the roots of memory, but also the ghostly plants and animals of the world that devoured and mourned them? Well, she has: it’s Mary McMyne, with her flute of life, blowing healing air into archetypal pain. One by one her ancestral victims rise from the cannibal fog of our oldest past to live in these marvelous prose-poetry stereopticons. Stories to be truly chilled by, wolf hair by wolf hair."
Andrei Codrescu, author of So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems, 1968-2012
"In these poems, at the nexus of science and mythology, Mary McMyne delicately dissects wolf, butterfly and crocus with the same careful intensity. Wolf Skin entrances even as it invites us into a world of princes-turned-hedgehog, mothers who disappear, and characters skeptical of their stories. One poem begs, 'Huntsman, leave us, like stones in the wolf’s belly, without memory…' but this is a collection you will return to and remember."
Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of Unexplained Fevers and Becoming the Villainess
"'Enter the wood, dark and wild, the trees that bend,' sings a voice from Mary McMyne’s quiet, powerful poems, and the enchantment begins. In the rich textures of her work dwells the terrible beauty of trapped things—a butterfly behind glass; a daughter within her mother’s memory; and a girl, always a girl, in a tower, in a wood, in a wolf. As these figures say their names, they tell, too, the price of liberation from—and into—story. Enter these poems, and know their hungers. Some of them will call to you, like the red-capped child in 'The Girl Who Came Before' who says, 'It is time for us to drown./ It is time for us to touch the moon.' Some of these poems you may never leave."
Sally Rosen Kindred, author of No Eden and Book of Asters
Mary McMyne’s debut novel, The Book of Gothel (2022), tells the story of the medieval midwife who would become known as the witch from Rapunzel. Her second novel (2024) will be the magic-infused story of Shakespeare's Dark Lady. Her poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin (2014), won the Elgin Chapbook Award. She has received the Faulkner-Wisdom Prize for a Novel-in-Progress and a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among other honors. A former English professor, she is the poetry editor for Enchanted Living and a graduate of the NYU MFA program. Find her on Instagram as @marymcmyne, or subscribe to her quarterly newsletter at marymcmyne.substack.com.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I track most of the books I read here, but only post ratings or reviews of select 5 star reads. I love many books I don’t rate!
Gorgeous, visceral poems! At a time when fairy tale retellings are so popular, this fits in-—but is a cut above. Many of the poems are told from the perspective of characters we don’t know much about (the huntsman in Little Red Riding Hood) or slip into the minds of those we’re told about (Rapunzel herself). There are, as a frame, poems told by a daughter, about her mother who used to tell her these reimagined fairy tales as dark warnings about life. I found myself reading lines several times to enjoy the beauty of them and got the frissons when it seemed Mary touched on some hidden truth.
Enter the wood, dark and cold...It is time for you to drown. - from The Girl Who Came Before.
Mary McMyne's Wolf Skin give us more than re-imagined fairy tales. These are the stories we need to breathe, to survive. She has taken our mother's cautionary words at night and shaped them into the bread crumbed path we must take to walk through the woods on our own.
Wolf Skin by Mary McMyne (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) creates a world where fairytale characters return to us, claiming their stories for themselves.
In "Fur," Red Riding Hood's single mother tells her, "Be not girl...but wolf," and in "Rotkappchen" the girl begs the hunstman to leave her and the grandmother "in the wolf's belly, without memory."
The title poem, "Wolf Skin," shows us the hunter who, after saving the grandmother and the girl, wraps himself in the slain wolf's skin and calls himself a hero, while inwardly admitting he doesn't understand the mystery of cutting them out of the jaws of death.
While McMyne retells several different Grimm's fairy tales, often using the German words for characters or titles, at the same time she explores themes such as death, rebirth, pain, cessation of pain, and entrapment within the confines of societal norms.
McMyne's language and imagery evoke a world that is close to the pulse and marrow of life. The poems are alive to the unspoken urges and forces that only reveal themselves to us in dreams and ancient stories.
Shockingly clear and sure, McMyne's poetry is an arrow shot straight through the pelt. I wish I had read this book earlier. I'm a fan of creative retellings, from fairy tales and Disney to Oz and Narnia. If you crave a feminist perspective of the well-trod forest paths, you'll enjoy these haunting poems set in the shadows of Grimm. "You know that story about the girl who meets the wolf," begins the poem "Fur," but do you really? McMyne shows you the real thing.
In Wolf Skin, Mary McMyne begins in the real world, but leads the reader deeper and deeper into the woods and then back out again, exploring fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. McMyne's poems are dreamlike and evocative, musing on the idea of how happy "happily ever after" truly is. Standouts for me were the captivating "The Girl Who Came Before" and the moving "Old Woman Gothel". McMyne's language is simple but powerful, making me think of Margaret Atwood. Highly recommended for fans of fairy tales, and of good writing in general.
Disclosure: I won a copy of Wolf Skin in an online giveaway.
This wonderful little chapbook of poems delivers incredibly. Fairy tales for grown ups, the other side of the coin, an air of mystery. Little peeks at what actually might have happened, and what might have become of those legendary figures we thought we knew so well.
I cannot say enough about Mary McMyne's efforts here, and cannot wait to read more of her work!
Beautiful chapbook of retellings and explorations of fairy tales. There were some I wasn't familiar with that I will be researching thanks to Wolf Skin. I've always had a fascination with "retellings" and am so glad that I read this collection -- I just wish it were full-length!
This is definitely on par with Anne Sexton's Transformations or Kate Daniels' Niobe Poems.