Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Anne Sexton morphs classic fairy tales into dark critiques of the cultural myths underpinning modern society
Anne Sexton breathes new life into sixteen age-old Brothers Grimm fairy tales, reimagining them as poems infused with contemporary references, feminist ideals, and morbid humor. Grounded by nods to the ordinary—a witch’s blood “began to boil up/like Coca-Cola” and Snow White’s bodice is “as tight as an Ace bandage”—Sexton brings the stories out of the realm of the fantastical and into the everyday world. Stripping away their magical sheen, she exposes the flawed notions of family, gender, and morality within the stories that continue to pervade our collective psyche.
Sexton is especially critical of what follows these tales’ happily-ever-after endings, noting that Cinderella never has to face the mundane struggles of marriage and growing old, such as “diapers and dust,” “telling the same story twice,” or “getting a middle-aged spread,” and that after being awakened Sleeping Beauty would likely be plagued by insomnia, taking “knock-out drops” behind the prince’s back. Deconstructed into vivid, visceral, and often highly amusing poems, these fairy tales reflect themes that have long fascinated Sexton—the claustrophobic anxiety of domestic life, the limited role of women in society, and a psychological strife more dangerous than any wicked witch or poisoned apple.