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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fairy-Tale Logic

(Saint George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello, 1391-1475,
Italian painter and mathematician)

Yesterday, we featured Kay Ryan, one of two poets awarded a MacArthur Fellowship or so-called Genius Grant this week. Today, we look at A. E. Stallings, the second poet to win: “Through her technical dexterity and graceful fusion of content and form, Stallings is revealing the timelessness of poetic expression and antiquity's relevance for today.”

The sonnet below sets out a
caveat emptor, a caution, about romances with their promises of Happily Ever After. Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you — but only under very special circumstances.


Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross the sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible when someone asks —

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

~ A. E. Stallings, born in 1968, American poet and translator

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