Goblin Fruit: Winter 2012
Edited by Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick
Reviewed by Erik Amundsen
The Goblins always have a tell, a way of showing you what to expect, both so that you can’t tell them you weren’t warned when they hit you with what they’ve got. This time, the tell comes from the art of guest artist Rose Lemberg (of Stone Telling); crones and owls, foxes and wolves, a listening child; for me, it conjured the carpenter weathervane on the porch of my granparents’ house, sawing away in a late winter rainstorm. That tell only got clearer in the note from the editors, full of the cold damp of Cornwall. I was set to let this issue sink into my bones and throb, more raw chill than ice and snow.
It was a feint. The poems that comprise this issue are cutting icy gusts, utterly cold and utterly dry (do not take that word as a synonym for boring). The goblins fooled me, took my breath away.
Many of these poems begin after the end. Lynn Hardaker’s “The Tale’s End,” with its betrayed father, apple-murdered sister, crow-lost brothers and narrator maimed if not murdered comes cold as a sudden draft through the tiniest crack under the window, sharp enough to lacerate. Sandi Leibowitz’s “Sleeping, I Was Beauty” begins in the ever after of the eponymous heroine, but awkward and terrifying, with the most chilling lines in the issue:
and all the world rejoicing
at true love’s admittance.
But then Lori Lamothe’s “Happily” takes the other road after the end, to that altar and right on past, no vows, no look back, the pause after the first one-two, while the goblins ready another cold combination.
Persephone extends her lease on Goblin Fruit, and, should you remember my review of summer, there was an argument laid out so persuasive that none can gainsay her appearance in every Goblin Fruit from here to the breaking (or at least dramatic changing) of the world. Shweta Narayan shows her in a dead, chalky place, much like a broken world, dry and dusty, in “Persephone in Grey.” This is, again, a different Persephone than what I’ve seen before, handled by an expert and full of hurt.
Wendy Howe brings the first cold damp, in the form of a restless spirit migrating from snow-covered Japan to the coast of California in “From a Distant Shore.” The poem seems heavy with private meanings that I cannot decipher, so there’s not much more I can say about it.
Laura King attempts to make sense for the setup of the fairy tale in “Pregnant with Rapunzel,” and manages the deed. This one not cold so much as bitter, but there is still frost beneath the surface, a woman galled by the high cost of a compulsion that was not her will, but enforced on her, whether from without or (as she believes) within. Bitterness. The cold creeps back into the bitterness with the story of a woman made from a walnut tree in Kathrin Köhler’s “Woman of Wood.” For this one, I have to insist that you listen to each sound file in turn as it builds the hidden chills behind the words.
Larry Hammer’s “Winter Advice” continues on the theme of the bitterness in the cold and Ann K Schwader carries it off, with “Penelope Reweaves,” wherein an aged Penelope in an empty house watches Odysseus continue past, with an oar on his shoulder. Mari Ness follows with “Unmelted,” another after-end, a lover still enchanted, still cold, and the one promise of freedom from the unhappiness that follows, hidden in the quilts. F. J. Bergmann continues with the tale of a miracle, a goat or a satyr or some other wild thing who saves a boy and is murdered for its charity in “Hooves”
This is the most unrelentingly grim Goblin Fruit I have ever tasted, as if winter came in and the persimmons just got more tannic and harsh. When Joshua Gage’s warnings about the wanderings of dangerous Norse nymphs in “Huldre” feels like a reprieve. Thank gods, it’s only dangerous, not after-end, not bitter and cold.
Thank gods; it’s only a broken moon in Kelly Rose Pflug-Back’s “A Chorus of Severed Pipes,” somehow extending winter’s reach into a season full of crickets and bullfrogs, but something of an end, there, too, what with the moon broken, pieces in a sack.
C. S. E. Cooney brings us to an unbroken moon, with an unbroken crone, “The Last Crone on the Moon,” so we’re told. Shows her into age, into the space ship, the promise of youth, that maybe she turns aside. Maybe she doesn’t survive, but she doesn’t seem to mind; the lack of bitterness here, for that I am grateful.
From bitter, we seem to have jumped to the moon, and a monstrous tree that contains an “Elixer for Revival of Nocturnal Beasts,” by Brock Marie Moore, in a dead heat for my favorite of this issue with the poem that comes before it and “Woman of Wood,” but I am a sucker for spells, and this one is a good one.
Okay, make that a three-way tie for second. Sofia Samatar’s “Qasida for the Ferryman” takes the after-end across the winter in cities all over the world, a courtship from Charon,
For I’m a flood, a flash, a swan,
a tundra-wand’ring turjuman;
I’ve eaten souls with cinnamon
from Singapore to Samarkand.
While there is bitterness in it, it blends with the other flavors of experiences, the narrator losing a lover, but prepared to regain a heart at the end.
This was a hard, hard issue of Goblin Fruit, though it was full of good poems – the only one that didn’t speak to me at least let me know it had good reasons – it was full of hurt. Perhaps not something I should have reviewed after the runners high had faded and the first draft accidentally ate itself and reverted to an older document. I don’t suggest trying to read the middle poems in order all in one whack unless you are steeled for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and all the cuts and chilblains you’re getting, they feel like what was intended and not more than you can handle, but be warned, these are not the playful Goblins of summer, spring or fall, these are hobgoblins who will mess you up if you aren’t aware.
So take Care.