This past Wednesday, poet Christine Butterworth-McDermott gave a reading at Widener. Butterworth-McDermott, who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, is this spring’s Distinguished Visiting Writer. She is the author of the collection Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, and has published a chapbook, Tales on Tales: Sestinas. You can read some of her poetry here.
English and Creative Writing junior Jennifer Rohrbach gave the introduction; we’ll let her take it from here:
Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation. In her book of poetry, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, she transforms fantastic tales into anecdotal quips that comment on the humanity in the supernatural, the extraordinary in the everyday. She reveals new sides of characters we know and love, and gives voice to characters from whom we’ve never heard: the Ogre’s wife, the Frog Prince’s secret lover, the Prince Charming of shoe-makers. Her fairy-tale characters could pass for a next-door neighbor. In the poem “Snow Speaks,” Snow White says, “Let me tell you what I’ve learned. ‘You don’t know / what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ and all that crap / happens to be true, especially when you wind up / the housemaid for seven tiny men / whose bathroom etiquette leaves much to be desired” (1-5, p. 19).
Butterworth-McDermott’s literary charm has earned her poetry and fiction spots in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellowing Ark, Cabinet de Fees, California Quarterly, Magazine of Speculative Poetry, North Atlantic Review, Portland Review, RATTLE, and Tales of the Unanticipated. She also teaches poetry, literature, and fairy-tales as an Associate Professor of English at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. In addition, she is the poetry editor of the literary journal REAL and the founder and co-editor of the literary magazine, Gingerbread House, which publishes quality poetry and fiction with magical elements. In 2010, her chapbook Tales on Tales: Sestinas, was published by Finishing Line Press, followed by Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2011.
Perhaps one of the most important things about her work is that it is accessible. Her poetry, while maintaining a high literary quality, is fun. It’s exciting. It’s inviting. And yes, sometimes it’s sad. In the poem “Rose,” Briar Rose laments her inability to have children after her cursed sleep. “In this war of my own,” she says, “nothing accounts / for bleeding, some endless punishment / for stopping blood and breath with / a spindle’s prick—that hundred years / of aborted life claims this payback” (26).
Growing up as a lover of Disney movies, it never occurred to me to wonder what happens after the happily ever after. What do the prince and princess say to one another after they ride off into the sunset? What happens to those left behind? Of course, I was like 5 when those movies came out, so I wasn’t exactly thinking analytically. It seems perfect, then, that we get to read these poems, experience these tales again, as adults. It gives us the opportunity to become re-enchanted with the stories we once loved, but to bring our own realities to the myths. Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation, not only of fairy-tales and the fantastic, but of our means of perception. And through her work, tales as old as time become new.