Take 1: The Act of Speech in Sally Rosen Kindred's Says the Forest to the Girl
review & cento by Stacey Balkun
Sally Rosen Kindred’s Says the Forest to the Girl isn’t like anything you know. These poems don’t merely re-tell; they fully transform familiar tales, putting Sleeping Beauty in conversation with Little Red, giving Rapunzel a dialogue with the wolf. And by “dialogue,” I mean she has a voice, and he, for once, is silenced.
This is the miracle of this book: women speak, uninterrupted. In “Little Red: Morning,” our speaker says:
Nobody ever told
me a story
where the woman’s
body, mean and squinting, gets
And that’s true for so many girls, isn’t it? Kindred examines fairy tale narratives in relation to girls’ bodies, but not by changing the stories or the features of the female characters in them. Instead, the girls break free of their usual narratives to talk to one another, sharing their experiences, their questions, their fears.
The concept of “saying” implies command. The forest asks no questions; offers no answers. But do we ever have answers for girls? Kindred cuts to the source, shirking the “should haves” because here, the danger is inside our girl. Saying what to do or not do isn’t going to help her.
In the title poem, the forest itself is given a voice. It speaks to the “girl,” a stand-in for all female characters in fairy tales, in an effort to control the body. Exasperated, it snaps at the girl, claiming it “[w]ill tell a story if you’ll just lie down.”
But we don’t want to lie down, do we? Kindred doesn’t try to answer the question directly. Rather, through self-reflection and a sense of dramatic monologue, characters inwardly work toward understanding. Little Red goes on to walk beside the wolf, though it feels as if she separates herself from her body, becoming a pair that speaks in first person plural. Wondering about the purpose of her (or any girl’s) existence as described by the familiar story, she/they say:
All this to save them,
ourselves—to sing or save—we
don’t yet know.
Kindred masters the lyric. Each line resonates, somehow levitating with musicality yet weighing heavy with meaning. These poems are bold, rich with imagery and such by a gorgeously peculiar voice.
“Little Red: Morning,” the penultimate poem in the book, ends with Little Red asking:
What is it that waits
inside her, a nest
or a knife, a huntsman
or an open door?
The final poem, “I Tell What Kind of Girl,” answers this question—in a way—ending with an image of a white door opening “like mercy, like breath, / when she began to tell.” To tell “what kind of girl” presumably means for the girl to tell her own story but again, Kindred is opening a door: not telling us what we’ll find, as the answer may be beyond our recognition.
Yet it’s our job to cross the threshold; to reframe, recover, respond.
Says the Forest to the Girl: A Cento
with lines from Kindred’s book
They called you Girl. You
turned it like a page.
and paint on your name—
It could be the moon,
some singing bone.
Tonight you’ll bring home
a story where
It wasn’t like anything you know.
Check back next week for Take 2 on Says the Forest to the Girl!
Stacey Balkun is the author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak & Lost City Museum. Winner of the 2017 Women's National Book Association Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, Muzzle, and others. Chapbook Series Editor for Sundress Publications, Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn & The Loft.