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Woods Wolf Girl
A girl walks into the woods.
Little Red Riding Hood.
Nothing in her life has prepared her.
A girl walks into the woods with a bucket -
she's off to get
for tadpoles she keeps
in a gallon pickle jar
on the window ledge in the back porch.
She walks down the hill
across the field of picnic tables,
through western hemlocks'
sloshes against the bucket's
edge. It begins
with an interruption.
This was different. He was
Asked my name, I told him. He smiled. I smiled back.
Why wouldn't I? He turned, bent over the flowers -
trilliums, I think, and something pink.
A trickle of noise, a single pebble falling down a rain stick.
Look he said, look at this trout lily - it's pushed through
winter's leaf-mat. Leaf-mat: nobody talked like that.
And this collar of leaves hugging the stem.
He flicked the leaves away. His fingers went
I said I had to go.
What's your hurry? Don't be such a schoolgirl.
Of course I was a schoolgirl.
Look, he said, throwing his arm toward the trees,
making his fingers dance like dust motes
in sunlight: look where you are. Where we are.
He leaned against a tree, propped one foot and pushed
his sole back against the trunk. From a shirt pocket pulled a pack.
I'm not allowed to smoke, I blurt.
He tapped the bottom, shook one out, brought it to his lips, smiled.
Didn't take his eyes off me as he lit the tip. The sting
of sulphur up my nose, his in-
suck of breath. He shook out the match, dropped it.
Smoking's not allowed in the forest - but I didn't say, just thought it.
Nobody ever looked at me in a way that made me feel the look.
Said my name like it mattered. Showed me
plants, like tiny drink umbrellas in Shirley Temples, folded
under my feet, beneath my hands - my hands.
I could feel
pulsing, my wrist or maybe
It is a wolf
it is on the path through the woods
it is a man
who asks does she want to go behind the tree
and earn a dollar.
A girl walks into the woods and it starts to rain.
Rain threatens the touch-me-nots.
talk. A girl walks into the woods and the woods
force her into clauses, suspended
she has no words for.
Does she go behind the tree?
Does she consent?
-from Woods Wolf Girl
BIO: Cornelia Hoogland is a Canadian poet. She is currently a professor at the University of Western Ontario and lives in London, Ontario. However, she attributes her childhood on densely wooded Vancouver Island, B.C., with inspiration for her writing. Hoogland has performed and worked internationally in the areas of drama and poetry. “The land inside Coyote: Reconceptualizing human relationships to place through drama” (In D. Booth & K. Gallagher (Eds.), How Theatre Educates: Convergences & Counterpoints, 2003) marked Hoogland’s research into place-based education.
Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011) is Hoogland’s 5th book of poetry, and is based on the fairy tale, Red Riding Hood. Crow (Black Moss Press, 2011), released a month after Woods Wolf Girl, is Hoogland's 6th book. Her newest selection, a chapbook titled Gravelly Bay (Alfred Gustav Press, 2012), is forthcoming. Hoogland's poetry has been shortlisted for the CBC literary awards; the nominations include selections from her books Cuba Journal as well as her second and third books of poetry You Are Home and Marrying the Animals. Her recent awards include finalist placements for the Stephen Dunn Poetry Award, The Broome Review (USA); the Malahat Review Long Poem Competition; and Descant's Winston Collins Best Canadian Poem. Her writing in the area of Aboriginal, place-based education was recently featured in the Huffington Post.
Hoogland is the founder and the co-artistic director of Poetry London (www.poetrylondon.ca), an organization that brings prominent writers into lively discussion with London writers and readers. She can be reached at email@example.com. Hoogland divides her time between London, ON., and Hornby Island, B.C.
A Review of Woods Wolf Girl by Christine Walde
When I look back through all the stories of my childhood, she has always been there. She being her, that girl, dressed in red, in the woods, on her way to her grandmother’s house. Meeting that wolf. Has there ever been a time when she hasn’t been there? She’s in all of us, in all of our pasts, in all our childhoods. Little Red Riding Hood. Or, if you prefer, Little Red Cap. In all of her disguises. Bruno Beittelheim states that even though Charles Perrault published Little Red Riding Hood in 1697, the story already had its roots in ancient history. There is, as he says, the myth of Cronos swallowing his children, who nevertheless return miraculously from his belly; a heavy stone was used to replace the child to be swallowed. There is also a Latin story of 1023 by Egbert of Lièges, called Fecunda ratis in which a little girl is found in the company of wolves; the girl wears a red cover of great importance to her, which scholars have interpreted as being a red cap.
As a footnote to this, it should be mentioned that Dr. Hoogland received her PhD for her research on Little Red, and continues to teach it to her students to this very day.
When I first received the advanced reading copy for Woods Wolf Girl, I felt quite lupine myself, as I literally devoured the book in the space of one reading. What is it about this girl that fascinates us so? Cornelia takes all our longings, our fears, our questions, our fantasies about who and what Little Red Riding Hood is and repositions the voices, the points of view, the time and the place to produce a version of the tale that is, as poetry, deeply resonant and profound. Moments after I put the book down, her voice and her words echoed in my body, as if I’d swallowed everything. Yes, a girl walks into the woods… but it is Cornelia’s acute perception and use of language that is for me one of the many exciting things about this book. Her words are athletic, rigorous, sensual and sensuous. The pages literally dance with text, as words leap across parts of the page filling it, skirting and biting with a variation of voices and dynamic diction that has some serious-what-big-teeth-you have kismet. Cornelia can coin Nikita Kruschev is one sentence and then skip to a diet of tulip bulbs before being followed by black shit and Nazis. Make no mistake, this is brilliant, powerful writing. Confident, assured, masterful, in Woods Wolf Girl Cornelia uses language with a new kind of visual intensity and power – even the title itself creates a landscape within our minds and our psyches to reclaim – among many, many potent and magic things – story, identity and sex. And what sex there is – but you’ll have to buy your own copy to get some of that.
A Review of Hoogland's Woods Wolf Girl by Jennifer Still, first published in Winnipeg Free Press
In Cornelia Hoogland’s fifth collection, Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 96 pages, $17), fable and fact, woodsman and wolf, and mother and daughter are hauntingly entangled in the retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale.
In this London, Ont., poet’s work, myth and personal history are at times so snug it is no longer relevant to separate the two: “(I know this is a dream, / but whose dream?)” and later “Your tongue, Mother/my mouth.”
Brilliant and stark, Hoogland’s poems are an imagistic treat, green as tadpoles in a pickle jar, red as “rain the shade of lips by Chanel.”
This is not a simple tale Hoogland tells. She heads to the darkest woods where the “rainforest slides down its zipper,” the frog never becomes a prince and the wolf is both feared and desired. In Hoogland’s forest, subservience and shame are a rite of passage: “We crave the thunderbolt, cosmic change.”
An Interview with Cornelia Hoogland by Aaron Bauer and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
Aaron Bauer and Andrew-McFadyen-Ketchum: The Red Riding Hood story obviously has a long tradition of being told and retold, over and over again. What fascinates you most about this particular story? What are you hoping Woods Wolf Girl will contribute to that tradition?
Cornelia Hoogland: A girl, a wolf, a meeting in the woods - a quintessential story frame, don't you think? Red Riding Hood is among the world's most popular and most retold tales. It's one of the first stories many people hear, and one many people they tell their children. Of what other common story can we say this?
During my academic-literary career I've met people from different cultures around the world who are committed to Red Riding Hood, and most importantly, each to his or her own version of the tale. We've been telling each other this story for at least 400 years, since Charles Perrault and then later the Grimm Brothers gave us the first written versions (1697 and 1812 respectively), and we've never stopped interpreting and adapting the tale for our own times and situations.
My goal in "Woods Wolf Girl" was to set the girl named Red in the Canadian woods, particularly the rainforest where I grew up. They're very scary, those woods. To the girl they're "slick as a lozenge/sliding into black and blacker/wood and fir and needle/Douglas-fir, taller yet/farther than the eye can see." Research for this book took me to Haida Gwaii and to Bella Bella on British Columbia's west coast, as well as to the Rocky Mountains in Banff, Alberta, to study wolves and to record their voices. An internal tension that shapes "Woods Wolf Girl" is one of energetic contradiction within each of the characters, including the wolf. I didn't take anything for granted. Who is the wolf? Is he bad? How is he bad? Is he also good? How is he good? In the meeting in the woods, for instance, the wolf is not just a predator, but also a sexy educator who shows Red the world around her and says "Don't be such a schoolgirl...look where you are. Where we are." This forked moment not only leads deeper into the woods, it offers Red the opportunity to perceive the natural world around her; the sights and sounds and smells - the animal instincts - that as a good girl she has been taught to disregard.
AB & AMK: There have been numerous books of poetry composed of monologues--Gluck's "Wild Iris," and works by Ai come to mind. Looking at this literary tradition, who's work would you say that your work is most in conversation with? Who in this tradition are you arguing or agreeing with?
CH: I can see how you might be reminded of Gluck's "Wild Iris" but it's her "Meadowlands" that blew me away. The multiple voices in "Meadowlands" influenced the creation of the voices in "Woods Wolf Girl". The voice of Red (at various ages), the voice of her Mother, and the voice of the Woodsman were all influenced by "Meadowlands". Similar to Gluck's use of myth, I leaned on a well-known fairy tale to structure the book, and--also like Gluck--shamelessly added my own content when the tale's images and/or themes sparked an association. I found the fairy tale's rich cache of imagesand metaphors, and its plot, continually led me to exciting new finds and took me in new directions. It's interesting that a story with such deeply worn grooves can have so much to sayabout the contemporary condition. To ask what Red carries in her basket is to ask: what is essential to each of us as we journey through our own psychic woods? When adult Red meets the wolf in the grocery store years later, she says "I wouldn't miss seeing what a middle-aged bachelor puts into his basket to treat himself, nights alone in front of the telly."
AB & AMK: It's almost impossible to talk about contemporary poetic retellings of fairy tales without mentioning Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. What influence has their work had on you as writer? Do you believe that there is any element of (or rebellion against) confessionalism in your poems?
CH: The confessional voice, employed powerfully by Plath (1932-1963) and Sexton (1928-1974), has since changed, both in terms of its tone and in terms of what it reveals. Speaking generally, Plath and Sexton's more conventionally confessional voice (still widely used) lives in the gaps between who we think we are, what we say or reveal about ourselves, and who we appear to be to the reader. Contemporary poetry often postures toward the confessional but doesn't actually reveal. It makes little attempt to satisfy the promise of intimacy. Instead, it swerves sharply off course, and in the disjunctions, casts doubt and uncertainty. Epiphanies, if and when they occur, are more often jolts that happen in the least likely of settings. For instance, in one of the Mother's confessions, when she speaks about that well-known scene in which Red arrives at her grandmother's house, the Mother says "What if she [Red] walked into her Grandmother's kitchen/and just stood there and gawked -/what would she see?/My mother [Red's Grandmother] gathering up her empties,/and that woodsman-/smoking in his undershirt./Not how I was raised."
Still, there are similarities: both Sexton's fairy tale characters and Red tell on themselves; that is, they reveal their least attractive sides, or have their least attractive sides revealed by others. Sexton in particular added layers of contemporary angst to the fairy tales. Plath was more often willing to pose as the victim, something I guard against. My Red never loses her sense of agency, and demonstrates what I believe the fairy tales teach best: namely, that it's not life's events, but rather one's response to them, that determines one's fortune. In fact, if one doesn't marry a prince, one's response to (mis)fortune may be a person's biggest ally and strength. Or, that response may be the only thing a person has to help one face the worst that life might force upon them.
AB & AMK: How do you believe your work in writing drama has influenced your poetry?
CH: Theatre demands writing in the present tense, in both meanings of tense. In the kitchen scene described above, I had to ‘be there,' to see what the woodsman was wearing. I had to listen closely to catch the tone of the Mother's "Not how I was raised." For "Woods Wolf Girl," it was useful to parse my responses into characters, and to explore Red Riding Hood's myriad postures, characteristics, costumes, and attitudes. I love writing for the theatre because things can get weird and slanted and have explosions built into them.
AB & AMK: In these three poems from "Woods Wolf Girl" the speakers are frequently questioning themselves. Is questioning a theme that continues throughout the collection? Where do you believe this feeling of uncertainty originates?
CH: I was guided in my approach by New York's Kiki Smith, whose amazing visual art is reproduced on the cover of my book ("Born", 2002). It captures the spirit of the poems, which are not abstractly scholarly, but rather experiential. Like children who read not from an analytical point of view but from an emotional or intuitive point of view, I groped Red's way through the dark woods, uncertain of what she/I should fear; uncertain of her/my strengths. I set out to relive the life-changing experiences of my good little heroine.
AB & AMK: Looking specifically at the end of the book's title poem, we see words and lines starting to fragment across the page. Do these spaces represent a specific sound (or lack thereof) you intend for the poems to have when read aloud, or are these spaces primarily a sort of visual construct?
At some points, you use flat, plain-spoken language, such as at the beginning of "Woodsman":
It is a wolf
it is on the path through the woods
it is a man
who asks does she want to go behind the tree
and earn a dollar.
Why use this seemingly empty opening, "it is?" What effect do you imagine it has on your readers' experience of the poem?
CH: Empty, flat language teeters on the thin ledge between banality and conceptual fireworks. Muting of the voice, smug understatement and habitual use of plain unadorned phrases can be poetically deadly. In the above selection, I'm reaching for the sound effect of ‘beginning over and over,' and for the multiplicities that compose meaning. "It is" as a refrain is many things; the present reader's meaning, the future reader's meaning. The wolf as a ‘big event in one's life,' comes to all; we each meet the wolf, be it in the school yard, the work place, the bedroom, the woods, or somewhere else entirely. I return to the enduring nature of the fairy tale, with its universal images that transcend boundaries like time and culture. Despite four hundred years of history-of change-that have taken place since the story's birth, , we continue to find the story of Red Riding Hood relevant. "It is" amazing.
AB & AMK: These poems come from different characters within the Red Riding Hood story. Could you say a little bit about the process of discovering the different voices contained in the book? How do these different voices interact with your perception of your own voice as a poet?
CH: My voice as a poet was expanded. Using a fictional story complete with plot and characters was a new experience for me. Autobiographical images helped me understand Red's experience; they formed a bridge between me and the fictional character - and conversely, the fiction tugged at my half-remembered personal experiences.
As far as discovering the different voices, I was immediately interested in the mother's voice because hers is the lone voice absent from every one of the hundreds of versions of the fairy tale that I have read. Absent, but indelibly marked as the character with the wagging finger who tells Red not to stray from the path, to obey. "Who is this mother?", I wondered. Is she the punishing parent? The helpless parent? I was interested in the mother's struggle with her daughter's autonomous drive. Surely the mother noticed a difference in her daughter the day she arrived home; surely she sensed that her daughter had undergone a transformational experience in the world. (That defining moment, I think, when each parent feels her child explode the confines of parental reach.)
I explored each of my characters in similar ways. My work was also in part to choose which character might best express any particular aspect of the story, or to determine that all three might speak to the same event from their own perspectives. The Woodsman tells an unending story any reader might reinvent at any moment, in any place: "A girl walks into the woods."