July 25, 2012
But in Jennifer Copley’s darkly enchanting collection, Beans in Snow, good fairies are few and far between.
Far from the Disney fairies we have grown all too used to (fairies of good magic and household spells, who ensure that true love triumphs in the end), Copley’s collection returns us to the original and unsettling nature of fairy stories: told to disquiet, and even at times to scare. This is a world where beans in snow ‘won’t grow’, where ‘brothers and sisters get separated’, and where ‘children, smelling of gingerbread, cry out to them from cages’.
Copley’s poems whisper dark suggestions to their reader. They display such a control over the stories they reference that, much of the time, we are unsure whether the unsettling occurrence has taken place in the poem itself or in the unexplored caverns of our own imagination. The poems are filled with unanswered questions; we are the ones who must provide the answers, and they are not pleasant ones.
However, Copley is not tied to the realm of the fairy tale. Perhaps the most disturbing, and at the same time most beautiful, aspect of the book is the way it blurs fiction with biography. In the second and third sections of Beans in Snow, Copley writes about the loss of her own brother, who died in his late forties. We see Copley’s own pain in the context of the darkness of the stories. Snow (standing in for death, blankness, and eventually a new start) is a recurring theme. As the collection’s titular poem states: ‘Beans in snow won’t grow’.
But the collection ends on a hopeful note. The third section begins with a poem entitled ‘First Night in Heaven’. This section follows Copley’s brother after death. Here, we witness Copley’s creation of a fairy tale of her own. Building on the first two sections, this final one shows how stories (as well as being dark warnings against wandering alone in the forest) can be a way of healing. In the stories we create ourselves, Copley seems to be telling us, there can always be hope.
Beans in Snow is a beautiful, dark, funny and emotive collection. It draws on traditional fairy stories, but in a way that targets a modern reader. What emerges is the potential to create our own stories and our own potential endings. In the same way that Copley works so skilfully on our imaginations in the first part of the book, she also shows us the power of our own creativity in understanding our own misfortunes.
Giants and Snow Queens there may be, but there is also hope, and the good fairy of our own imagination.
This Poetry Pick was chosen by Katie Hale, founder of [insert text here].
Born in Cumbria, Katie’s first story (written aged four and entitled It’s Not Fair) received much critical acclaim from indulgent parents and well-wishing neighbours. Since then she has been published in Velour, anthologies 11 Poets and Above Water, and university magazine The Jam, and has twice won the Anne Pierson Award. She spent a year living in Melbourme, and is about to move to St Andrews to begin a Masters in Creative Writing.