Winner of Sundress Publications’ eight annual chapbook competition, Hannah V Warren’s,[re]construction of the necromancer, is a haunting reimagining of Hansel and Gretel that explores the themes of transformation, motherhood and creating our own fate. Editorial Intern, Ada Wofford discusses these themes with the author, as well as the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today.
Ada Wofford: What can you tell us about the book’s inscription, “To the girls with the moss in their hair”?
Hannah V Warren: I’m thinking about women who had their own experiences with abandonment in their childhood, but that word means something different for everyone. In the forest, Gretel felt no more alone than in her home. This collection is for those women, the ones who felt lingering instability, no matter where they were—the ones who would have embraced Gretel’s forest and the ability to transform their bodies into something new if they could.
AW: What is the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today, in 2020?
HVW: We’re currently living in a moment where people are returning to fairy tale, to legend and lore, more frequently than ever. Funnily enough, a movie about Hansel and Gretel came out the same week this chapbook released. (I haven’t seen it, but I hope people revel.)
I think we all find comfort in these stories, the ones we’ve heard again and again. There’s an entrenched familiarity. At least for me, reinventions investigate the troubling aspects of fairy tales we take for granted. In the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel,” the tale ends with riches and forgiveness. Although their father supported their demise, the children are easy to forget all trespasses: “Now all their cares were at an end, and they lived happily together.” I wanted to write a new Gretel, someone who doesn’t need to end on forgiveness but instead focuses on her own recovery, realizing she owes nothing to her birth family, especially not absolution of emotional and physical traumas.
AW: Can you talk about the recurring theme of “forgetting” in the book?
HVW: I played with memory a bit in this collection, considering how we process traumatic events. It’s easy to go days, or even a week, without thinking about anything that happened over a decade ago. Then, you’ll smell menthol. Or you’ll hear someone humming. Or a man will brush against your arm. Suddenly, hot stones brim your gut. As Gretel grows older, her childhood memories become fuzzier, but there are moments that haunt her, that she can’t forget. The “forgetting” poems contain many of these specific memories for Gretel, those moments that always return.
AW: Can you speak about the use of spaces and line breaks throughout the book and what their function is to the overall story?
HVW: [re]construction of the necromancer is concerned with the blueprints of our bodies; how we put things back together when they fall apart. I love white space in a poem. Those blanks and breaks are almost as important to me as the words. I imagine them as instructions that guide Gretel, but she doesn’t quite understand how to follow along because she’s never transformed her body before. It’s like putting together a human skeleton when you don’t know where any of the bones go. In these poems, the spaces are sometimes jarring, pulling the language apart like stretched taffy. I think that’s what it would be like to grow a completely new body, to abandon the parts that no longer belong.
AW: What is the significance of the shifting perspective, from first-person to third?
HVW: In these poems, I wanted to create something immersive, atmospheric. In film, it’s really easy to shift perspectives, to show the audience something the main character doesn’t know. I thought a great deal about what the reader needs to know versus what Gretel needs to know, and I quickly realized that Gretel, after her transformation, wouldn’t care a lick about how her birth mother was getting along. Regardless, it was important to me that the reader know how the forest continued interacting with the mother, how this sentience cared for Gretel quietly. In the “Guide for” poems that come at the collection’s beginning and end, I hope the first-, second-, and third-person perspectives join together. The reader is not watching Gretel but instead becomes Gretel in a fractional way. The reader learns to transform.
AW: Can you speak about the themes of eating and consumption found throughout the book?
HVW: The generally unquestioned cannibalism in fairy tales is always so fascinating to me. In lore, eating other folks is a representation of evil, and that’s that. In this collection, one of my goals was to up the ante on every aspect of the Grimms’ tale. What we consume is such an important part of our identities. I’m from south Mississippi, and I felt like part of me melted when I lived in the Midwest for a few years. Where was the crawfish bisque, the okra, the fried catfish, the Cajun seasoning? I wanted [re]construction of the necromancer to be indulgent, gluttonous even. You can’t think of Gretel without thinking of cannibalism, so I twisted that part of the story to empower Gretel. Does that make Gretel a representation of evil, as well? Probably yes, but also maybe no. Throughout the poems, Gretel shifts from starvation to indulging whenever she wants.
AW: Can you talk about the theme of transformation in the book?
HVW: I love writing within the feminine grotesque. In fairy tales, women’s bodies are consistently changing in mimetic and non-mimetic ways, often to reveal something crucial about the narrative’s moral. I hoped to do something similar with Gretel. Children aren’t helpless, per se, but they are small and relatively defenseless, which the normalization of trauma only exacerbates. Gretel’s transformations are her body’s response to her inability to forget and escape the memories that haunt her. The animal and forest parts of her new form cannot remember abandonment or violation, and they help her attain a semblance of stability as she processes her experiences.
AW: Can you talk about the significance of motherhood in the book and how does it connect to the forest?
HVW: When I first started cobbling together this collection, I knew I wanted Gretel to escape the ills that plague her, which includes her birth mother, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen. Slowly, the poems I added revealed other mother figures. The candy witch from the Grimms’ story is the mother Gretel never had; she teaches Gretel to care for herself, to cook, to change her body. The forest, as well, acts as a semi-motherly figure in the tender slips where they interact, brushing away debris from Gretel’s skin, feeding her encouragement and dried meats. Throughout her time in the forest, Gretel realizes she can rely on others, but she must find a balance, relying on herself, as well, before she can rejoin the world.
Hannah V Warren is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia where she studies poetry and speculative narratives. Her poems have haunted or will soon appear in Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, and Redivider, among others. Follow her at @hannahvwarren and learn more at hannahvwarren.com.
Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature. She is a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib literary magazine, the Founding Editor of My Little Underground, and has been published by McSweeney’s, Fudoki Magazine, Burial Day Books, and more.
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