“Lies Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge, pronounced (KUR-chee)
(Candlewick Press, 2012); 88 pgs; 17.99; hardcover illustrated by Andrea Deszo
If prose poetry or novels in free verse is news, you are in good hands with “the wisest, most entertaining wise guy in American poetry” according to Poet Laureate Billy Collins, of Ron Koertge, b. 1940 (He is 74 years old!)
Winner of Publishers Weekly Best Book 2012 and Kansas City Star’s Top Books 2012, Lies Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is a wonderfully chilling knock outside the door. It is a free verse treatment of classic and obscure fairy tales for the modern retelling; hand in hand with visually sharp and deeply lined woodcut art formed illustrations by Transylvania born, Andrea Deszo who currently serves as art professor at Amherst College. Twenty three archetypes or tales reappear in an imagined space with varied voices viable with points of view which open up the conversation and inner landscape for the life-long reader. A sixteen year old, a twenty six year old, a forty six year old and a seventy six year old scans the same text but reads necessarily not the same book from each’s pressed fingerprints and prisms.
The truth Koertge carries through all the voices and personas led me to read these fairy tales as archetypes from the collected unconscious. These stories allow the reader to be predator and prey, light and darkness, lost and omniscient against the classic backdrop. I leave you with a quote from the book’s illustrator, Dezso who shared, “We didn’t have access to contemporary publications (in Communist Romania), so we read the classics. We lived in books. Traveled through them.” For those of us who lived through political oppression, violence and censorship about the threatening Brave and Modern World, we retreat through the portals of fairy tales no longer to restore our Innocence but to spread light of Experience onto what was once absent in the dark corners and to name those who Appeared to speak Lies and wield Knives.