Many parents have told their children about the young girl, wearing a red cloak, traipsing through the woods with a basket in hand, unaware of the fate that lies ahead. The story of Little Red Riding Hood has been interpreted over centuries in fairytales, performance art, and in the 2005 animated film, Hookwinked.
In her just-released book, Little Red (published by Mother Tongue), which is being launched in Vernon Friday, April 26, Vernon poet Kerry Gilbert provides a whole new interpretation of the story using some familiar characters. There’s the predatory wolf, the frail and lonely grandmother, the protective woodcutter, and Little Red (named Scarlet in the book), a character who has to brave the unthinkable.
Also interwoven in the poems are other characters and images such as bears, the forest, lost and innocent children, crows, accidents, and homelessness.
“These characters are so applicable still. The metaphors haven’t lost their value in that Little Red Riding Hood was the original cautionary tale for girls. This is an exploration of some of the horrors found in contemporary society and how we deal with them,” said Gilbert, a mother of three who teaches creative writing at Okanagan College.
While the Wolf represents fear in Little Red, there is also a message of hope, told through Scarlet, who fights off the Wolf and finds a way to navigate the forest with hope instead of fear.
“When I first started thinking about the book, I thought the key characters had to die in order for the story to move forward. I initially aged out the Woodcutter, Nana and the Wolf as the patriarchy, killing out the old system to put in a new one, but my editor, Mona Fertig, thought I should keep Woodcutter alive. She thought he was also one of the most hopeful characters. She’s right. Woodcutter represents the good in people. We also find hope in nature throughout.”
For this collection, Gilbert rented a studio at the Caetani Cultural Centre in her hometown of Vernon, where she spent more than a year writing, researching and reading news clippings about missing and murdered women and other tragedies such as the Syrian refugee crisis, all of which informed her work. She also read other versions of Little Red Riding Hood, and includes the most known version, published in 1697 by French writer Charles Perrault, at the beginning of Little Red.
“I had to find a way to grapple with violence and the negativity from these things that have happened. It was necessary for me to write and then let it go,” she said. “I find writing poetry manageable. With working full time and raising three kids, if I write one poem, then I can feel good about it. I love the fragmentation of writing poetry. It doesn’t have to come out all at once.”
In her research, Gilbert noticed how the mother is often absent from just about every classic fairytale, whereas, in today’s society, parents tend to be overly involved and fearful for their children.
“I thought of this idea about helicopter parenting and how if we bubble wrap our kids, we’re not doing them any favours. There are no parents in my story, or if so, they are absent, which is also prevalent in our society.”
Little Red is Gilbert’s third published book of poetry. Her last, Tight Wire, also published by Mother Tongue, came out in 2016 and was shortlisted for a 2017 ReLit Award. Gilbert more recently won the Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Award for Best Suite by an Emerging Writer. The suite included some of the core poems published in Little Red.
The Vernon launch for Little Red takes place at the Caetani Cultural Centre’s Studio Gallery April 26 at 7 p.m. Joining Gilbert will be special guest and fellow Vernon poet John Lent, who will read from his newest collection, A Matins Flywheel. Books will be available for purchase. For more information, visit kerrygilbert.ca.
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