The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Please meet Sally Rosen Kindred. Sally’s first full-length poetry book No Eden was published last year. Her poems have appeared in Quarterly West, Hunger Mountain and Verse Daily. She has received poetry fellowships from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.
And here’s what she shared about writing that poem:
This poem began with my reading a storybook version of Peter Pan to my five-year-old son. He liked it and asked to go to the library to get the book. I held it up. “No, I mean the real one,” he said. My son knew that Disney does not have the last word. That if a story was intriguing, there was a good chance there was a “real” one out there that was even better. So we went to the library and checked out the Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie (1910). And on our couch in the spring of 2011, I started to read.
My son had wanted more, and he got it. Only there was still so much that was missing. These girls: their desires, the sides of them that they would never show Peter. Their voices, especially Tiger Lily’s.
Tiger Lily was one of the “Redskins,” the indigenous people of Neverland. Both my sons are Latino—the older one was also in the room—and I could feel their questions. “Redskins”—like football? Like a sunburn? We talked (not for the first time) about the color of skin, the history of prejudice, race as a cultural construct. My youngest held his arm to the window. “That’s dumb,” he said. “My skin’s not red.” We talked about what we loved about Neverland, and also about ways we could not trust the book.
That was it, really: we loved so much in Peter Pan, but we could not trust the book. I started writing persona poems for Tinker Bell and Wendy Darling. I was putting off writing the Tiger Lily poem, and I knew why: it was impossible.
Reading about Tink and Wendy, I wanted them to have a chance to say the things that they couldn’t say in the story: things that they couldn’t say aloud or didn’t know yet. I followed them into their memories of the before, their suffering in the after. Wendy Darling’s womanhood, Tinker Bell’s death. Reading about Tiger Lily, I just wanted her to speak. The book says that she is “the most beautiful of dusky Dianas.” She is a type, and she is the only named member of her people, and she only says one thing, and in an insultingly broken English, not the language she commands.
I wanted her to speak, but I did not want to be the one to speak for her—as Barrie had, as the story had. It seemed like adding insult to injury for a white woman to claim her voice. It seemed wrong, but more wrong to leave her silent. So I wrote it.
It had to be different from the Tink and Wendy poems. I had to take her out of the book and put her into 2012. She had to expose the book as a book; otherwise, there was no way for her not to remain inscribed, written by it. I wanted her to get out of there and speak to and in our time. About linguistics, cigarettes and quarters. She needed our currency if she had any hope of getting our attention.
I had to choose sounds to convey her desire, her wit and bitterness. Internal rhyme seemed appropriate; the clean order of end rhyme did not suit her speech, which was above all a disruptive act. I hoped the anaphora “I want” would help make her poem an act of claiming, demanding what the story hasn’t given her. I found myself working in monosyllabic phrases (“I’ve shut your book” and “arch my left brow”) for a bluntness and urgency and using assonance for anger (“a beer in the cheap seats”).
Writing the poem taught me about risk, identity and language. It also taught me about my own limitations, though that happens with almost every poem. I’m still sure I’m not the best person to write Tiger Lily’s story, but I’m glad I tried. I think there’s room for someone to write a much more complete, emotionally convincing narrative from her perspective, and I hope that happens. I’ll be the first to get it from the library. My family loves Neverland, and we still want more.
Note: We thank Eva Quintos Tennant for recording and editing the video of Sally’s reading. To view other video clips from that event, click on the links in the table of contents for our Summer 2012 Audacity issue. For more on poets and writers giving voice to the voiceless, see my “On Being Invisible” series on this site.