Pins & Needles No. 14: Martine Bellen

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”

No. 14: Martine Bellen

Q. Say the twister visited Gretel instead. What kind of impact would she have on Oz?

Gretel is the archetypical journeyer—she’s the kind of girl who just can’t say no, who just can’t stay home. True, she was driven away by her evil mother; nevertheless, the story is a bildungsroman so the moment of significance is when the girl enters the forest to make her way with her wits. Dorothy is Gretel. One girl’s emerald OZ is another girl’s gingerbread kingdom. In general, girl adventurers are Gretels. Sure, you may say (or she may say) Dorothy is “the small and meek.” You may argue it was Gretel who wept bitter tears while Hansel plotted to outsmart the adults, and I would say the girl adventurer had not yet come to terms with her own power. Forget not that it won’t be long before Dorothy says the famous words: “I didn’t mean to kill her, really I didn’t” and Gretel throws pearls from her pinafore upon the corpse of her step-witch.

Q. Candy cities, the Wild West of witches, and fallout shelters, oh my. Did I mention Munchkin, Kansas? Your poem excels at world-building. Is this one of your favorite techniques?

In my poem “Fringe,” (named after the world-building sci-fi TV series) I write: “A word-building class held in the world building—/A conworld of deception/In TiVo time.” Constructing imaginary worlds by using words as building bricks and then prying open a window between worlds to see that neither is really imaginary happens to be a writing stitch that I particularly enjoy practicing. To quote Dorothy, “But it wasn’t a dream–it was a place. And you–and you–and you–and you were there.”

Q. Weather often plays a key role in fairy tales—tornadoes, deluges and snowstorms, to say the least. Droughts never get any story-telling respect. How would you change this?

Well, there’s a famine in “Hansel and Gretel” and it’s that which instigates the wicked mother’s appetite to expel the children (does she fear she’ll eat them?). At the time of the Great Famine in Europe (1315-1322) there was infanticide and cannibalism, which explains the emphasis on eating in that story (though the famine was caused by heavy rains, not drought). There are droughts, though, in African fairy tales. Still, I take all that swirling, gushing, turbulent weather as a mirror of youth’s psyche. I was working on a piece today that’s an investigation of mothers (they are so wicked in so many stories; why is that?) and, late in my piece, mother and daughter arrive at the same age, finding themselves in a desert. I think there are deserts when you age. I know there are droughts.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.


Martine Bellen’s poem “A Thousand and One Gretels: Alone in the Wood” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

A Thousand and One Gretels: Alone in the Wood

A small gang of Gretels runs off,
                                                        Are run out of town,
             Find an emerald world,
                                                     The Wild West of witches,
                                                                                               A candy city,
                        A wealth beyond the Gretel Gang’s wildest wishes.

What we’d do not to be
Alone in the wood

Once upon a time there were naughty, naughty gamines – A gang of girls!
                                                                                      A gaggle of Gretels!
And when they shot through Munchkin, Kansas, you bet your sweet butt,
Dot hiked up her gingham
                                    And tore off behind them on a pink Harley. 

Sometimes, though, the cyclone doors of her mind flew open,
And stepmothers stepped out into her hourglass,
                                                             …Looking glass,
                                                                                        The glass slipper,
And flying monkeys would corner the sagging, aging girl in the gang,
                          Would corner the girl alone. 

How to get free from all that wind?
                                                  –for instance, falling down a rabbit hole,
             Holing up in a fallout shelter,
                                                            Losing her way,
                                                                                       Her mind.

How to get free of the storybook

                                                                                       From believing
At the center of the storm,
                                    Mama’s pulling strings,
                                                                Father’s making a living,
She: snug in her just-right-sized bed, convalescing
  –It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head, Dot says, a dot
                                    Of dust in the tornado that’s blowing through
  Where mind is
                          Realized, anxiety of the body drops away
  With delusion (no wood, no witch, no which way would the yellow
        brick road wind)
   And all of a sudden there’s peace.

The clickin’ of poppies.
Clickin’ her heels together.
Clicking her way home.

What we’d be not to do it alone.