Pins & Needles No. 17: Jaydn DeWald

Pins & Needles

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. 17: Jaydn DeWald

Q. “American Fairy Tale” could be read as the sum of its locations and years: Athens, GA, New Brunswick, NJ, San Francisco. Oz. 1904, 1993, 2007. Was the poem lensed more through geography or time?

I liked the poem’s opening sentence because it set a precedent, a technical challenge: each subsequent sentence must occur, however unclearly, in a different geography and time. Isaac Babel claimed that no iron could pierce the heart with more force than a perfectly placed period; in my poem, alas, each period falls with the force of a heel-tap. In any event, I was most interested in flip-booking through psychic spaces, in exploring various manifestations or volumes of desperation and loneliness; the changes in geography and time merely facilitated that movement. Still, you’re absolutely right: the poem can indeed be read as “the sum of its locations and years” (lovely phrase), seeing as its sensuous particulars emerge almost exclusively from geography and time: Oz begets “emerald pesticides,” 1993 begets “Adidas,” San Francisco begets “Z’s tenement,” and so on.

Q. What drew you to composing “American Fairy Tale” in the prose form? 

I wanted to write a fairy tale, but couldn’t access—still can’t access—the remarkable non-descriptive lightness that is so crucial to those tales. Even so, I felt these prose sentences were at least a little more fleet-footed, a little more story-driven, than the sentences I’d been writing in my lineated poems, so I decided to scrabble out on a limb and call it a fairy tale, anyway: “American Fairy Tale,” a reference to Baum’s American Fairy Tales (1901).

It never occurred to me until now, in fact, that the poem might have been lineated. For me, the compositional unit of prose, even prose poetry, is the sentence, whereas the compositional unit of poetry is the line-sentence hybrid—the line and the sentence, as Marvin Bell likes to say, holding hands. Consequently, I find it extraordinarily difficult to transfer either my prose to poetry or my poetry to prose. 

Q. “We must be stuffed with experience, the way the Scarecrow’s stuffed with straw (or money).” How are we navigating the American fairy-tale experience of late?

Whereas the Grimm tales mention many German cities by name (“Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten,” for instance) and have tourist attractions like die Märchenstraße, where people can see Sleeping Beauty’s castle and so on, the US really only has the “great Kansas prairies” in the Oz books. But we do have the venerable Fairy Tale Review—proof enough, I think, that we are navigating the “American fairy-tale experience” in a multitude of exciting ways.

As for my poem, I tried to fuse two worlds—the world of Oz and our own world—so that Dorothy seems to adopt a “realistic” history (“Did she ever . . . kneel down in the dust for a lanky farm boy?”) and “we” begin to feel stuffed à la the Scarecrow. (I should mention, incidentally, that the Scarecrow loses his straw in The Marvelous Land and is later stuffed with paper money. How’s that for “American”?)

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.

Jaydn DeWald’s poem “American Fairy Tale” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

American Fairy Tale

Dorothy tapped her heels together & woke up in Kansas again.
Once, at the height of winter, I hitchhiked from Athens, Geor-
gia, to New Brunswick, New Jersey, coughing up little blood-flecked
pebbles of I don’t know what—my heart? Now we find ourselves in a
field of towering sunflowers not unlike those old Mombi set before Tip
& his gang in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904): “a girl’s face in the cen-
ter of each flower.” Why did I leave X, whose face (doe-eyed, flushed
with wine, staring into a bowl of cold cioppino) I can still see through a
steamed-up restaurant window, late summer, 1993? We must be stuffed
with experience, the way the Scarecrow’s stuffed with straw (or money),
able to reach inside ourselves, ferret around, then wrench out this or
that humiliating moment—as when, on a booze cruise, one stabbed an
escargot fork into one’s forearm, pledging one’s love to a total stranger.
Dorothy was seven when she first came to Oz. Did she ever grow up,
menstruate (“develop,” Aunt Em might say), kneel down in the dust for a
lanky farm boy? For a split second I’m carrying her in my arms—a heroic
father – through the sunflowers, through the emerald pesticides & the
wind. But it’s just a hallucination. Tap your Adidas together & wake up
in Z’s tenement again, mid-to-late autumn, San Francisco, 2007, staring
up at a storm-gray staircase (I was singing & would soon be carried away
myself, I now remember) sweeping ever upward into blackness, into a
little skylight of night, like a twister—