Pins & Needles No. 32: Traci Brimhall

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 32: Traci Brimhall

Q. I really enjoyed how your piece builds a world without exposition, relying on the riotous and grief-filled actions of the “little” citizens to create this vivid tumultuous scene. What advice do you have for other writers on world building, especially in the realm of fairy tales?

I know it sounds a little obvious, but imagine. So often I read poems that borrow from myth or fairy tale and it sounds like they just made a pre-existing story sound pretty. I think for world building with received narratives, you still have be faithful to Pound’s insistence to “make it new.” What do you bring to the story that is yours? In what way does the fabulist world resemble this one? In what ways does it not? What did you make that was not there before besides line breaks?

Q. You’ve got some awesome alliteration going on here, including “ruin religiously,” which has a beautifully oxymoronic tone to it. What’s your favorite unique oxymoron, and how did you come across it?

This is more of a paradox than an oxymoron, but I like the first contradiction I ever heard—free will and predestination do not cancel each other out. I spent a lot of mental energy on that one as a child and came to believe that paradoxes are the most true things in life, and in art, I love pairing an adjective and noun or verb and noun in ways that seem to contradict each other. There’s such wonderful tense energy in that, like sidling up to that word pairing is trying to sneak past Cerberus without three steaks.

Q. The “unwanted children” in your title harken back to the little kings, queens, overseers, tyrants, and rioters of the poem; despite being unwanted and “little,” they have a lot of agency over the piece’s landscape. In what ways do you think children have this kind of power in fairy tales and in real life?

Wanted or unwanted, children are a powerful force. They are still so new to themselves, their moods and desires are so close to the source. I think that’s part of the point of fairy tales—to guide energies into socially sanctioned agency. Wolves teach children about the woods and the perils of strangers. Goldilocks teaches the pitfalls of trespassing and the pleasures of satiety. I like the idea that narrative can do this—shape and steer and satisfy.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.


Traci Brimhall’s poem “Plantation Landscape with a Mob of Unwanted Children and Pollinating Rubber Trees” appeared in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

Plantation Landscape with a Mob of Unwanted Children and Pollinating Rubber Trees

Little knights, little queens, little overseers
of this squalid kingdom. In the dry season
the river retreats, and rocks reveal the faces
of everyone who’s gone missing since the coup.
Not all heroes return. I know; I’ve buried some.
In fact, not all heroes are brave or good or carry
water five miles on their shoulders to wash
their dead sons one last time. Little tyrants rub
the stones faces with coal over paper. It’s like grief
but as innocent as they are. They hang their grave
rubbings from rubber trees whose seeds ripen
and are flung away. Sometimes I hear them land
on the rainforest floor, hear them rooting, hear
their ambitious fertility push into the crowded dirt.
The little rioters burn my textbooks, deface
my portraits of bandeiras, cut up my mapa mundi
and replace each sea monster with a missionary
in large black robes. They ruin religiously, singing
tedious songs as they unbraid my collection of whips
with all the tenderness they once must have known.