[re]construction of the necromancer by Hannah V. Warren
–winner of Sundress Publications’ eighth annual chapbook competition–
Review by Lauren Davis
Many of us have internalized the watered-down version of Hansel and Gretel, where the kids seem sweet and the gingerbread house seems sweeter. The Grimm’s original tale is darker. The Warren tale is darker still. But history has the bleakest story of all.
From 1315 through 1317, there was famine in Europe. An estimated twenty-five percent of people in urban areas died. The elderly volunteered to starve. People dug up graves to eat the dead. And according to an Estonian chronicle, in 1315, “mothers were fed their children.”
Warren’s Gretel will not be eaten. Instead, she feasts. She meshes with the forest. She has two mother figures, and she is stronger than both. Alternating between first person and third person, these poems sit at the edge of “leaves & bones” while Gretel travels through trauma and abandonment, reclaiming her body as its own savior.
In an interview with Kyle Teller, a Creative Writing Ph.D. candidate at The University of Kansas, Warren says, “Transformation is an act, a process, a tangible outcome. It’s a way to move forward and discover a newness, a way to leave something else behind.” In [re]construction of the necromancer, we leave behind the old Gretel. She is not defined by her abandonment, unless we consider that it is abandonment that forces her into her own strength.
It’s easy to feel a little tricked by Warren’s language. We’re lulled with writing that feels lush and lovely, while all along the bodies cook. Take these lines from “Forgetting the Price of Liverwurst”:
I reconstruct who I may have been
before my unbirth mother taught me
to drain femurs for marrow or to ribbon
thyme & rosemary together for roasting
two eyes & calloused ﬁngertips rough
from shelling beans & skinning potatoes
my body is growing & I wonder if I’ll have
cartilage thin wings or a throat full of gills
a month ago my unbirth mother would
have known how to pluck my feathers
she would have sweet thickened my hips
with ginger & told me that growing girls
need plumstreusel & sinewy calves
to feed the pressure in their wombs
Warren’s style is all stone fruit and spice. We stay with these poems not only for their drama, but also for their beauty. Is it any wonder that the woodland fuses with such a wild child?
Because of Warren, we learn to respect the breadcrumbs. They lead where the girls are forever.
Hannah V Warren is a poet, storyteller, and speculative literature scholar. [re]construction of the necromancer is the winner of the Sundress Publications 2019 chapbook competition. Among other journals, her works have found homes in Redivider, Moon City Review, and Mid-American Review. Warren has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas and is a PhD student in English at the University of Georgia.
Publisher: Sundress Publications
Lauren Davis is the author of Home Beneath the Church, forthcoming from Fernwood Press, and the chapbook Each Wild Thing’s Consent, published by Poetry Wolf Press. She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and she teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books. She is a former Editor in Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier and has been awarded a residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Her work has appeared in over fifty literary publications and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Ibbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere.
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.