March 29, 2021

Book Review, By Kelly Jarvis: Cold Press Moon

Fairy tales are endlessly fascinating. Since the beginning of recorded history, storytellers, writers, and artists have taken the simple plots and characters of fairy tales and spun them into something new. Dennis Cooley takes his turn at transforming fairy tales by shaping them with lyrical language in his poetry anthology
cold press moon.  

The poems in the book are divided by tale type, moving from fairy tales like “Goldilocks” and “Snow White” into Gothic works like Frankenstein and Dracula. Within each division are several vignettes which pull readers into the dark settings of the stories where secrets reside. There are deep forests filled with mysteries and castles suspended in time. The moon features as a recurring image throughout the settings of the poems; it is “a lyric moon/ clear as acrylic” that “floats on a pan of dark water” in the “Hansel and Gretel” tale. The young men who are impaled on the thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle are “torn open under the moon’s bright eye”, Mother Gothel “counts the moon” to chart the passage of time, and “a thin lemon of moon squeezes over” the sisters Snow White and Rose Red.   

Cooley adds to traditional fairy tales by focusing on characters whose voices are not often heard. There are plenty of monsters in these irreverent tales, but there is humor as well. In “The Frog and The Princess” section, the King and Queen engage in a silly argument over the merits of their daughter’s “new boyfriend,” debating whether he is a sweet “melted gumdrop” or a “blown-up leaf of spinach.” These lighthearted moments are punctuated by melancholy meditations, and Cooley is at his best when he features the voices of sad men who are caught in tales they have not chosen. His Rumpelstiltskin character, from the section titled “Gold Finger,” is madly in love with the miller’s daughter, and Sleeping Beauty’s prince, from the section titled “Two-Thirds of the Sun,” feels compelled to kiss the princess only because that is what his story expects. Cooley is tender and sympathetic to both male and female figures as he explores the gendered relationships of traditional tales. 

My favorite section, titled “The Lost Children,” is “Hansel and Gretel” re-telling described as “a story of waiting.” Cooley captures both the loneliness of the children who run beneath “stars spread like shrapnel in the frozen air” and the anguish of the father whose voice “sounds like corn ripped open” as he laments the loss of his own children and mourns for all lost children who are far from home. The father wonders about his own role in the story, contemplating whether he is a hero, donor, or villain, and questioning how Cooley, the poet turned character, will change the plot of his story. These metacognitive elements of the poems push readers to traverse the liminal space between the poet, the characters, and themselves. 

Cooley’s style is contemporary and experimental. Each section features a different form, but all the poems are united by his use of enjambment, internal rhyme, and stunning imagery. The poetry is complex, but Cooley’s love for playing with language and invoking famous stories is evident in phrases that reference “curds & why” and “the stings & eros of cupidinous fortune.” In his section titled “By the River Sticks,” ambrosia flows “in pizza and in barley suds,” crossing the barrier between the mythological and the everyday. The poems are a fun-filled feast of word play and intertextuality, and they leave the reader thinking about the stories that have shaped our history. 

Cooley’s poetry, which is easy to read but challenging to understand, ignites the imagination. Beneath every traditional tale is something more to be discovered, and Cooley’s poems seep with the magic of storytelling. This collection of poetry cast silvery shadows across the endlessly fascinating fairy tales that I love, making me reimagine the stories and the cold press moon that hovers above us all, in new, disturbing, and beautiful new ways.


Kelly Jarvis is EC’s Special Projects writer.


Anonymous said...

Great review! I'll have to pick up a copy for one of my summer reads:)

Deborah Sage said...

Wonderful review. I must get this book