There were things in Alice that would give Freud
the creeps. There were things in Caterpillar—
like anal retention and a stellar
denial—that made him the larva
most unlikely to cast aside angry flaws
and thrive. Economists rarely divide
and subtract at the same time, unlike
the Queen of Hearts who'd off the heads of gods
and eat bucketfuls of kidney stew and lard-
laced frosted cakes. Her heartburn was olive green,
the color of nightmares. Forget obscene
sex dreams, Alice saw it all, falling
into gravity-less worlds, crawling
through childhood where no one spoke her language.
DD: I am so happy, Maureen, that you saved the letter you wrote to Marilyn Johnson at Pearl Editions (in July of 2001) explaining our chapbook project. It reads partly, “The idea for Little Novels came about in a discussion Denise and I had regarding the sonnet. We were struck with the way a sonnet encapsulates a narrative. It seemed to us that a single sonnet (especially the contemporary sonnet) can tell a very long story in just fourteen lines. We thought: They’re like little novels!” I remember this conversation! We must have talked about this in the spring or summer of 1996. According to my notes on submissions, we started by sending out the companion poems “Frankenstein,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Prairie Schooner and Indiana Review were the first to take poems from the series. As you know, I’ve always been fond of the “Alice in Wonderland” sonnets which must have been written the following summer since we didn’t send those out until September of 1997. According to our exchanges on the poems, I gently persuaded you to keep them in the chapbook. Do you like the poem now any better? I know sometimes time changes the way we feel about our work. The “kidney stew” in this poem was originally “mutton stew,” but your keen eye noticed there was already mutton in “Jane Eyre 2.” You wrote, “Those English sure are limited meat-wise!”
MS: I was excited every time we began to “shrink” a book. I couldn’t wait to see where those hidden lines of exquisite corpse might lead us—to what imaginary groove. I think we could have written a dozen or more sonnets about Wonderland, Denise, and I would still have wanted more. How about it? The project seems so rarefied to me now as I look back on that summer (those summers?) in New York. Focused. Magical. Had The Gap opened yet to the cold shoulders of East Villagers? Was there a demon Starbucks across from the behemoth Barnes and Noble? How lucky we’ve been, writing together all these years. It’s true, time can change the way we feel about our work—and, in this case, I’m all in!