Inside the Animal: The Collected Red Riding Hood Poems is available now for purchase! Just click on the button below the cover image to place your order.
Reading Shanan Ballam’s Red Riding Hood poems is very much like a sip of morning’s first cup of handground strong black coffee: there is the craving, heat, aroma, the familiar cupgrasp and then the taste of a new day and re-realization of what it means to be awake—all the senses alert, mind focused, the day’s first probing in hand. These are poems that re-welcome you to the reimagined, redrawn world of childhood, poignantly, delightfully.
- David Lee, Inaugural Poet Laureate of Utah 1997-2002 and 2001 finalist for the position of United States Poet Laureate
“…our story cupped/in the savage/shade between us”— in the hands of a prodigiously gifted poet, a traditional tale—girl, red cloak, grandmother, wolf, bed, basket, mouth–become shifting figures in a dazzling, incandescent kaleidoscope of meanings, “a tangle/of fur and velvet.” In a passionately driven language, an astonishing profusion of gorgeous images and changing perspectives, interiority’s complex drama is given full range: “This time, let us not simplify/ our desires…”
-Eleanor Wilner, 2019 recipient of the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry presented annually by the Poetry Society of America
In this expansion of her remarkable chapbook The Red Riding Hood Papers, Shanan Ballam probes further into the psychic depths of the fairy tale through a prism of empathy, erudition, and wonder. The poems are set in an inner landscape, lushly described, charged with allure and menace, terrifyingly beautiful. The characters, wolf included, draw you in with them on their solitary quests for intimacy and renewal. This is a stunning collection. Remember the name: Shanan Ballam.
No first book in the usual sense, Pretty Marrow is the work of a mature poet, one of remarkable talent. These poems electrify with the boldness of Olds and the fierceness and musical mastery of Plath. Rooted in rural Utah, they reflect an external landscape where stunning natural beauty is under siege as “a backhoe guts/ the wetland, crushes cattails,/ carves a slow, muddy canal” and where “family” often functions as a hazard warning. But the main landscape, darkly alluring as a haunted forest, is internal. Throughout the collection, Ballam probes and, finally, celebrates “the tender violence of our singularity.” This book deserves a spot high up on your must-read list.
- William Trowbridge, Poet Laureate of Missouri 2012 - 2016
Beware appearances, the poems of Pretty Marrow seem to argue. That scrap of paper might be an albino trout, your grandmother a wolf, your beloved house an act of arson waiting for the fated night.
In her debut collection, Shanan Ballam looks trouble squarely in the eye—whatever its source. The result? A book of brave, unflinching witness, tempered by the promise of transformation. A book you’ll want to get your hands on. Why continue to wade through swamps and freezing snow? Why ask searing questions?
Like the rest of us, her speakers hope to be “swirled away to a place unblemished, where light can pour its honey on your face.”
- Lance Larsen, Poet Laureate of Utah 2012 to 2017 and recipient of the Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Red Riding Hood Papers draws us into the dark world of Grimm and Kafka. Its woods are full of menace, allure, and metamorphoses, of fang and howl, dread and appetite. Things turn inside out, time goes haywire, heights become depths, prey becomes predator and predator prey. We are cast among life-or-death struggles at the core of our subconscious life, where “Wolf will always be waiting, the girls always/watching, maybe inside, maybe outside, in the sky.” Yet through this darkness runs a strong current of compassion and survival. And thanks to the gifts of this author, the rhythms and music of these poems register as bone-deep as their narratives and archetypes. This has to be one of the year’s best chapbooks.
- William Trowbridge, Poet Laureate of Missouri 2012-2016
In her striking new chapbook, Shanan Ballam intersperses poems that explicitly invoke Red Riding Hood with poems about domestic and sexual abuse, using the fairy tale to remind us of the dreamlike strangeness and violence of our actual, everyday world, both human and natural. Thus, the poems give powerful voice to victimhood, but even more importantly, through their unexpected word choices and linebreaks, they remind us not only of the hardness of our world but of its remarkable beauty.
- Katharine Coles, Poet Laureate of Utah 2006-2012 and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
"Outside, the sky darkens
like a bruise. the blue fragrance of spring
snow. Red Riding Hood is on both sides
of the window."
This is the story of a sister's long journey through spouse abuse, juxtaposed with the story of Red Riding Hood, told in the voices of every character you've never heard from before, from the wolf to the bed, from the grandma to the door, every character carrying a weight that lifts only through the reading. Once you start, you have to finish. The transformation begins where the "brown boot thuds," and ends with the speaker's "last wisp of breath," her hand on the trigger.
Chilling, provocative, redeeming.
- Star Coulbrooke, Poet Laureate of Logan City 2014-2019 and founder of the Helicon West Reading Series in Logan, Utah.