Hannah V Warren's [re]construction of the necromancer
by Kyle Teller, creative writing P.h.D. student
Fairy tales, cannibals, forests, and powerful women, Hannah V Warren's upcoming poetry chapbook [re]construction of the necromancer reimagines the tale of "Hansel and Gretel" as Gretel's story, the story of a young girl abandoned in the woods and adopted by a hungry witch. In Warren's haunting reinvention of the fairy tale classic, Gretel transforms her childhood trauma, her body, and her relationships in order to survive.
Warren graduated from KU's MFA creative writing program in 2019 and recently started her Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Georgia in Athens. From beneath the boughs of Georgia trees, Warren talked to me about the transformations in her writing, her chapbook, and her plans for the future.
KT: How would you describe your upcoming chapbook, [re]construction of the necromancer?
HW: This collection is tough. It’s filled with the iron of my gut. It will bite back. At the core of [re]construction of the necromancer is my psychoanalytical study of Gretel’s abandonment—her need to form a new body that hasn’t experienced the jolt of being unwanted.
KT: Your chapbook is a retelling of the Brothers Grimms' "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale, with a (somehow) darker twist. How did you work on this reinvention, and what do fairy tale reinventions offer you as a writer?
HW: I’ve always loved fairy tales, especially the dark ones—the bleeding feet, the sharp-toothed mice. The more macabre, the better. Women’s bodies are so very often at the center of these narratives. They’re the laborers, the wailers, the handless. Although fairy tales always end in morals, they never end on a warning for women’s bodies. At the end of Maggie Smith’s reinvented “Little Red Riding Hood” poem, “Vanishing Point,” she writes, “Let it not be a fable for others.” When I work with fairy tales, I think a great deal about the morals I’m erasing and the new ones I’m creating. This is the crux of revisioning fairy tales: it gives writers the power to resist the traditional narratives. Gretel will no longer return to the father who abandoned her but will instead learn to rely on her own body.
KT: I am seeing a rise in the villain retellings in all media forms (monster monologues, villain tales, even Maleficent is getting her sequel), but I have not heard about these two children since the original Brothers Grimms' tale. Why Hansel and Gretel? Or, should I say, why Gretel and the witch?
HW: At the basis of my answer, I must truly say that I wanted to write about cannibalism and the female grotesque, thus Gretel’s story felt like a natural entryway. When I began writing these linked poems, I didn’t expect the forest witch to play a large part, but she crept in as the misplaced mother figure I never wanted. I think often about non-traditional family units, how women form relationships with each other that outweigh shared genetics. These ideas slowly crept into the manuscript. I wanted a mother who wouldn’t leave Gretel, one Gretel would have to leave instead. The witch, or the unbirth mother, allowed me to show how Gretel learned to make her own choices with her body.
KT: Is the mother a villain? How does the chapbook address the idea of heroes, victims, and villains?
HW: I’m going to say maybe an unpopular thing: I’m truly uninvested in the separation between villains and heroes. Who is the hero? The woman who abandons a child in the forest to save food for the rest of the family? Or the woman who offers her own body to her starving children, leaving them to fend for themselves after it’s all said and done? Or should we enter a stalemate and all die together? Either way, the kids are not all right. It’s clear in the Grimms’ tale: the cannibal witch is evil, along with the stepmother who encouraged the abandonment. Somehow, the father gets outta this hullabaloo guilt-free because his wife “gave him no peace until he agreed.” Useless. I think I mention him once in my manuscript. I wanted these lines to blur a bit when I revised the characters. Gretel is absolutely a victim. She also eats her brother with thyme and rosemary. The forest witch is a cannibal. She is also a loving mother figure. The birth mother abandons her children. She also starves to death. My goal was to write everyone with multiplicities. Maybe Hansel became the only true villain character, a complete switch from his general innocence in the Grimms’ version.
KT: I often expect titles to be stolen from the main piece in a collection, or, for this chapbook, expected it to scream "Hansel and Gretel." How did you arrive at the title for this chapbook?
HW: These poems fit inside a larger manuscript—[re]construction of forest animal—that explores how women transform their bodies as a way to overcome their trauma. I didn’t plan to write so very extensively about Hansel and Gretel. When I found I couldn’t leave their story, though, I started formulating a devoted chapbook. Since these poems spread across my larger work, I wanted to keep pieces of the title. I won’t get into it, but this Gretel holds a bit more power in her hands than the Grimms’ version, and she determines when she uses it.
KT: What does the future look like in the world of [re]construction of the necromancer? Is this future related to our real-world present?
HW: Our present is too much of an apocalypse for Gretel, I think. For me, this fairy tale has a happy ending: Gretel grows into herself, accepts that her childhood trauma is part of her body but no longer allows her circumstances to control her. I imagine when she’s at the local market, she probably avoids the smoked meats.
KT: Gretel is a transformative character, quite literally. Her body changes with and becomes part of nature. Do you see transformation as an act, a process, a physical idea, or something else entirely?
HW: We all transform. Every day, we change to fit our surroundings and our bodies’ current needs. We cut our hair. We ink our skin with objects and ideas we love. We stand in front of mirrors, pinch our ribcages. We plant things in our bodies in hopes of changing our lives or maintaining consistency. In my manuscript, Gretel takes this normal act of alteration to an extreme, trying to mesh with the forest, an entity that never harmed her. Can any of us say we haven’t done something rash with our bodies in the midst of a crisis? 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.
KT: This is your debut chapbook after an extensive series of publications. Which writers’ work inspired you most?
HW: I find myself returning again and again to women who aren’t afraid to write about the grotesque, the weird, the monstrous. I love Danielle Pafunda, Donika Kelly, and Alice Notley. Thinking about fiction, Ursula Le Guin and Nalo Hopkinson are never far from my mind.
KT: Do you have any writing habits, tricks, or odd sources of inspiration to delve into a speculative poetry mindset?
HW: I read. A lot. I have a crazy-pants notebook where I keep poets’ and storytellers’ language/ideas I really love, and I return to those pages over and over again while I’m writing. I believe that writing is reading and reading is writing, and I’m never too far from a poetry collection that leans speculative in some way or another. Otherwise, I’m an average bean who just writes some lines down and tries to figure out how that stuff can make a poem I’d like to read.
KT: What are you interested in writing next?
HW: On the backburner, I’m sending out the longer collection that Gretel lives in. Fingers crossed that she finds a new home soon that loves the bits of moss and horn she carries with her. With [re]construction of the necromancer as an example, I tend to write poems that blend together in a sequence. Right now, I’m working on a longer collection that revolves around a pair of sisters who are trying against all odds to survive an environmental apocalypse. I don't know if I’ll ever tear myself away from my fixation on women’s relationships. There are dozens of dinosaurs hiding in these poems, as well, and I’m in the process of figuring out how all these pieces connect for me. I’m revising and revising again.
KT: You’re also an admitted Slytherin and Hogwarts scholar. Does this have anything to do with your witch and necromancer interests?
HW: I feel like the HP universe is always haunting me. Don’t all our interests intersect in some way? The witch stories I write tend to be a little wilder in terms of nature, grotesque in a different way than Rowling’s. We’re writing from the same histories, I suppose. In my first poetry class in undergrad, I wrote a poem about Harry Potter in therapy. I’m trying to find it on my laptop, but it looks like I’ve hidden the file from myself, probably with good reason. I do recall the line, “I don’t want your fucking tea.” Seems I’ve always been on the path of trauma and magic.
[re]construction of the necromancer is the winner of the Sundress Publications 2019 chapbook competition and will be published and available for purchase in January 2020. For more of Hannah V Warren's works right now, check out her website hannahvwarren.com and follow her on Twitter or Instagram @hannahvwarren.