Writer Judith Taylor (Photo courtesy the Author)

Judith Taylor (Photo courtesy the author)


As the psychoanalysts Jung and Freud both observed, fairy tales frequently reveal more about a culture than its sophisticated literary texts. These are the stories we hear at a young, impressionable age. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, these tales of angelic and evil women, knights on white horses, and wolves in the forest shape our ideas about beauty, love, and danger.

In her latest collection, Sex Libris (What Books Press, 2013), Judith Taylor inventively plays with myths and fairy tale imagery, subversively challenging traditional ideas of what it means to be a woman.

Even the book’s title, Sex Libris, a clever pun on ex libris (a Latin phrase literally meaning “from the books”), makes reference to the common beliefs about love, femininity, and sex found in fairy tales and literature. The title poem conjures Flaubert’s Madame Bovary…

Where’s language’s little pointy bra?

Where’s its waterfally bustier?

Imagination’s crinoline, swish

of woosh? Who’ll give one pence

for a mildewed thong? Fiction’s hint:

fling yourself into something

foolish. New Material razz-

mattazzing with the ruddy body

of syntax. Emma B. says:

“The best amusement in the city

with a varied menu.” (“Cheap

and sassy.”) (“We like the waiters.”)

Taylor’s poems, which are witty and smart, as well as moving and intimate, summon Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks, Salem witches, Stepford wives, night hags, Tosca, princes, Miss Muffet, and James Bond—stories, new and old, about heroes and heroines (and villains too). The title of one poem, “The Thinking Woman’s Dust Mop,” hints at Taylor’s verbal wit.

“When Last She Gazed Out Her Casement Window” is a cunning jab at both the story of Rapunzel and also the Victorian female archetype, a staple in poetry by Tennyson, Browning, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as paintings by male Pre-Raphaelite artists of the period. Like the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, who subversively used the imagery of windows and mirrors to explore female sexuality, Taylor wrests this ancient trope from its literary past and puts a dazzling, modern spin on it. (The poem is included below.)