Shanan Ballam’s newest book, Inside the Animal: The Collected Red Riding Hood Papers, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2019, pushes the persona poem to its most shimmering and starved limit. Blending her voice with the perspectives of a depraved wolf, a blossoming girl, and a wilting grandmother, Ballam continually smashes wide the familiar fairy tale and trades reader comfort for animalistic truth. What empathy can be had for the predator? Is there a love story folded into the sheets of Grandmother’s bed? Would Red Riding Hood slip into the wolf again? Continuing the work begun in her 2010 chapbook The Red Riding Hood Papers and furthered in her 2013 book Pretty Marrow, Ballam writes deeply into new velveteen layers of the aged cautionary tale.
Divided into six parts, the childhood world is rewritten for an adult understanding of intimacy and separation, ecstatic connection and pain. Through her passionate mastery of syntax and imagery, Ballam pulls readers deeper into a psychological landscape as sharp and mesmerizing as a kaleidoscope. The new Poet Laureate of Logan, Utah, as well as current faculty of Utah State University, Ballam writes with the bone-deep need to reclaim the story of monsters and naughty little girls into a truth more complicated and warm. Wholly driven and new, Ballam’s tangled reimagining of the condemning Red Riding Hood fable will mark up the mind.
Reviewed by Brittney Allen