Valerie Volk

Valerie Volk has always been a closet writer, starting as a seven-year-old with a collection of embarrassingly bad fairy stories. In the intervening decades as a student, teacher, lecturer, examiner, researcher, education program director, wife, mother of four, and grandmother of six, writing has been a secret indulgence. Now, in this new life as an author, she has published many poems, award-winning short stories, and two books: In Due Season, a collection of poems that won the national Omega Writers’ CALEB Poetry award in 2010, and A Promise of Peaches, a verse novel, in 2011. Her third book, Even Grimmer Tales, is a collection of twisted adaptations of the already dark tales of the Brothers Grimm, and her fourth book is nearing completion. In her lighter moments, she loves reading, film, theatre, travel, classical music, especially opera, jazz and people watching – a never-ending source of interest.


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The Brothers Grimm wrote many tales.
My volume is a fair bit slimmer.
Their stories were for children’s eyes.
My tales are really somewhat grimmer.
So enter the dark woods with me.
My forests are a different kind.
These verses show what lies within
the caves and crannies of the mind.

Little Red Riding Hood

A young girl in a red cape – pretty obvious how she got her name – is asked by her mother to deliver food to a sick grandmother. She walks through the woods, where a wolf suggests she picks flowers to take with her. While the girl, clearly a gullible child, does this, he hurries to the grandmother’s cottage, where he gobbles up the elderly lady, takes her clothes and her place in the bed. Red Riding Hood is surprisingly convinced by this substitution, though intrigued by the changed appearance of the old woman, and queries the large ears, eyes, and finally, teeth. “All the better to gobble you up,” he says – and proceeds to do so. But all is well! Both victims are saved by a passing woodsman, who uses his axe to free them from the wolf!


“So do you always dream in colour?”
he asks me.

I stare around his office. Typical shrink talk.
Questions, questions, questions. “How did you feel when …?”
“Have you imagined that ..?” “When your father beat
your mother, did you ever …?” “And when your little sister died
how did you…?

I won’t talk to you about, Herr Dr Hempelmeier.
Forget it, or I’m leaving.

Except, I can’t.
Not till you tell the guards
to take me back

through corridors of steel
and gratings, locking
me in with my thoughts.

Do I dream in colours?
Yes, red. Blood
red. Maybe blue, black and white,
if she’d worn something different.
We’ll never know.

She knew what she was doing,
tripping through the forest past my hut.
A dozen other paths she could have taken.

But no, always this one. Stopping

at my gate, if I was digging
in the garden.

Her mother must have warned her.
Other children kept well clear of any
scent of sweets.
Not her

daring me with raven curls
above the garden gate.

I tell you that she waited for me.
She knew I’d come.

“Off to Grandma’s.”
Her excuse.
A basket full of cakes and pies.
“Have some?
Mum won’t know.”

And something else besides?

But still no further than the gate.
Well taught.

Easy to follow that red lure
to Grandma’s. Many times.
I’m sure she knew.
Anticipation’s sometimes
better than the act …

The day I got there first
she didn’t even hear
old woman’s muffled feeble cries
behind the wardrobe door.

was more inviting.
She knew what she was doing.

Lies, all lies.
That story of a woodsman rushing in.
True there was an axe.
But only me. And Red.

Funny really,
the way the stain merged with her cape.
You couldn’t see it till
the pool grew to the lake
that drowns me every night.

Wonder if she’d worn a blue dress …
Different story then.

Perhaps my dreams
would be a different colour?

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