In Little Red, Gilbert tells a contemporary verse version of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.
Little Red Riding Hood is one of the original didactic stories about missing and murdered girls/women in a long history of this kind of violence against women—especially in earlier versions where “Wolf leapt upon Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.” It’s also a deeply entrenched lesson in gender roles. In Little Red, Gilbert tells a contemporary verse version of this tale with all of the angst/anxieties of a different time and the dangers that now surround our children. But, she also extends that and suggests some bigger questions: what happens to children when parents are absent? What happens to an aging Red, Grandmother, Woodcutter and Wolf? What happens when “wolf decides to start a family/hopes his past will stay there/and that he can be a good father”? Gilbert suggests: “we have failed our sons/we have failed our daughters” and about wolf, that “we’ve grown so, so tired of his story.”
Enter the world of captivating Little Red, where we encounter a nuanced journey, where beauty co-exists with violence; where the upending of expectation merges with truth, all delivered in exquisite lines and haunting refrains.
Little Red explores stories of girls born into a world of wolves, both wild and predatory. Gilbert’s poems are stickpins that dissect the motives of those who warp innocence into objects and who shine “a lamp on their spread bodies.” Gilbert writes with sharp tweezers, the better to see.
Little Red’s siren call of contemporary warnings and lessons make it seem like Little Red Riding Hood had it easy. Today’s children navigate the danger of wolves, as well as ticks, wildfires, flashers, and graphic news reports. Gilbert’s poems let us know that happily-ever-after may never have been the ideal, and that, more importantly, we must somehow satisfy our other hunger—to find safety in this world.