How to Flirt in Faerieland & Other Wild Rhymes

How to Flirt in Faerieland & Other Wild Rhymes by C.S.E. Cooney

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Do you know how to flirt in Faerieland? C.S.E. Cooney does. In this collection of seventeen poems — four never before published — you’ll find goblins, crones, robber brides, coyotes, and even a sea king. Cooney draws from folklore and myth to create something entirely her own, something glimpsed only in Faerie. From the raucous and bawdy to the sorrowful dirge, these poems will work upon you like a spell. Inside you’ll find seven original illustrations by artist/tattooist Rebecca Huston, who also provided the artwork used on the cover.


Introduction by Amal El-Mohtar

“There is a step missed in the title to this collection—a question that should have been asked. How, the canny traveller to places strange might ask, ought I to behave in the Land of Faerie?

Comes our own C.S.E. Cooney’s answer, sure as dawn: Flirt. And then she demonstrates.

Faerie Land returns our desires like a mischievous mirror. Hunger for it, and it consumes you; shun it, and it will stalk you; but flirt with it, meet it in a twilit land of halves, offer nothing that is quite whole or wholesome, and it may well flirt back.”

Goblin Girls (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2009)
Bluebeard’s Tale
Gobdon, Goblintown
Ride of the Robber Bride (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2011)
How to Flirt in Faerieland (Cabinet des Fées, May 2011)
On the Wide River Road (Goblin Fruit, Summer 2010)
Ere One Can Say It Lightens (Mythic Delirium 22)
Wild Over Tombs Does Grow (Doorways, Spring 2008 – 2009 Rhysling Nominated)
Cody Coyote (Goblin Fruit, Summer 2009)
Coyote Does Chicago (Goblin Fruit, Summer 2009)
Sing Hey Caity-Hey!
Sedna (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2008 – 2009 Rhysling Nominated)
Dogstar Men (Apex Magazine, Issue 15 – 2011 Rhysling Winner 3rd Place: Short Form)
Love Song to Beowulf (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2008)
The Latin for Peach
The Last Crone on the Moon (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2011)
The Sea-King’s Second Bride (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2010 – 2011 Rhysling Winner, 1st Place: Long Form)

Sea King © Rebecca Huston 2012
Sea King © Rebecca Huston 2012

“This is a poetry collection like no other I’ve ever read. Cooney marries the old and the new, the trad and the out-there, the lyrical and the bawdy, the beautiful and the creep-creep-creepy. Many of her poems suggest melodies, just in reading aloud. And many of them made me laugh out loud.” — DELIA SHERMAN, author of The Freedom Maze and winner of the Mythopoeic Award (1994) for The Porcelain Dove.

“Cooney is drunk on words, and we readers drink a toast to her as well.” — JANE YOLEN, winner of the Grand Master Award from SFPA, the Science Fiction/Fantasy Poetry Association.

“A headlong romp through a fey countryside peopled with goblins and bogles and the stray Robber Bride. C.S.E. Cooney piles up words and rhymes and glittering images like so much sea glass on the shore. Sublime, sublime-o.” – SHARON SHINN, author of The Shape-Changer’s Wife (among many others) and winner of the William C. Crawford Award for Outstanding New Fantasy Writer (1996).

“C.S.E. Cooney is the only poet I can think of who can make rhyming lines get up off the page and kick your ass. Clever, sexy, wistful, wicked, absolutely hilarious. People will tell you that the Rhysling-winning “The Sea-King’s Second Bride” is worth the price of the book. I’m not telling you they’re wrong. I’m adding that the same could be said of most any of the other poems collected here.” — NICOLE KORNHER-STACE, author of The Winter Triptych & Desideria.

“Wicked delights pounce from every page, calling forth a thousand perilous giggles and repeated sighs of agreement from those who dare plumb this sweet cache of cunningly crafted words! I felt such shivers and such simultaneous comfort as I rocked between the poet’s ruthless sense of rhyme and her deft navigation of both old- and new-world bardic rhythms. There is no sweeter ride than this.” — S.J. TUCKER, musician and songstress whose albums include Michief, Sirens, Tangles, and more.

“At first I felt strongly that How to Flirt in Faerieland required a soundtrack. The opening poems are unabashedly ballads, with strange narrative gaps for the imagination to fill in, nonsense words in the choruses, rhythms that seem not quite right but that you understand would fall perfectly if only you knew the tune or an antique
pronunciation of some of the words. Some of the poems are wild, some moving, some a wonderfully unsettling amalgam of the nastier Child ballads and Lewis Carroll. You read on, looking for the elusive tunes that will make them settle down.

But they won’t settle; this is not that kind of book. None of these first poems is entirely serious nor entirely frivolous. Rather, the verses rocket back and forth between extremes, veering sideways into sentiment, lyrical description, satire, and sheer joyous goofiness. And for all their lovely, fractured ballad form, these are contemporary poems, almost every one with a sudden twist away from any traditional story they may evoke or pretend to be imitating. Women have agency; if they are in distress, they decide what to do about it; they are irate and cunning and tender and uncompromising and clever and sarcastic and foolish and wise.

And just as you get the rhythm, in step, out of step, back in again, it all changes. Here’s a piece of blank verse with intervals of natural dialogue and an abrupt, emotionally harrowing ending. And then here’s a piece of free verse, the best kind, seeming effortless but every word put just so, a horror story where, after the horror, when the supernatural begins, rhymes creep in also.

And then, when you have caught your breath in one way and lost it in another, the songs come back for three poems or so, including a huge narrative of whales and bone and terror. After that, there’s “Love Song to Beowulf,” probably the single most personal and sensuous description of reading anything that one is ever likely to run across. Then gardens and peach jam; and then, astonishing, lavish and stark at once, a science-fiction fairy tale, the elements not separable, the conclusion so startling and right at once that tears start to your eyes: “The Last Crone on the Moon.”

I wanted the book to end there and I didn’t. The book does not end there. It slips back into song again, to “The Sea-King’s Second Bride,” a long intricate narrative veering wildly from ancient to modern, from terrifying to hilarious, from rhyme to free verse, and back again, to a profoundly satisfying conclusion. And you realize, this time, that you know the tune and how to dance to it. So then you start all over again and read the whole book from the beginning.” — PAMELA DEAN, winner of the Mythopoeic Award (1992) for her novel, Tam Lin.