Preview: A reading from ‘Johnny and Maggie’

Dr. Evelyn Perry will give a verse retelling of Hansel and Gretel, set in WWII Britain, on Thursday in the Forum. Photo from Framingham.edu

Using direct references to archived material and historical events, English Professor Dr. Evelyn Perry, has written a verse retelling of Hansel and Gretel set during the child evacuee situation in WWII Britain.

As part of the Lyceum Lecture Series, Perry will be reading from her manuscript on Thursday, April 14 in the McCarthy Forum at 5pm.

During WWII more than a million children were evacuated from their homes in London. They were sent away by their parents to keep them far from the war and the air raids that were occurring over the city at the time.

The urban-raised children were assigned to new homes in the rural country, kilometers away from their parents, in the hands of total strangers.

“They literally walked from door to door asking, ‘Will you take one of these children?’” said Perry.

For example, she said, a farmer might be looking for a strong male to help in the fields, or a shopkeeper a nice girl to help run the shop. But motives were not always so innocent.

Some of the children did in fact find themselves with a second family they loved dearly, but others weren’t so lucky.

“As you can imagine, they were also selected on the basis of how attractive or clean they were,” she said. “A significant number of these kids were pretty fairly abused. Physically abused, mentally abused, verbally abused, raped, starved, stolen from, left out in the elements and things like that.”

Perry took the Grimm Brothers’ telling of the Hansel and Gretel story and placed it into the context of this often overlooked chapter in British history.

“I tried to change as little as possible from the original story,” said Perry. “The Hansel and Gretel story which we take for granted is actually a pretty dark story.”

Perry marks the phases of the siblings’ journey with an abecedarian poem, a poem that follows every letter of the alphabet. At the end of the poem is a creation Perry calls “The Blitz Folder.”

“The Blitz Folder” contains folded poems in the shape of cootie-catchers, paper planes, whirly-gigs and other interactive forms of poetry.

“The Blitz Folder allows me to take the history, and a lot of kind of random things anteceded to the narrative, and include them,” Perry said.

Perry plans on her reading to be an aesthetic experience. There will be 10 tables, and at each a different fragment of the poem will be available to read and manipulate.

“It’s a very hands-on manuscript,” she said. “Poets usually just read, and artists do a gallery talk, then look at it. I was trying to find my way in between both of those two things.”

Dr. Perry’s reading will be on Thursday, April 14 in the McCarthy Forum at 5pm.

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