Jeanine Hall Gailey She Returns to the Floating World

Rebirth in a Different Tongue: Japanese Fairy-tales in American Verse


Gina Barnard



Jeannine Hall Gailey’s second book, She Returns to the Floating World, (Kitsune Books 2011) is a collection inspired by and that recreates Japanese folk-tales, anime, and Shinto spirits to evoke a Japanese world within reach for readers in English.


She frames the book with the tale of the kitsune, a fox who shapeshifts into women. With vivid sensory detail, Gailey invites us into the Fox-wife’s world with descriptions such as, the “smell of smashed leaves underfoot,” “the curl beneath the bedsheets,” and “our noses were flames in the forest. The light of torn paper lanterns is never true, the moonlight uneven.” Also the haunting detail of the “taste of rust in the mouths” reverberates throughout the book.


Then we are shifted into the fox-wife’s husband’s perspective. In “The Fox-Wife’s Husband Considers the Warning Signs,” he sees the fox-wife gnawing on her forearm; he says, “sometimes when you thought you were alone, you gnawed on your forearm. // You kept a collection of bones in the house.”


Also, Gailey is deft through crafting and recreating the Japanese haibun form. Her haibun poems echo each other throughout the book, weaving readers deeper into these tales. In the seventeenth-century, poet Bashō popularized the haibun form in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which were travel sketches interspersed with short form haiku. In the haibun form, prose is juxtaposed against a short poem, haiku. A successful haibun creates a layered effect—the essence of the lyric moment in the short haiku is emphasized by the build-up in the prose leading up to the haiku.


The poems in She Returns to the Floating World shape Gailey’s Floating World, echoing each other, allowing readers to escape into these worlds much like the original Floating World’s purpose—to offer escape and pleasure.