5° is a poem of thirty-five interlocking parts that combines a seemingly strange set of images and subjects to form a whole. The poem takes place in a mysterious city in which it is 5°. The subjects seem totally disconnected- Houdini; John Dee, English mystic and mathematician; Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh; Nazi occupation; Persephone and the underworld; and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Each poem could stand on its own, but when read in sequence the images of iron, exploration, nightingales, ice, stars, coins, and angels begin to connect the poems intimately. There are allegorical and fantastical elements, but I’ll leave that to the individual reader. Christopher’s writing is very accessible, which is a way of saying that he doesn’t write holier-than-thou-snotty-abstract poems that take a PhD in literature to “understand.” At the same time, he is an inventive and skilled poet. 5° is an enjoyable read that sparks the imagination.
The book also includes twenty-five lyrical and narrative poems, including one of my favorites, “Terminus.” These poems range from the reflective coming-of-age poem “The Quiñero Sisters” to a reflection on the Los Angeles riots in 1992 in “May Day, 1992.” “The Palm Reader” gives the reader a glimpse into the all-too-human life of a – wait for it – palm reader. Her husband, drinking a beer, serves lunch to the kids in the living room on paper plates. Several of these poems also contain mystical elements, which seem to be a favorite of Christopher’s. “Your Father’s Ghost” contains a taxi driver with one are, one eye, and one ear. The car only has wheels on one side. In “Bees,” each of the five stanzas give a short magical quality of bees, ending with Cellini’s statue of Medusa with bees for hair instead of snakes. The statue emitted a low hum. These poems are intelligent and well-crafted; every reader can find something valuable that he or she can take away from this collection.
If you have ever questioned whether graphic novels can be as poignant and powerful as traditional novels or memoirs, Stitches proves that they can. In fact, I don’t think David Small’s memoir could be told as powerfully in any other format.
David’s mother was a “difficult” person to live with, and everyone in the house retreated into their own forms of silence. Tragically and ironically, David is left a virtual mute at the age of fourteen after what he thought would be a simple operation to remove a cyst in his throat. It was cancer, but no one thought he needed to know that. As his family crumbles under his mother’s austere dictatorship and his father’s belief that he gave David the cancer, David finds his voice through art and escapes the mental illness that seems to haunt his mother’s side of the family.
The simple artwork in Stitches captures the mood of the Small family perfectly. Pages will go by without a word, beautifully capturing the silence and agony David was experiencing. It would take pages and pages of text to describe what Small is able to express in a few simply rendered panels.
This is a great graphic novel and memoir. Check it out here.
Another great ARC from ijustfinished.com
I was a little shocked by Touching from a Distance. The biopic Control, which sticks to the mythical post-punk ideal of Ian Curtis as a tortured epileptic poet / musician who was torn between his love for two women, is based on Deborah Curtis’ memoir. She even had a hand in producing the biopic. What’s shocking is Deborah does not champion that myth in her memoir.
Deborah makes it clear very early in the memoir when discussing the budding stages of her and Ian’s relationship that Ian had some issues that went beyond the typical late-teenager brooding. He told her from the beginning that he had no intention to live past his twenties. He loved the melodramatic. He had wild mood swings and was often unpredictable and awkward socially. One day he was kind and generous, the next he was controlling and cruel. As Ian and the band become more successful, Ian shut Deborah out of that part of his life, going so far as to tell the band and friends invented stories about Deborah and their home life so there would be no communication between the two parties. He became a master manipulator, juggling two lives.
It would be easy to chalk up Deborah’s recollections as that of the scorned woman, but I felt she was genuinely trying to figure out the big question everyone has when a loved one commits suicide- why? And I don’t think she felt obligated to safeguarding his mythical rock status if it kept her from getting closer to answering the question. It was a liberating read in the sense that the fans rarely get to see how petty, selfish, and cruel our heroes are. We hold them above such base human characteristics. The media sells the myth. We focus on the talent, the art, as if that is all that makes them who they are.
Deborah never doubts or demeans Ian’s talent. She often applauds his work ethic and drive. He was a great performer. The music is what it is- beautiful and original.
But in the end, Ian had little connection to the realities of life. He went from living with his parents who took care of him, to living with Deborah who took care of him, to being in a band where the manager took care of him. His mental disorder, whatever it would have been diagnosed as, was compounded by the fact that he never had to focus on anything outside of himself, and everyone wanted him to give more. Ultimately, he did the most selfish thing he could think of.