20 June 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 2
Everyday Muse: A Review of Christine Stewart-Nuñez's Unbound & Branded
Unbound & Branded
Finishing Line Press, 2006.
30 pages. $12.00.
Check Amazon.com or Powell's Books.
How often are you a bad girl? How often do you want to be? Unbound & Branded, Dr. Christine Stewart-Nuñez's newest chapbook explores the bad girl Kate Moss, telling her "Shake your sweet / ass as you walk." I can say honestly that Kate Moss and I have never been friends. Even when young, vulnerable, and with loads of cultural literacy while perusing slinky images splayed in Vogue and Cosmo, I simply couldn't have picked Kate Moss from a line-up. I'm not even sure I'd want to, even today. And yet Unbound & Branded has given me a different Kate Moss. A Kate Moss who can "tear down the wall," "peel back the universe," "spend your whole paycheck on yourself," and even, "tell the boss / to fuck off."
Unbound & Branded is a collection of ekphrastic poetry based on a forty page portfolio of photos and paintings responding to Kate Mass which appeared in the September 2003 issue of W magazine. Ekphrastic means art responding to art. Is Kate Moss art? Stewart-Nuñez seems to think so. In the pantoum poem "Baby Queens," a poem that breaks a few rules, Stewart-Nuñez asks the reader to consider the fashioned construct of masculinity. In the poem, Stewart-Nuñez contrasts Moss with a group of young boys in "Pumas and Nikes, ready to run / while Moss kicks back in jeans—a plaid-shirted foil." Foil indeed. Moss seems to lean back, relax. She's the point from which these boys flee, "Manhood defined as a flight from the feminine." And yet so tellingly, Stewart-Nuñez questions why these boys "clutch Hermes purses, Louis Vuitton." If femininity is so bad, even that which is embodied by Moss, why do those gendered male adorn themselves, brand themselves with "Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Chanel?" Perhaps we all are a bit infatuated with Moss. Maybe want to be her.
"Do you want to be this girl?" Stewart-Nuñez asks in "Everyday Muse" a poem after a photograph by Lisa Yuskavage. Here Moss is described as a "Psychedelic sex / kitten," a "playboy bunny," and an "everyday girl / [who] morphs into everyday muse." The poem seems to be asking us to accept Moss as our muse, the sprite we adopt to become Moss ourselves, "After you've achieved her look / do tell." And how we become Moss, it's "Not what you say, [but] what you wear." Branded yes. That is the way fashion would have us believe.
Other deliciously provocative poems in Unbound & Branded include "Obsession," recounting how a young girl emulates Moss by starvation. "Manufactures' Notes," a found poem, documents the slippage between woman, brand, commodity, fashion. "Flying Eyes" lists all the eyes on Moss, "You can't even sit in an airplane / at age fourteen without someone noticing / what's in you for her." "Litany for Kate" asks us to consider what Moss is with a litany of "as ifs": Helen of Troy or Virgin Mary or human.
Ultimately, Unbound & Branded is a tightly bound meditation on Moss, suggesting I think, that whether we loathe or love the icon, we are obsessed with her. And Stewart-Nuñez is the only one daring enough to admit it. After all, in "Bad Girl" she writes, "Don't smile, and they'll take cues from you."
Dr. Christine Stewart-Nuñez received her Ph.D. in English (creative writing) with a certificate of specialization in Women's and Gender Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, her M.A. in English (literature) from Arizona State University, and her B.A. in English Education from the University of Northern Iowa. She has taught high school English at Tempe High (Arizona) and Tarsus American College (Turkey) and college classes at Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At UNL she received a 2007 College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Teaching Assistant Award. Her creative writing reflects her interdisciplinary work in history, identity, gender, and place. In her poetry manuscript, Syllables Rising, she weaves travelistic poems of landscape and culture with lyrics that engage the speaker's experiences living in Turkey. In The Love of Unreal Things (Finishing Line Press 2005), tensions between human need and spiritual calling in the life of Catherine of Siena, a fourteenth-century Italian visionary, become touchstones. The iconic image of supermodel Kate Moss is the focal point of Unbound & Branded (Finishing Line Press 2006). She is currently working on a poetry manuscript and series of creative nonfiction essays. A book proposal for Women Write Resistance, an anthology of emerging and established American women poets who bear witness to and resist violence against women, is currently under review. Her poems and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Calyx, Arts and Letters, North American Review, Rattle, and Prairie Schooner among other journals and magazines.
About the author:
Laura Madeline Wiseman is working on her dissertation at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her poetry has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Blue Collar Review, and Kiss Machine, among other journals and magazines. She is an editor for e4w.org and a reader for Prairie Schooner.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Laura Madeline Wiseman at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 7, No. 2, where "Everyday Muse: A Review of Christine Stewart-Nuñez's Unbound & Branded" ran on June 20, 2007. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, review, review of poetry.