Wednesday, May 23, 2007



Unbound & Branded by Christine Stewart-Nuñez
(Finishing Line Press, 2006)

Following her first chapbook The Love of Unreal Things, Christine Stewart-Nuñez’s second chapbook Unbound & Branded is based on ‘a forty-page portfolio of artists … responding to supermodel Kate Moss’. Using the image of Kate Moss, she examines every woman’s complex relationship with her body, as it is viewed through the lens of media and art. By turns interrogatory, irreverent and self-possessed, the poems mirror the longing, absurd fascination, frustration and anger directed at society’s concept of the idealised female body.

Still fashionable, her slim torso free
of marring muscles; raised nipples
look metallic. A wedding ring—
her only adornment—shines
like a sold sign for the display.
(‘Embodied’, p. 7)

The danger in portraying fashion’s superficiality is an involuntary artfulness in the poems themselves. Only when ugliness intrudes does real life bring such artificial constructs into relief:

Reporters still call you girl. Now that you’re out of rehab,
the press will search for signs of too much Stoli.
Dear daughter of Twiggy: There’s nothing simple
about being you. Absolutely fabulous.
You drink twelve cups of tea a day.
(‘Flying Eyes’, p. 18)

Other poems in Unbound & Branded identify the uneasy relationship between the viewer and the object of the viewer’s gaze. The language in ‘Red Light District’ suggests that beauty engenders violence and degradation: ‘cluster on her neck // like a bruise. / Long hair a slap’ (p. 17). In ‘Between the Lines’, the speaker’s proprietorial concern over an incompatibility between an artist’s portrayal of Kate Moss and her own personal vision of a ‘typical Kate’ gives way to a sense of loss: ‘I know this absence is mine’ (p. 21). So how does an image or object return the gaze of the viewer? Perhaps Stewart-Nuñez’s answer lies in her poem, ‘She Who Gazes’:

bodily, female, gazing out

from a page, but I’m no closer
to knowing her than

when I first traced my name
across her lips.
(p. 22)

Christine Stewart-Nuñez’s Unbound & Branded is a cohesive, thoroughgoing exploration of both beauty and the beast that is the media and society at large.


Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Red Morning Press, 2006) and three chapbooks: 'what's wrong, 'catalogue: life as tableware' and Food for Humans. She also edited 'A Slice of Cherry Pie', a chapbook anthology of poems inspired by David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The Australia Council for the Arts and Academi recently awarded her a grant to write poems for her second manuscript. Her poetry appears in journals and anthologies worldwide and online.