In a series of poems that move between narrative and lyric, the personas of Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his mistress/model Valerie Neuzil are revealed in exquisite detail. Dividing the work into three sections, equal energy is given to the artist, his model, and the alluring energy of Viennese eroticism. Creating intimacy through the use of first person and exposing drama through the use of the third, Hamon's poems resonate with Egon's and Valerie's story: how they met, their intense desires, and the union and bond that would keep them together for years. Red Curls chronicles lives but in the retelling, captures the enterprise and intensity of Schiele as he pushed the culture of desire to new heights.
But not all of Hamon's poems simply celebrate Schiele's genius nor do they romantically colour the hard love that he shared with Valerie. Many poems are left to the reader to ponder as Hamon gathers the fragments and forces at work in her subjects. Other poems remind us of the mundane moments of Egon's and Valerie's financial struggles, their needling uncertainties, and the mitigating circumstances of family relationships. But never far from any revelation is the arching theme that, in Schiele's world, the pervasive drive is to find inspiration in the erotic and an audience to support it. Sometimes Hamon conjures that Viennese world that would reject his bohemian lifestyle only to celebrate his artistic vision, other times she intensively explores the truth of her subjects through their portraits and Schiele's paintings that themselves became the revolutionary and liberating edge of a generation of artists.
The various poetic forms featured in the book let the reader visualize the art and lives of Schiele and Neuzil. Throughout, three voices appear as dramatic monologues that allow Schiele, Neuzil, and a voice from the present to speak. Central to the voices is the emotion of desire and how the desire to paint, love, or write inspires us to a different greatness.
He has yet to speak, fingers in my hair, gathers me in to his chest. My right cheek chafes on his cloak as he tries to keep me in the left palm of this squared space. My knees ache with the strain of staying, so I let go. An index finger uncurls, one arm braced for the worst. He pushes his right hand, polite against my left shoulder, just enough tenderness to move me.
Tobacco-stained fingers, dry from years of paint scratched underneath the surface, catch thin strands in a delicate snare. He told me once he loved the taste of red hair on his lips late in the evening, like the tang of kirsch lingering long after sipping. I brushed those fine curls one hundred strokes every morning.
Maybe the fault is mine for settling. I look down at the jagged pink dress, the bottom frayed from washing, my bare feet callused from months of walking the blunt edge of rumour. They say I'm no better than his whore, the pornographer's muse, yet I weathered tiny rooms, hunger, endless poses, the cold skin of strangers, and the town's insults to be with him. I carried fruit hidden in my slip, suffered his seeded bind in the child gravity pulled from my womb. How he mourned what was unborn, grief a corsage splashed on the front of a dark suit as he stood on the threshold with his new wife. They watched from the doorway as I folded the placenta into an old sheet, tried to bury my devotion in the same grave.
He breathes now in long gasps, a sleepwalker in the fist of a dream, stirs a few stray wisps of hair. I look out the window beside the door, sun's sharpness slicing through the panes. The day grazes off the back of a black lacquered chair, puddles white onto the ground of what continues to connect us, there, just off centre.