Book review:     She, a Blueprint

words by Michelle Naka Pierce, images by Sue Hammond West

Review by Jenn Zuko Boughn

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In any creative-writing class I’ve taught recently, I’ve instructed students, when doing daily creative journaling, to make sure they include both image and text in each entry. I do this because of several reasons (some of which can be found in Diehn’s The Decorated Page) but the strongest reason I have for this discipline is that it seems all writing these days has an imagistic aspect to it. From blog posts to graphic novels to novels like Like Water For Chocolate with long image or sound-only chapters, to interactive, new-media presentations, it’s rare to sit down with a (short, especially) piece of writing without a visual.

Pierce and West’s volume of poetry uses this image/text interdependence with the artistry and care of a good picture book, yet for an adult audience. Pierce’s Gertrude-Stein-esque musical repetition and richness of word choice work in tandem with West’s urban/organic paintings to good effect. The best entries in this volume are the ones in which the text is arranged in an unusual visual way, and the image incorporates text, thereby adding more layers to the text/image dance. This multi-layering of literary and visual art gives the reader more and more to sit with before turning each page.

Another engaging aspect to She is the map-like, film-like titles to each chunk of text. The poems are called “Lot”s or “Cut”s and the different-fonted titles to the images are called “Legend”s. These bring to mind auctions, film clips, map keys, and other images to the entries, and again are onion-layers of meaning.

She is a book one can spend time with—absorbing each page-spread before continuing. It does what good poetry (and visual art) should do: it builds imagery in the reader’s mind, so that the book changes with the reader each time she comes back to it.   ~Prof. Jenn