Between Waking and Dreaming: Shot by Christine Hume

Shot

Shot
BY Christine Hume
(Counterpath Press, 2010)

In this intriguing third book of poems, Shot, Christine Hume presents the human body as a site of transformation. Written as a series of nocturnes, in which Hume blurs the boundaries between waking and dreaming, her collection allows beauty and monstrosity, affliction and health to coexist gracefully within the same narrative space. As the poet describes the strange and fascinating metamorphoses of which the body is capable, her subject matter is skillfully mirrored in the style of the poems themselves, offering readers a wonderful matching of form and content.

Throughout Shot, Hume re-envisions the classical verse tradition of Virgil and Horace, presenting lyric odes and dialogues alongside hybrid prose and fragmented texts. Just as the human form proves inherently unstable in this innovative collection, the author portrays literary tradition as unfixed and changeable. By pairing these artistic transformations with ontological ones, she suggests an affinity between the physical limitations imposed by the body and the aesthetic confines that an artist inherits from his or her predecessors. The writings in this lyrical, image-rich volume hint at the possibility of complete transcendence through art, as literature offers a rhetorical space for re-imagining one’s perceived identity. Hume writes in “Interlude,”

Mother Estrogen: The ultrasound picks up a luminous moon in this gray, grainy corner.

Mother Broker: Looks like an owl killed by lightning.

Mother-in-the-Trees: An owl reshapes its face to shove a new sound in its ear. When you dream, you do the same. Your face reforms so that you may experience the next day.

Mothernut: I am thinking up names for my new face

— p. 42

As she revises inherited traditions, she posits the imagination as a source of both artistic and bodily transcendence.

Here Hume repurposes the classical form of the dialogue, presenting such exchanges as an opportunity to raise questions about selfhood and identity, rather than to resolve them. As she revises inherited traditions, she posits the imagination as a source of both artistic and bodily transcendence. Just as the poet re-envisions the intention underlying many classical dialogues, she suggests that the individual can renegotiate their perceived relation to the body through the creative process. Throughout “Interlude,” her discussion of childbearing gives way to inward transformation for the speakers, particularly as one mother presents a “new face” to the world around her. Shot is filled with finely crafted poems like this one, in which nuances of style and technique mirror the content of a given piece.

With that said, Hume’s lovely collection is at its best when formal decisions complicate the sophisticated ontological discussions found within individual poems. She writes in “Continuation Room,”

Doze off blind-stripped : your spine gives off flies : plumbing the null room : a yellow
robe mouths the doorknob : shadow-eyes seizure : string of tides : magnet-had and
stabbed through : two crucial hues drench each other

Suspend the sun by our voices : neck deep in purkinje shifting : queen deep in knees : we
fox our green cases : face to face frictions : buried alive : twenty-five electric corrections
: a splinter-listening requires us : listen twice

— p. ?

By using “:” as both an analogy and a symbol throughout “Continuation Room,” the poet suggests an affinity between transformations that take place in the natural world and images of bodily change, decay, and renewal. Juxtaposing a “spine” giving off “flies,” a speaker “buried alive,” and “seizures” with “a string of tides,” her innovative use of form suggests that these unwelcome transformations remain inevitable. Frequently invoking domestic images (“the null room,” “a yellow robe,” “the doorknob”) as well, she prompts the reader to recognize nature’s ongoing metamorphoses within everyday life. Like many other poems in Shot, “Continuation Room” allows form to illuminate, and complicate, an insightful meditation on literature, imagination, and the body — an overall theme that may very well define this provocative and philosophical addition to our contemporary poetry.

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