Review of Stephen Mead’s We Are More Than Our Wounds by Sarah Miller
The “sister arts” of painting and poetry are reinvestigated in Stephen Mead’s new e-book, We Are More than Our Wounds. Fourteen paintings paired with a single poem lead the reader through what is above all else a philosophical examination of wounds, struggles, and healings. The poem is generally abstract, pointing to sketched-out ideas like “the known landscapes of hurt” and “the motion of generations”; readers looking for concrete imagery or clear depictions of events will find the language in the poems frustrating and incomplete. There are times when the language itself seems to fall short of what it wants to say, skipping over words or beginning a phrase again: “two shapes / may weave / a sound shawl from / through legacies.”
The words, however, are only half the book, and many of the gaps and pauses in the poem are answered by the paintings with which it’s paired. Although the paintings share a stylistic similarity—images of hearts and hands repeat, deeps reds are woven with blues and occasionally bright yellows, the edges of lines are softened—the overall impression is more than just “variations on a theme.” The images pull from diverse mythologies and cultural groups to suggest a world more encompassing than a single moment. It is this expanse, perhaps, which leads to the abstraction in the language.
The pairing of image and poem work together to create something more than would appear otherwise. The image of a man clutching at blood-stained bandages appears beside an injunction to “Pet and pat it, blessing up, / smiling down / on the bandages which swaddle / what very nearly burst / now grafted back, stitched for the road.” In the painting we have the image the words only sketch out: a concrete face and pose to uphold the poem. The images are undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the book; they are both vivid and compelling, and each tells a story in its own right.
However, it is the poem which ultimately sketches out Mead’s philosophy for the reader. The thoughts flow in a stream-of-consciousness style, weaving in and out of images as they seem to occur to the narrator. Thus the suggestion that everyone has flaws is answered with “Yes, I feel the geyser of that”—the theme of nature breaking through cracks, introduced in the previous thought, is picked up in the next with more forcefulness, and the reader is pulled onward into the book. Moments of affirmation are answered by calls to “take this trowel. / Excavate right here”: one discovery is never enough, and the book continues to circle around, looking for meaning in both wounds and recovery.
Ultimately, Wounds reads best when time is taken to allow the interplay between words and images to fill the spaces and build a narrative. It will attract readers looking for philosophical meditation more than it will readers looking for clear and focused guidance. Mead’s invitation near the end of the book, “Come on. Come, you can,” is also a challenge: it’s only by taking the time to step into the silence between poem and paintings that the book will really open up to readers and demonstrate the ways in which we are more than our wounds.
New Age Dimensions
PDF, 20 pages