Evie Christie’s debut, Gutted, is filled with observations on subjects as diverse as alcoholism, faith, family, friendship, love, and loss. It is a book that showcases the poet’s admirable handle on the everyday, revealing the world’s beauty without ignoring its darker side.
There are a few poems, though, at the beginning that are troubling. “I Love Alcoholics” begins with, “I do, it’s not just an eye-catching title” (4). There’s something about that self-referential start that irks me, particularly because I didn’t believe the title was that eye-catching. The poem continues:
Their hearts are big and broken,
Preserved in their childhood, their first love
Or some bloody car wreck, preserved
In bourbon, tequila, whatever.
Bruised and bloody, swishing around
In their chest, beating away
To a sad, angry rhythm, and they love
Their mothers and they are so beautiful
When they’re drunk that you love them
When they’re sober and ugly too.
And they wait patiently for you
To get fed up, for you to leave them,
And if you do they’ll love you forever.
(“I Love Alcoholics” 4)
The image of a broken heart preserved in alcohol is beautiful and full of sorrow but part of me always cringes when alcoholism is romanticized. Similarly, I was uncomfortable with the way the homeless seem glamourized when Christie writes, “Those bums winking, whistling, calling out to me, Hey little girl, made me feel like a million bucks today. I would say/ to them, Were you ever boys? I would say, I love you, you bums.” (“The Bums Out Front of the Scott Mission” 9).
Due to my uneasy impressions of the aforementioned poems, I had a hard time connecting with many of the early pieces and few of them stood out. There were, however, some strong images that caught my attention, such as the highly original description of an ugly street corner: “the ugliest corner of Toronto’s west end lit up for me/ in pastel Easter cellophane and washed out fast food hues” (“Come and Break My Heart” 1). It wasn’t really until page 16 that the poet’s deft use of straightforward, plainspoken language began to affect me:
I rely on cheap drink nights, domestic beer served
four to a bucket. The bartender here has bitten my friend
in a half-assed fight and the trucker to my left knows
every damn secret the Coca-Cola company holds dear.
(“Because I Don’t Have a Muse” 16)
It is in poems like this where Christie’s hard edge shines, the speaker often taking a disinterested tone, which provides the reader with a glimpse into a contemporary landscape filled with frustration, indifference, and loss. For instance, in “Nig, Son of Debbie,” the speaker says, “I have no history, a secret mythology of corn roasts/ and Tupperware, sitcoms and house pets. My dad may be a Jew/ and my mom a Gypsy nomad and besides I don’t care” (21).
I was also particularly drawn to the pervasive darkness of poems like “Moving to Doc Ford’s House,” where the speaker’s mother discovers old soda and pill bottles buried in the dirt — remnants from a former tenant’s suicide. Or in “The Properties of Loss” where the aftermath of a volatile storm reduces manmade objects into fragile body parts:
In the American Midwest last week tornadoes
gave proper endings to so many trailers
and porches and bikes; somewhere a bus litters
appendages on a hot dusty street, but this new death
leaves us barren.
This may seem like a depressing read, but within the darkness there is still a sense of longing, a glimmer of hope that the many voices within the collection will find what it is they so desperately seek. The yearning, whether it is for love, friendship, or something else, is most evident at the end of “Not a Love Poem”:
And remember, old friend, though we weren’t born to be
Lovers, we were born together, naked and bloody, into April.
And know that I’m awake, the clocks set ahead or back, waiting
To hear happy birthday or I miss you something terrible.
While some of the early poems left me scratching my head, Gutted is ultimately an impressive first collection, one that should be mulled over. Evie Christie’s words should be taken in slowly, first to get accustomed to their bitterness, but more importantly, to savour the richness of their depth.