Red Curls

Winnipeg Free Press, March 28, 2015

Tracy Hamon's Red Curls (Thistledown, 76 pages, $17) explores Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his mistress/model, Valerie "Wally" Neuzil. Schiele, who was arrested as a pornographer for his artworks, arrests Hamon's attention as an avatar of desire.


"Rituals / layer everything" writes Hamon; the tortured figures in Schiele's nude portraits seem ritualistically wrought, writhing rather than still. Hamon flits between meditation on the artworks, exploration of Schiele's biography, and masking herself in the persona of Schiele, Neuzil, or a modern-day speaker.

"It takes three tutors / to teach my mother / my talent is real... My mother's voice // a clicking insect." Hamon glides between Schiele's real and imagined biographies with ease, in her own engrossing poetic portrait.

— Jonathan Ball

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saturday December 13, 2014Regina poet Tracy Hamon takes her writing to a whole new level in Red Curls. Hamon, who has a luxurious mane of red, curly hair, has developed an affinity - she even admits to an obsession - with early 20th century Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his frequent model-muse Valerie Neuzil. She, as is obvious from Schiele's paintings, also had a head full of red curls.

This collection is an inspired pastiche of devotion to the tormented artist — Schiele dared to be honest in his depiction of the human nude and the erotic — a travelogue of Hamon's pilgrimage to Schiele's Austria, pieces of biographical detail and both lyric and prose poems imagining Schiele's and Neuzil's lives.

Steeped in both Schiele's art and his countryside, Hamon displays an almost fluttering sensitivity toward the pair while mostly maintaining a dispassionate historical interest. It's a bit of a balancing act and out of it comes some great lines and line breaks: "The spill of apprentices to cafés/drinking draughts brewed/by each other's/explanations." There are many more.

— Bill Robertson

POETS.CA, December, 2014

Red Curls, Tracy Hamon’s third book, opens with the poet travelling through Bohemia and Austria on the trail of artist Egon Schiele. A hundred years on, the artist who scandalized conservative society with portraits considered pornographic by some, is now celebrated in Vienna, with many of his paintings reproduced in public places. Perhaps emulating the “subjective perspective” of Schiele’s portraits, Hamon foregrounds her own research trip while exploring the story of Schiele’s affair with his best-known model Valerie Neuzil, whose long red hair inspires the book’s title. In fact, a degree of identification with the model nicknamed “Wally” fuels many of the poems, as Hamon speaks directly to “Egon” while visiting his homes and the museums dedicated to his work: “Like me, Wally was a woman with unruly hair. Unlike her, I’m no one’s model.” From a conservative background himself, Schiele’s talent was liberated when he reached Vienna and came under the influence of Gustav Klimt. But ultimately, he sought a respectable marriage, and the free-spirited Wally was cut loose. She became a nurse and died in the First World War, shortly before Schiele himself died of the flu.

In three sections – “The Girl at the Station,” “The Artist,” and “The Pornographer’s Muse” – Hamon relates their turbulent relationship first in her own voice, then Schiele’s, and finally Wally’s. But it is the poet’s viewpoint that predominates, selecting, interpreting, imposing order on their sometimes chaotic lives in a time of cultural ferment. At a time when nationalism was undermining the Austrian empire and sexual freedom was wearing away at the old moral order, the intimate, emotional relationship between two people is seen to be the most enduring value. — Colin Morton

(at) eleven, matilda magtree, april 13, 2015

This (at) Eleven series of Q&A’s began as a place to celebrate books written by people I know, or have come to know even in a small way (and usually with a food connection). Very occasionally it includes people I don’t know at all.

Tracy Hamon is such an ‘occasion’. I only recently discovered her work through Brenda Schmidt, who mentioned something about Red Curls on FB, and I value Ms. Schmidt’s literary taste. Also, I loved the subject matter: an Austrian painter and his mistress living the Bohemian life at the turn of the (last) century.

While a collection of poems is a wonderful thing, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that this is not a collection of poems. Instead, it’s a sort of ‘discovery’ shared… of the artist, the times he lived in, his inspirations, his work. And his effect on Hamon, who travelled to Austria to gain a deeper perspective of Egon Schiele, on his turf. In poems, yes, but also in narrative pieces from various perspectives, and in voices other than the poet’s.

It’s also a tribute to the muse, an often overlooked element in an artist’s career. And often a woman. In this case the muse was Valerie Neuzil, known as ‘Wally’.

We begin in the washroom of an airport as Hamon arrives in Europe. The piece is called ‘Modernist Movement’ and describes the woman whose job it is to sell squares of toilet paper in a room where “soap hangs like scrotum from a plastic mesh bag”. And with it we’re immediately there with Hamon in the centre of what feels like a strange new dimension, unsettling and yet we recognize something about it, and so begins the journey…

The first section of the book is from Hamon’s perspective. On a train“the seat cripples my back with right angles.” She looks at buildings, rooftops, landscapes, trying to see through Schiele’s eyes, to find the things he painted, to understand what drove him, inspired him, to imagine the power and mystery of the relationship with his red-headed muse and mistress.

“Egon, I arrive at your door as one/ who watches, one who knocks/ needing to be among the why/ of what you do…”

The second part of the book is from Schiele’s perspective as Hamon takes us back to his childhood and early life, touches on events that shaped him, the loss of his father, his work with Klimt, society’s perception of him as debauched, his marriage to Edith and the end of his affair with Wally.

What might be my favourite piece, ‘Interview with Egon Schiele’, opens with a question: “What were you doing when they came to take you away?” which is then answered in the perfection of simplicity; he was watching a fly, sipping wine, “I was studying the stem of a tulip I had bought at the market.”

The last section of the book, the last word almost, is given so fittingly to Wally. I suspect she would be pleased.

Also worth mentioning is the cover (a painting by Virgilio Neto).

So, with many thanks to Tracy Hamon for taking this time, may I present, the author of Red Curls…

Read the interview here.