He is an icon of popular culture with a name often said in three words, as in “Bond, James Bond.” The themes for the movies are part of our cultural soundtrack, we argue over who is the best Bond and then, of course, there are the Bond women. A brand in and of themselves. He comes from a world where the heroes can smoke, drink, kill, love, and save the world. Usually in under two hours.
In Michelle Disler’s hands, this icon is pulled apart not to tear him down, but to understand him better. And, by understanding what attracts us to Bond, we learn about ourselves. In her capable hands, Disler uses her poetic insight to help us reexamine Bond and ourselves in her collection, [Bond, James] alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography.
The book, broken into the three sections listed in the subtitle, delves into Bond as much through Ian Fleming’s writing as the movies. Much of the poetry falls into the “found poetry” category as Disler nearly assaults us with Fleming’s writing. In “Cigarettes [Bond, James],” Disler gives us 11 pages of verbatim text mixed with her own commentary on Bond’s smoking. It opens with “James Bond lit a cigarette” 25 times. Shortly after that, we get “James Bond lit another cigarette” 35 times. The repetition is like a research paper overloaded with support and driving you into submission. You’ll never look at Bond light up again in the same way.
As seen in the poem mentioned above, Disler is not wedded to any poetical form. The collection includes poetry as a true and false quiz, algebraic formulas, and matching exercises. She writes poems in the format of a book index, fill-in-the-blank, and an “a-z” listing of bodily actions Bond does in the books (note: he shrugs his shoulders, a lot). The result is a collection that keeps making you readjust your approach to reading and to Bond. Like a Bond movie, if you start to settle in, get ready for a surprise.
Disler, while clearly knowing her Bond well, is also a fan. Not a fan without reservations or a without a clear understanding of the hero’s failings, but still a fan. She ends the book with a powerful “[auto]biography” in which she explores Bond and first, Sylvia Trench, and then, Honey Rider. “Honey’s not one to mess around She is fearless and afraid the perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability Who does she think she is but sex and death devourer and devoured I am watching James Bond and Honey Rider and at this moment I wonder who I would rather be”. Bond and his adventures become less of a spectator sport and more of a mirror as we reflect on how we could fit in the Bond world.
Perhaps we best see Disler’s relationship with Bond explored in “Objections [Bond, James].” Here we find Disler asking Bond question after question. “How many times do you think you’ve nearly bought it on account of a girl? What would your mother say, if she were alive, about the number of notches in your bedpost…” which is a fascinating question since most of us never think of Bond as having a mother. He just is. And she continues to challenge him. “Who asks the villain’s girl to spy on her illustrious boyfriend, knowing all too well certain death upon her discovery is her cruel reward?…How are you not dead like the girls who wind up loving you, their resolve weak, glittering like the dresses you peel from their bodies like skin from a ripe tropical fruit? How am I doing? Do you think I’m finished? Do you think you deserve a break after all that saving the world, one hard-won villain’s death, one tragically oversexed girl at a time?”
So, yes, Bond fans will have love this book. Disler has taught about Bond at the college-level, clearly, knows the books and films, and still is a fan. But you don’t have to be a Bond fan to enjoy this dissection of a cultural icon. And, if like me, you only know Bond from the films, you may find Disler pushing you to the books. As for me, I just started reading “Goldfinger.” I’m waiting for Bond to light a cigarette.