Naked is the second beautifully illustrated anthology of poems and short fiction from the artists’ collective Uno Kudo. Their first collection was a hit on the Amazon anthology charts, and the second volume is even more packed, with contributions from dozens of writers and illustrators. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to PEN International, a group that provides grants and support to persecuted writers around the globe.
The collection is a grab-bag of disparate styles, from the jagged stanza Beat-style poetry of Aaron Dietz to the tightly constructed prose of Bud Smith and Joe Saldibar. The book features a healthy mixture of male and female contributors, but the work as a whole carries a decidedly feminine energy, contained in the flowing lines and bright colors of the artwork.
Each written piece is matched with a signature artist’s style. The words and the images complement each other, though the visuals are never a direct representation of the plot or characters in the story. Megan Elizabeth Corry’s “Hallelujah”, the story of a young woman liberating herself from a sheltered, paranoid church environment is matched with the haunting photo-realistic paintings of Mercedes Helnwein. Helnwein’s works contain figures alternately huddled together conspiratorially or writhing on the floor in solitary despair–a perfect encapsulation of the interior struggles of Corry’s heroine.
Elsewhere, Brooke Shaden’s gorgeous underwater photos of women floating in an eerie, murky light illuminate the theme of hovering unease inErin Parker’s “Dance Home”, about a rape victim’s interview with detectives following the attack.
“There is something inherently scary within attraction. The desires of others are danger incarnate.” -from “Skin” by Lydia McDonald
Naked is built around the theme of nudity–not only of body, but of spirit. Some of the stories approach the concept in novel ways, while some are more direct, but each piece is its own character, coming to terms with the moment when an individual loses the ability to hide. As such, there is a sense of danger and daring hovering over the entire collection.
In many ways, the signature piece of the collection is the sensual “Only the How Remains”, Trista Payte’s poem which bring the anthology’s simmering promise of eroticism to vivid life. Contrast that with Bud Smith’s “In My Building”, a story in which a man bothers his neighbors just to have a bit of human contact, and you begin to see that the collection is really about the vulnerability that joins us and keeps us apart.
As a unified piece, the work succeeds because of its eccentricity. The art is so polished that it threatens to overwhelm the writing–not because of the layout, the composition of the book is perfect–but because the sheer drama of the images shines too harsh a contrast on some of the lighter works, especially a few of the weaker poems.
But when the words and images work in harmony, something altogether new is brought to life. The images illustrate a more elusive, eternal feeling than one mere moment or scene, and express the bravery of sharing that which is usually hidden.
(top image © Mercedes Helnwein)