I’VE TITLED THIS POEM WITH YOUR NAME
Although Anna Allen is new to the published literary scene (or perhaps because of it), her work is a shimmering standout in the sea of independently published poetry. I’ve Titled This Poem with Your Name practically beckons to those who hold close Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House. It not only continues the long overdue conversation of trauma, drug use, and abuse in queer and lesbian relationships, but commands a necessity of acknowledgement in order to grant these relationships their full humanity.
The collection opens with “Tales,” which uses just nine lines to set the tone for the remaining pieces. In this poem, we are thrown into the dramatic tension that is inherent to Allen’s relationship. She imagines herself in the world of The Wizard of Oz, asserting that she would crawl on gilded bricks to get her lover a heart. At once we understand that Allen’s lover has constructed a golden cage around her life, but one to which neither has the keys. Allen’s lover arbitrarily dispenses love, like a broken vending machine, while Allen recalls her desire to claim that promised love by harboring abuse. What unravels through the subsequent poems are an offering of vulnerability and an unfiltered look at the power our vices holds to delegate our priorities. The collection explores how insidious manifestations of control can disguise abuse as a love that must be earned.
The collection explores how insidious manifestations of control can disguise abuse as a love that must be earned.
Throughout the poems, Allen balances her pain by maintaining the humanity of her lover. Not to be mistaken for empathy, Allen recognizes that trauma can erode a person into an abuser. The collection rests on the use of the familiar “you,” reading at times like a love letter cracked down the middle. In these moments, Allen illustrates the labyrinthine nature of her relationship, which is shaped by substance abuse, emotional abuse, and domestic abuse. She presents these three elements at times as
a crutch, and at others, as collateral. However, in particular moments, Allen’s use of the familiar “you” develops a quality of incantation, which disorients the reader as to who is being addressed. Perhaps Allen is addressing the reader, but it seems more likely that the “you” is Allen herself. In “Alternatives to Splitting Your Teeth With My Skin,” Allen writes “Smoking bed sheets, the warmth rocking us to sleep / This strips your skin in layers / Burns so hot, you’re too stunned to remember how to scream.” The “you” here reads as self-referencing, lending her vulnerability an ultimatum. We understand that her pain is not rooted in compliance, but in being an accomplice to her own trauma.
Allen’s work, in all its power, is meticulously whittled on the page—her abstemious use of language exposes the supple, razor-sharp sensitivity at the heart of her prose. She is skilled in using metaphors to put her finger on frustratingly intangible emotions, and further uses her talent to disarm the reader with emotion. She is adept, whether she expresses insecurity (“Everything is Gilded until me / I turn golden heroes mortal / I animate first place trophies / the infallible suddenly furtive”) or grapples with the bitter aftertaste of love found then lost (“I hate the deflated / Inflatable lawn ornaments / Laid bare and forgotten / On the manicured lawns / The day after Christmas / I am that Santa often”).
Allen’s understanding of her relationship’s fallacy is astonishingly lucid, and her weakness to escape its powerful shadow is just as convincing. The strength of these poems derives from this tension, demanding the reader to not ask questions about the relationship, but to be there with her as she navigates this complex love. We resign judgment, and seek understanding. Such is the power of her work.
Swati Sudarsan (she/her) is a poet, writer, and avid reader based in Oakland, CA (Ohlone land). She works in cancer research during the day, and writes in the margins of her life. Her work can be found in Our Name is Amplify magazine, Entropy mag, Drizzle Review, and Dead Skunk magazine (forthcoming). She can be found on IG and Twitter as @booksnailmail.