« Carl Sagan on Books | Main | The #othernametour for my second book »
Thursday
Feb252016

Review in The Southeast Review

The Southeast Review just published an in-depth review of Call Me by My Other Name. Emily Faison wrote the review, and she also interviewed me back in November. It's moving to read a review by someone who obviously spent so much time with my work. I've worked on this project steadily for a decade, and now that it's out in the world, it is exciting to see how other readers interret my writing.

"I’m still not sure if Valerie Wetlaufer has written a history in verse, or simply folded history into poetry, but either way, Call Me By My Other Name leaves readers gasping with both horror and understanding.

A news clipping epigraph, rewritten in verse in “Helpmate IV,” shapes the tone and the historical realness of the book, describing the imprisonment of Frank Blunt, born Anna Morris, and the grief of partner Gertrude Field. This history weighs heavy on the entire collection, but rather than reading like a historical fiction novel, the reader gets vignetted glimpses of a period in time through verse.

Poems featuring moments from Frank and Gertrude’s fictionalized life together cut no corners with lines like “Born Anna in the fields / under the sun, born goat-tender, / sister-keeper, son-in-a-dress” (“Naming Spell”) and “I’ve been in trousers / since I was ten. / Prison dress wilts around me” (“Distance Cuts No Figure”). These poems, and others equally blunt, do the heavy work of plot without sacrificing the grace of verse. Wetlaufer builds verses with a kind of intimacy surprising for the lack of primary source material, relying instead on poetry to tell her story.

Not every poem directly addresses Frank and Gertrude’s story, but serves to establish the mood of the period through details like “Dots and dashes intertwine on paper for lovers / faraway” (“The Telegrapher”) and “The fires of home blazing, / my petticoat awash by the river” (“Cupid’s Itch”). Immersed in a sepia world that still rides on horseback and wears “corsets and aprons, bustles and bonnets” (“Epidemic: Diptheria”), these poems blend the romantic and stoic to develop the accuracy of emotion so crucial to historical fiction."