Poetry Review — Call Me by My Other Name

Call Me by My Other Name by Valerie Wetlaufer

Call Me by My Other Name is the second complete collection of poetry from Valerie Wetlaufer. Wetlaufer is a poet, editor, and educator. She earned her Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah and her MFA in Poetry from Florida State University Wetlaufer also earned a BA in French and an MA in Teaching from Bennington College. Her first full-length collection, Mysterious Acts by My People was published in March 2014 by Sibling Rivalry Press and won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry.

Inspiration comes from many places. Sometimes inspiration comes from obscure places. Wetlaufer took her inspiration from a January 18th, 1894 story in The Badger State Banner, published in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Frank Blunt was arrested for stealing $175. His wife Gertrude Field paid for his defense and openly mourned his conviction. It was only after sentencing, that it was discovered that Blunt was actually Anna Morris. Morris lived the past fifteen years as a man. This may be the first recording of a lesbian marriage in America.

Call Me by My Other Name makes use of this article to create a fictionalized story of Anna and Gertrude. Wetlaufer manages to capture the historical setting and context of the period as well as the couple’s love. What is exceptionally brilliant is that a reader who is unaware of the background story could quite possibly read large parts of this collection and not fully realize Frank’s real identity. Although there are references throughout the collection, they do not scream out for attention; they are more like gentle reminders. We live in a society that loves to hyphenate nationality and race. We also have marriage and gay marriage suggesting there is a difference in types love. Call Me by My Other Name manages to remove that barrier. Is there really any difference in love between two people that must be qualified? Does it really matter or should it really matter to anyone, except Gertrude, who Frank really is? The reader will undoubtedly come to the conclusion, that no, it doesn’t matter.

The writing is well done and really pulls the reader into the period. Again, the unaware reader may think that this was a first-hand account written over a century ago in a small town on the prairie. There also is the feeling of reading a diary and glimpsing into someone’s personal thoughts. Of course, it is written in verse, but its message is as strong as the writing and the reader may forget he or she is reading poetry. The story and the verse mesh perfectly. Wetlaufer also inserts her contemporary thoughts and words throughout the collection distinguished from the other text by italics. Some of her thoughts are inside other poems but are mostly stand-alone poems.

Wetlaufer first collection Mysterious Acts by My People tended to be graphic and hard hitting. Call Me by My Other Nameseems to be tender and personal. It wants to show the universality not of love but of all emotion. “Epidemic: Diphtheria”, for example, shows extreme sadness at the loss of a loved one. My background isn’t literature; it is political science and history. Perhaps, my assessment is not the poet’s intention, but I did feel the connection to humanity and human emotion. There is a commonality we all share as human beings and many times it is hard to express to those who believe differently. Call Me by My Other Name is a collection that exposes that commonality by examining those who many would call different and verifying the contrary.

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