Cinco Puntos Press has a great reputation, and this little book of poetry adds to its wealth of good literature in a big way. Elinor Nauen weaves a string of poems that read like a novel as we plunge into her relationship with her husband Johnny. The book, set up as a series of poems, is read like a dictionary (think The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan) with the titles of poems succeeding in alphabetical order. This book takes the dictionary idea a step further than Levithan; Nauen also includes words and phrases specific to her relationship with her husband that would not be found in a standard dictionary. It makes this book of poetry an adventure unique to their relationship.
The poems detail experiences, fights, and so many memories that we are privileged to entertain. Luckily, both Elinor and Johnny are poets and there won’t be any hard feelings after the book is widely read (which is should be). The poem “Beds” details an experience they have while traveling to a hotel and sleeping outside of their small New York apartment:
One time Johnny and I were comped at a very fancy hotel in Washington, D.C. Our room had the most enormous bed I’ve ever seen, a siamese king. In the morning Johnny told me he hadn’t slept well. “I kept reaching for you in the night,” he said, “and I couldn’t find you.” It’s one of those moments when you know you are inextricably linked. At home we have a double mattress, which we share with loads of books, pillows and a cat. We never aren’t touching. Hand to hand, skin to skin.
Sleeping in such strange territory must be strange for two people who are clearly so in love. Not to be confined to a double bed is a huge adjustment, and it just made me sigh learning that he didn’t like having to sleep so far away from her.
But it wasn’t always easy. Just like every relationship, there are struggles and hardships, fights and compromise. Nauen even admits to a series of breakups their first few years together. One part where I laughed out loud was reading about their wedding at City Hall. When Johnny is asked if he will take Elinor to be his wife, she hears him say:
YES. When he asked me, I thought, “Wow, that’s a pretty big question. I’m not sure I can answer till I think this through a little. I mean, if I say yes, I’ll be married. That’s scary but the thought of losing him is scarier, isn’t it? I mean—” Johnny’s throat-clearing jumped me off the cliff. Later, he said he was jealous of my comic timing. He’s never believed I was finally deliberating on what the heck I was doing.
Though there was that initial panic, the narrator had Johnny holding her hand to help her leap. And the photo in the back of the book showing the two grinning together on a beach dissolves any question of whether they should be together. Towards the end of the book, her poem “Wedding” explains why they went to City Hall rather than plan a lavish, expensive day: “I want to be married, not get married. / Hence City Hall.”
One of the last poems contemplates “‘Y’ we got married.” I want to leave with you with a few of her thoughts: “I craved my friend’s platinum ring but couldn’t see shelling out $750 unless I would be wearing it for a long, long time.” Another familiar obstacle: “My 10-years-younger sister was getting hitched a few months later and I thought I’d better get there first.” And finally, a similarly honest reality that made me smile: “I wanted to be connected to Johnny in every possible way.”
Also included in this book is artwork by Sophy Naess. All of the drawings are grayscale, with the exception of a few red accents that make the pieces come to life. In the drawing opposite the poem “Beds,” as considered above, two faceless people are lying in bed, tangled up in sheets and each other. The only color included is their red lips. While illustration is considered to be an important companion to writing, My Marriage A to Z demonstrates this to a T. There are many more things I would love to include in this review, but you will have to just pick up this gem of a book yourself.