Saturday, July 24, 2021

Review of The Collection Plate by Kendra Allen



Cholla Needles’ editorial focus reads simply “Tight work that will leave a scar on the reader,” and any fan of tight work and its scars will want to wrap themselves in the pages of Kendra Allen’s The Collection Plate. Allen has already made a name for herself in the literary world with her award-winning book of essays When You Learn The Alphabet in 2018, but her words come alive in a different way in The Collection Plate. This new collection explores race and religion, sex and liberation from the fresh perspective of a young but experienced writer.

Many of Allen’s poems are inspired by her upbringing in Texas, such as “Practical life skills,” which details the memory of a fishing trip with her father. The descriptions feel nostalgic—“ We pull up to the dock with three picnic chairs as crickets chirp”— but there’s something darker simmering beneath the surface. Take the final stanza:

In dark matter water and wonder what it would be like to live away from

A cliff then You catch a blowfish and bang its head up against the concrete

On top of the dock we watch it die You didn’t have to kill it

You throw it in an empty cooler we continue hooking I share all your names.


“You didn’t have to kill it” has a satisfying sting, and that feeling is echoed throughout the collection. Each poem is dressed in layers of nostalgia, darkness, and resilience. This is especially apparent in the poems with religious overtones, such as “Sermon notes” and the five “Our Father’s house,” poems. In each of these, she criticizes the expectations Christianity thrusts onto its followers. “Most calvaries have dead people” highlights this theme of unwilling martyrdom, where Allen writes:

 

like Our Father

when he gives me his issues

places them in my spine lets me,

sew skin into skin without thread

and tells me to walk

to a city where i am given something more

than a man

whose obligation is to no one, not even

the Blood

 

As with the rest of her work, “Most calvaries have dead people” covers a lot of ground. Allen isn’t just questioning organized religion, she’s calling out the forced martyrdom of women, daughters, and BIPOC members of society, and she drives this point home with the poem’s final line, something between a question and an accusation: “how could you let me spill all over town”.

The Collection Plate is a glimpse into the future of poetry where, unbound by restrictions of form, the poet’s message is free to flourish, just as Allen’s has. She knows how to make every word work for her, and each line of each poem could stand on its own; fresh, raw, and ready to leave a scar.  

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Kate H. Koch writes poetry, flash fiction, and screenplays. Her work has appeared in Cholla Needles, Bombfire, Club Plum & other journals. Follow her at http://krista.place/

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