Poetry is perhaps the ideal artistic medium for processing an abusive relationship. One of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship, what distinguishes it from merely being assaulted, is that the attacker must convince their victim to linger, and abusers the world over share one key tactic: damage their victim’s senses of reality and self-worth. When reality breaks down, emotional impressions remain, tethered to the moments that made them and providing a path toward making sense of life once more. This is the place where Pet: the Journey from Abuse to Recovery, by Kella Hanna-Wayne, lives, and in that noisome soil this poetry collection has grown into something beautiful.
“Pet” is a journal of Hanna-Wayne’s path through and out of such a relationship. Each of its 42 poems provides a single emotional moment developed to visceral perfection, starting at the beginning of the relationship and passing through its dark crescendo, Hanna-Wayne’s escape, the fallout, and the renewed sense of power that took shape during Hanna-Wayne’s recovery. That the content of “Pet” is intensely personal and in temporal order is neither a surprise nor an imputed metaphor, but laid out in the foreword, content notice, back-cover text, and section headers. Hanna-Wayne is not here to surprise or traumatize readers and, much like the journey its 42 poems describe, “Pet” is undertaken with eyes open.
Hanna-Wayne has had time to hone each entry in “Pet” into an emotional stiletto. Some describe specific moments, some cover the impressions of a larger span of time, and others include excerpted conversations between abuser and victim. Between them, the whole is intense, heavy, and not for the faint of heart. Each entry, in turn, illuminates the often-mysterious innards of an abusive relationship: the things the abuser does to claim, assert, and maintain control, the harms that follow, and above all what it feels like to be living within an abuser’s attempt to consume one’s entire identity. They are vivid, they are painful, and laid out in the smooth staccato of Hanna-Wayne’s poetic cadence, they are beautiful. I am particularly fond of “Dark Side,” on page 41, for its quiet treatment of the soft lightness one can feel when it really sinks in that one’s abuser is gone and life is one’s own again.
Part memoir, part poetry anthology, and all heart, “Pet” is a collection I can recommend. I can also recommend heeding its content note, because its subject matter is not for the faint of heart and could easily be a problem for people on earlier steps of similar journeys.