Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Sanctified – An Anthology of Poetry by LGBT Christians

ed. by Justin Cannon

Published by CreateSpace

Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory

Homosexuality and religion have never sat comfortably at the same table, as this book beautifully illustrates. The ramifications of divine wrath are not, however, exclusive to those who go to church – in fact, they have probably been felt more by the people who don’t feel welcome. From an early age, children are conditioned to believe that God loves everyone, even murderers and rapists… but not us folk of the queer persuasion.

In fact, those who have read the Bible in context, rather than picking out convenient soundbites in an effort to justify their prejudice will know that although St Paul preached hatred of gay and transgender people, and murdered countless numbers of them, there is no record of Jesus Christ ever uttering a homophobic word. In fact, He stood up against the pre-Christian church and demanded that it opened its doors to women and all the minorities it policed and excluded.

This historical context is important, because it is so universally censored, and it is the very reason why Sanctified is so needed, whether people formally identify themselves as Christians, a different faith, or none, because the power of this erasure of fact has permeated every culture. This book reaches out to the LGBT community on a trans-spiritual level.

The majority of the poems aren’t ‘religious’, and many are not blatantly queer either, but they all speak from the psyche of real people who have felt either excluded or eventually included by their religious community, and/or their individual experience and perception of who and what God is to them. Potential readers should not fear that Sanctified is only populated by different versions of the same poem – the subject matter and poetic styles are as numerous as the poems.

Christoper Alan Gaskins plays on the notion of religious snobbery in ‘The Company I Keep’, describing his Sundays as a very special, but also very isolated, communion with God, his only confidante, mentor and psychical doctor in a world that has stigmatised and pathologised him for his “gay libido”. Nathan Brisby speculates about the last thoughts of a victim of homophobic murder, and asks whether “the sun hit your face the day they killed you/ …so you couldn’t see their evil.” Brisby makes a parallel with Christ, who was also killed for speaking out in a way proscribed by the religious and political culture of His time, and whose brutal experience touched more after death than in life. (Of course this is poetic metaphor, not a literal comparison!)

Some of the poems are stunning, such as Gregory Loselle’s ‘Magdalene Penitent, After De La Tour,” which beautifully draws out the poetic spirituality of discrete, and simple moments: a sigh by candlelight, the mute, ecstatic shock of the Resurrection.

Henry Juhala’s account of how his life as a gay man changed over the course of his life is fascinating as he writes a verse noting the status quo at four-yearly intervals of his life. In spite of growing up “in the Bible Belt where everything was straight”, he finds positive revelation in every milestone.

Thankfully, the editor of Sanctified has not constrained the contributors with any form of censorship, allowing them a greater freedom of honesty and expression. Although the authors are included in strictly alphabetical order, it is perhaps fitting that the anthology closes with the searing beauty of Fred Turpin’s poems. ‘May The Shrine Catch Fire’ draws genuine eroticism from “holy passion”, and entreats us to “Trust the power of love to heal”.

Sanctified transcends the traditionally confined spaces in which Christianity’s queer brethren are permitted to exist, and sets the authors and readers free in and beyond their faith. It is not a prerequisite to be of any particular faith or sexuality to benefit from the sense of being reached out to. For too long LGBT Christians have been forced to live with the dilemma of feeling both judged and excluded by their faith, and many of them have been made to feel isolated freaks of nature, when, in all probability, they weren’t the only gay Christian in the village.

Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudondym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to complete his first full-length prose work.



At 2:14 AM, Anonymous HENRY JUHALA said...

Thanks for posting the wonderful words about Sanctified. I am one of the authors mentioned in the review above. I linked this review and Chroma a number of times on my Facebook page. I am presently launching a new Facebook page of my poetry called "Between The Closet & The Looking Glass". It is geared to a genre of GLBT Christian poetry of witness similar to some of the content in Sanctified. Here is the link.

This is my Christmas present to all my friends. If you are on Facebook please consider becoming a fan of this page.



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