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Gender + Sexuality

On Affirmations and Letting Life Change Us

ARTIFACT: Luke Hathaway’s new poetry collection is a wondrous account of love.

Jackie Wong 23 Mar

Jackie Wong is a senior editor with The Tyee.

Between 6:30 and 8:15 a.m. this morning, I watched the movie Frozen with my four-year-old son, who would now like an Elsa dress, please, after spending most of last night in character as the sparkly ice princess. There’s something healing about watching people wrestle with and arrive on the other side of a long winter of the land and spirit, whether onscreen or on the page.

Accordingly, Luke Hathaway’s The Affirmations is just the thing to read now as we defrost from another pandemic winter and notice the green buds on tree branches, a promise of renewal almost in spite of all we’ve seen.

In the same way that I love listening to Joanna Newsom’s music at this time of year, Hathaway’s poetry collection arrives at just the right time. The Affirmations’ silvery, dew-laced spiderweb of intricacy and intimacy connect us simultaneously to myth, futurism and matters of the heart.


Water, they say,

is taught by thirst:

thirst has worn

the path that winds

uphill to the well

where I went, as I thought,

for my water and where

I met you first—

I met you there

and now I know

that thirst is also

taught by water.

Hathaway is a trans poet, librettist and theatre maker who lives in Halifax and teaches creative writing at St. Mary’s University. His last book, Years, Months, Days was named a New York Times’ Best Poetry Book of 2018, drawing comparisons to the work of poets like Anne Carson and Jericho Brown.

The Affirmations, published by Windsor, Ontario’s Biblioasis and out next month, is Hathaway’s first book since transitioning. The collection is wondrous and expansive, writing in response to W.H. Auden, Jesus Christ and William Shakespeare.

One can see how many of the poems have been written for music and have been performed by vocalists and string ensembles. Through all its epic, often spiritual provocations, it’s a book about what it means to love ourselves and each other through storms.

From the final poem in the collection, "ITE, MISSA EST: for Christopher Snook, alive at sea":

It swallowed us up quick. Christopher,

when the Atlantic rose against us

did we grapple at the net—

or did we let ourselves be swallowed, let

ourselves be loved like that?

For me, my experience of these pandemic years has been so much about surrender. And I’m still sitting with lingering questions. How can we let these experiences change us? What does it mean to give ourselves over in a way that we don’t always have language for?

With that in mind, let this collection swallow you.

vii. Senez puerum portabat / Lullaby

Father you carry, held up by

the child that you carry, the child

born to a child whose child –

hood even childbirth couldn’t smother,

who loved her newborn baby like a father.

It’s okay you can go now, I am holding you,

You thought you had so very far to go, but you are home now.


Read more: Gender + Sexuality, Media

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