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.
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":
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.
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