This new poetry collection lives up to its title. “Collective Brightness” shines. It shines a light on the often torturous experiences of Gay and Lesbian people at the hands of organized religions. But it also shines with the luminous spirituality and hope that often emerges in many Gay and Lesbian people. Its thoughtful editor, poet and artist Kevin Simmonds, has given us all a magnificent gift in “Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality,” from Sibling Rivalry Press.
This anthology is indeed a “first of its kind.” It contains the poems of over 100 poets, from all over the world, including a wide variety of religious traditions. Armistaud Maupin writes that these poets “are not so much adherents of religion as survivors of it.” Sadly, this is true. But survival is its own kind of grace. And that grace illuminates these pages.
In no particular order, I’d like to hold up a few of these poems in the hopes that you might be captured by them. I certainly am.
Jason Schneiderman’s poem “Adorable Wounds” offers an unusual and interesting meditation upon the body of Christ. He begins in a matter of fact tone:
When his side opened up
like a tent,
it was a little tent
because he was man-sized,
and when the water
it was not so much.
But ends near a kind of ecstasy:
Let me sleep
inside that tent.
Let me be that nail.
Steven Riel writes, in nearly humorous tones, of a young boy’s guilt-filled first confession as a young catholic in “My Perfect Confession.” His sixth stanza holds the lines:
To whom could I turn to supply
the grown-up words for what we boys had done,
our tingling skin, our silken thighs?
Ellen Bass has four awesome poems here. Her “Prayer for Peace” rings of love for the ordinary, finding sacred realities in everyday moments. Her “God and the G-Spot” speaks of the deep desire for faith and certainty. Her strongest poem here might be her “Ode to The God of Atheists.” In it she offers some comfort:
The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns…
I especially love Jeffrey Beam’s “St. Jerome in His Study” in which he muses:
How the sunlight
sweetens the room
all I own written in the very boards
what I have given away
what comes to me
My friend, Jericho Brown has two beautiful poems here. “To Be Seen” speaks to us in the voice of a dying man:
You will forgive me if I carry the tone of a preacher.
Surely, you understand, a man in the midst of dying
Must have a point, which is not to say that I am dying
Exactly. My doctor tells me I might live
Longer than most, since I see him more than most.
Of course, he cannot be trusted nor can any man
Who promises you life based on his being seen.
I’m also moved by Joseph O. Legaspi’s “The Homosexual Book of Genesis.” He suggests that God created Adam and Adam and closes his poem with these lines:
The serpent remains, coiled up a fruitless
tree. But as God’s will, there calcified
in the larynxes of Adam and Adam: desire.
Crystal Ybarra’s “Dear Pastor” is also a devastatingly beautiful read. Likewise, R. Zamora Linmark’s “Bino And Rowena Make A Litany to Our Lady of the Mount” is a magnificently hypnotic litany.
These few poems I’ve mentioned obviously can’t do the book justice. It has captivated me since I opened it. It might do the same to you. I urge you to take it up and read. You might be blinded by it.
Many thanks to editor Kevin Simmonds for all his work and persistence in bringing this gorgeous project into the light.