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A homoerotic interfaith adventure awaits in The Daring of Paradise, the newest poetry book by Toronto teacher Brian Day.
The whole book can be summed up in the first line of one poem: “What makes us tick is our lust for the holy.” Day writes of men (and a few women) who lust for the holy inside and across the boundaries of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. And God lusts right back. Day’s God has erotic desires so intense that they can seem scary. As Day puts it, “our eyes turn blue with the terror of his beauty.”
The poet’s potent blend of gay and religious themes illuminates both queer experience and all spiritual expression. His newest book does the important, delicate work of finding the common threads of different faiths and weaving them loosely together into a meaningful pattern. The helpful list of references at the end shows that Day drew inspiration from the Bible, the Qur’an, Buddhist and Hindu sources, and art from Monet to Michelangelo. He brings out hidden textures of gay love in traditions where homophobia has often been the norm.
While many of the book’s 53 poems are frankly sexual, others address non-sexual experience. For example, the poem that is most clearly about Muhammad is unlikely to provoke a fatwa from Muslim extremists. It avoids direct references to sex and instead paints a lyrical picture of the prophet’s prayer for rain.
Few other poetry books have attempted what Day does in The Daring of Paradise. He is one of the only writers to put religious imagination into explicitly gay terms, making divine figures queerly accessible and sometimes even relocating them into today’s landscape. Emanuel Xavier achieved it in 2010 with If Jesus Were Gay and Other Poems, a grittier book based on his experience as a street hustler. I know the difficulty of this endeavor first-hand from writing a fictional autobiography of a queer Christ in my Jesus in Love novels. And Day himself delved into the sexual side of a queer Christ in his previous book Conjuring Jesus. Now Day forges new ground by taking a multi-faith approach.
His latest book includes several new homoerotic poems about Jesus, which will please fans of his queer Christ vision. The titles alone give a foretaste of the delights in such poems as “Pursuing our Pleasure in the Body of Christ” and “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park.” Day also gives a glimpse of Jesus enjoying a naked interlude with Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. Christ and Buddha stick to a platonic relationship when they meet in his poem “Jesus and Buddha Commiserate.” But Buddha yields to his desire for another man, or possibly for his future male self, in a poem about his past life as Megha. Day also explores the experiences of less exalted religious figures, such as King Saul falling into an ecstatic state of prophesy, Jacob wrestling with God, and Paul at his moment of conversion.
Day’s work aligns with mystical traditions yet manages to be strikingly contemporary. He offers an elegant queer update of the well-known words in I Corinthians 13. The Bible text begins, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Day takes it in a deliciously fresh direction in the poem “Tonguing the mouths”:
Though I tongue the mouths of men like angels…
Yet if I… part my lips with no wondering names
For this stunning profusion I’m blessed to receive —
Then I am merely a creature of my age.
The book has the mixed blessings inherent in almost all interfaith endeavors: delightful eclecticism and an important overarching vision–expressed through an incongruous mix that is partially incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
Day’s poetry not only covers all major world religions, but also strays into the realm of fairy tales. The references to children’s stories such as such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears may detract, or at least distract, from his message of commonality between different religions. Or perhaps he intends to emphasize that all religions have their mythologies.
The book makes fine devotional reading, erotic reading, literary reading, all wrapped into one. His poems resonate with the depth that originates in time-honored religious texts. He begins his poem titled “Frog” by asserting, “Religion is seldom a handsome thing.” This slim, sleek volume of religious poetry manages to be both handsome and intelligently spiritual.
The Daring of Paradise
By Brian Day
Guernica Editions Inc.
Paperback, 9781550717112, 104 pp.