“The poems we write are our own scriptures.”
I have no idea if I’m quoting Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama accurately; he has this awful habit of dropping these pearls of wisdom in the middle of casual conversation, when you don’t have a pen handy to jot them down! Still, I think I’ve captured the gist of what he said to me following the “Poems from the Edges” event we hosted together in Vancouver this past Sunday night.
The event drew a capacity crowd of 95 people, yet managed to maintain a quiet intimacy thanks to the beautiful layout of the round St. Margaret’s sanctuary, with audience members sitting in concentric circular rows of chairs.
We’re destined for the same whale, Jonah.
We’re at the wedding, Cana.
Work it out and see
That we’re not your neighbours’ neighbours
Or your children’s children
We are you
A part of you.
~ excerpt from “Bridges from the Edges: Songs from the Earth’s Periphery” by Mateo Castaño-Suárez
Besides providing a chance to hear and learn from Pádraig during his visit to BC, the evening also served as an unofficial launch party for “A Queer Communion,” which is Generous Space’s second community collection of writing (the first being “Prayers from the Edges“). We published “A Queer Communion” this past May, bringing together poems from 21 LGBTQ+ Canadians from our nationwide community. The collection is loosely themed around the Eucharist, with sub-themes like Incarnation, Brokenness, and Resurrection.
At Sunday’s event, we were privileged to have three BC poets recite their own work from the book, and four additional poems from the collection were read not by their authors, but by local LGBTQ+ community members who worked hard to honour the original poet’s nuances.
The body of Christ, pure, holy
the red glow in my room.
They didn’t know me.
~ excerpt from “in remembrance of me” by Abigail Balisky
We also welcomed local poet Céline Chuang to share one of her poems with us from a soon-to-be-released self-published work. We met Céline too late to include her work in “A Queer Communion,” so we can’t wait to incorporate her writing into future Generous Space collections!
i am more certain than uncertain
even when it is the kind stung through and
shaky, i uncover god
in the shape of loneliness,
the echo of foghorns, an outline
through the mist.
~ excerpt from “since” by Céline Chuang
After that delightful “appetizer round” of local poets, we settled in for the main course: a half hour of stories and poems from Pádraig. Pádraig has written on many topics, including conflict, violence, power, language, and Irishness, but the selections he chose to share with us were centered around his journey with his sexuality and his faith communities. He didn’t tiptoe around the painful parts, like the three exorcisms to which he was subjected in the context of so-called “reparative” therapy, or some disappointing reactions to his coming out, yet he interwove those stories with humour and moments of gratitude, modeling the resilience and generosity we try to practice at Generous Space. It is no exaggeration to say that we hung on his every lilting, Irish-accented word!
I hear you’re gay now, she says.
are you still a Christian?
Oh how will we tell this story?
She, to her friends, with
sadness, curiosity and prayers
for reorientation and returning.
Me, to mine, with sadness,
anger and prayers for
refocusing the lenses and returning.
And the anger was all mine.
And that question
was all about her.
~ excerpt from “r e t u r n i n g s” by Pádraig Ó Tuama
By the end of the evening, we’d listened the voices of a wide variety of edge-dwellers, from the queer teenager attending art school all the way to the man in his 60s who had only recently come out as gay. We bore witness to our fragility and our strength, our beauty and our wrestling, our sense of God’s presence and absence, our flesh and our spirits. Some wrote poetry for solace, some for self-expression, some for survival.
As we closed, we heard so many attendees commenting on what a privilege it was to hold that space. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we gather to hear such intimate “scriptures” shared by members of the GS community.