A vibrantly alive Jesus, complete with homoerotic desires, emerges from the poetry of Brian Day in his new book Conjuring Jesus.
From the very first poem, Day delves into the bisexuality that Jesus inherited from his ancestor King David. Some of the most wonderful poems present what I call a “gay Jesus.” He bonds with his male Beloved, sits beside a near-naked young man, gets trapped in gay love triangle with Judas, and endures the humiliation of being called “faggot.” In “Better Not to Marry,” Jesus praises the “unmarrying brand of men” that God created.
Day, a Toronto teacher, conjures up a Jesus who is both sexual and spiritual, “wholly versatile” and “an unscrupulous party boy” who eats and drinks with sinners. Day distills the essence of Jesus in a sensuous, playful way that remains true to the human spirit and to the spirit of the gospels. His poems liberate the soul with a fresh, unrestricted view of Jesus.
The 49 short poems in this slim volume work both as literature and as devotional reading for the open-minded. You don’t have to be a believer to appreciate Day’s poetry. His poems can stand alone as works of art, apart from any religious significance. Still, as Easter approaches it is especially appropriate to read poetry based on the life and teachings of Christ. They are arranged to follow Jesus from his baptism through his death and resurrection, with parables and miracles sprinkled throughout.
Like Day, I wrote about a queer Christ in my Jesus in Love novels. I know how hard it is to “conjure” a Jesus who is erotically alive while transcending all categories of male or female, gay or straight, God or human. I appreciate the deft style with which Day accomplishes the task. For example, in “Jesus, Versatile” he manages to convey Jesus’ own ecstatic union with God, “entering, entered, everywhere at once.”
Day’s best poems, and there are many, focus on emotion and embodiment. Readers will either love or hate the few poems that stray into other territory, such as equating Jesus with Mohammad and Buddha. I personally enjoyed the poem where Jesus and Krishna “meet as bridegrooms long promised to each other.” Day also celebrated “the love between Krishna and Jesus” in a poem by that name in his second poetry book, Azure (2004). I look forward to his next project, which will go a step further by blending homoerotic, interfaith and ecological themes, according to a recent interview with Day at Open Book Toronto.
Since Day writes so well about men, perhaps it is inevitable that some of his poems about women are less satisfying. I grew weary of his repeated and distracting use of “man” to refer to all people.
I have emphasized Day’s erotic and LGBT poems in this review because that is the focus at LambdaLiterary.org. Every poem in the book are sensuous (like all good poetry), but many are not directly related to sexuality. They address a variety of themes such as violence, despair, healing, forgiveness, all woven together with the story and parables of Jesus.
I read Conjuring Jesus at bedtime, a few poems per night. They sweetly opened my heart before I closed my eyes for a good night’s sleep. It’s also suitable to read Conjuring Jesus right alongside the Bible, thanks to a list of Biblical references for each poem at the end of the book.
Day writes of a Jesus who offers “the pleasures of sliding into our own promised land — this delicious, indiscriminate view of heaven.” I recommend that readers taste heaven by reading Conjuring Jesus.
By Brian Day Guernica Editions
Paperback, $13, 82 pages