Book Review: God's Boy by Andrew Hahn
Andrew Hahn is a queer poet and writer living in Fort Lauderdale. He has his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and was invited to be the writer-in-residence at Randolph College. His poetry and essays can be found online at Screen Door Review, Butter Press, Crab Fat Magazine, Crab Creek Review, and Pithead Chapel among others.
A Review of Andrew Hahn's God's Boy
Andrew Hahn’s God’s Boy highlights its subject’s body on the line between condemnation and pleasure, using eroticism to queer hyper-masculine Christian traditions. Hahn’s poems apply Christian ritual and worship in order to reveal different interpretations of biblical teachings to show poetry’s position in changing the perspective of dominant society’s values and beliefs.
In Hahn’s titular piece, the poem begins with an informing epigraph: “liberty university is the world’s largest evangelical university.” The setting implies an intimidating authority for queer people, and yet Hahn prevails to deliver a collection of confessional poems that don’t ask for absolution. “God’s boy” narrates a forewarning from a “pastor emerick,” who heralds: “you don’t want to be a dad/dy’s boy […] / you’re God’s boy.” The speaker thinks: “dad/dies call twinks boy in the videos i love.” The repentance of “God,” “dad/dy,” and “boy” throughout the piece focuses on roles between dominant and submissive figures. Although “boy” answers to both “God” and “dad/dy,” Hahn demonstrates explicit thrill in the submissive role: “if only God knew how it felt to worship.” Supposing “boy” falls under a submissive category, the poem’s perspective of “boy” is by no means a passive role. The speaker privileges “boy’s” arousal, and absorbs the active act of language, dominating the presence of those who stand over “boy’s” body.
Throughout God’s Boy, Hahn reproduces biblical characters, transforming them into familial characters to represent the relationships between the subject and God as well as the subject and his father. In “a faggot tries to be christ-like,” the piece likens God and Jesus to a father and son:
w the way my father sometimes looks at me
In connecting Jesus to a gay son and God to a homophobic father, the sacrificial offering centers on suffering instead of salvation, as if to erase the holiness of the biblical significance. Furthermore, Hahn reasons the social phenomenon of homophobic fathers disowning their gay sons as deriving from the crucifixion of Christ: “is this how the church creates gods from men.” Hahn’s poem reimagines the crucifixion to rationalize society’s centuries of homophobic social conditions, disclosing a reflexive analogy between history and present.
Moreover, Hahn’s God’s Boy further discusses the creation of social categorizations, investigating the semiotics of the recurring word “faggot.” Interestingly, in “boys like us,” the poem doesn’t intentionally use the word “faggot,” but represents the word through metaphor and analogy:
he doesn’t know these people used to burn boys like us at the stakes
The piece assumes the reader is familiar with the etymology of the word “faggot” from its beginnings to “bundles for burning” to “our name.” In discarding fear, the poem subverts the violent connotations engendered in the word, and instead accepts the “name” as such. Hahn’s poem teeters between the implicit and the explicit as the images of immolation describe the violence against queer people, while the poem speaks to true events:
when these people set us ablaze
Hahn’s “boys like us” denotes the history of violence of the gay slur, while reclaiming the term to revert connotative power of language to the people who “faggot” claims to define.
Andrew Hahn’s God’s Boy worships poetic craft for its ability to confess the conflict between queerness and Christian tradition, situating language as the tool and space for reclaiming stolen power. Hahn’s explicit use of eroticism reveals an epistemology for queer people navigating marginalizing environments, using the past to subvert dominant social conditions based on gender and sexual discrimination. In “the river: schroon lake,” the speaker contemplates, “i imagined how a home can be beautiful after Hell devastates it"; and, it is the poem’s meditation the collection transgresses. God’s Boy depicts a close intimacy with violence, and yet enkindles the beauty of queer people, their survival, and their pilgrimage to a home of healing and of unrepentant love.
Miguel is a Lewis University alum. He is the Book Review Editor for Jet Fuel Review. He has been published in 30N, EFNIKS, Rogue Agent, The Rising Phoenix Review among other places. He is a fellow of the Wolny Writing Residency. He also writes for the Jet Fuel Review blog: Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column.