Poetry in Motion: Gender and Identity in Ali Blythe's Hymnswitch

March 14, 2019

BC-based poet Ali Blythe is back after his debut collection Twoism with Hymnswitch (Goose Lane Editions)—a reflection on time, god, love, and the fluidity of gender identities. Read more below, and get a preview with the poem "More Reasons" from the collection. 

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My new body 
is narrow and dangerous

and in it a man’s voice
Watches for John Cage’s baton

 

In Hymnswitch, poet Ali Blythe takes up the themes of identity and the body once more and casts an eye backwards and forwards, visiting places of recovery and wrestling with the transition into one's own skin. As TC Tolbert writes on this new collection, “Meditating on time, god(s), gender, sobriety and love, the intelligence at work here is intellectual and emotional – courage in the service of discovery, which at its core is a surrender to vulnerability.” 

The speaker arrives in their own body and all the masks and disguises are off, strewn about for him to look at, to look at him. Readers will find themselves holding their breath at the risk and beauty and difficulty of the balance he strikes in the midst of ineffable complexity. Blythe explains: “About halfway through Hymnswitch, a kind of rescue takes place. I remember exactly the moment, last winter, I realized I could travel through time with warm strength to collect all the bodies.”

 

 

 

 

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"More Reasons"

 

Who’s in here
with me?
my amygdala
still sometimes says.

Now all your secrets
have left, you are
unified and dead.
Mary Ruefle.

Who is so cryptic
and really gets it right.
I am a whirlwind
of losses and gains.

When I speak so widely,
don’t words seem
too large for the task,
too loosely attached

to the animal?
No animal cares
for more reasons.
For our terrible deeds.

This morning I thought —
so simply and autonomously
it might have tasted
like orange juice —

Someone is finally here!
And it wasn’t unlike,
Today you won’t struggle
to know. But it was only

myself saying it’s time to pack up
again. Though I’m yet unable
to return home. Harbour
to enemies in their brightness

and friends in their equalizing
dark. The day you realize
you can collect the bodies
is a good day. Immediately

I discharge with warm strength
through time to dress
the body in the woods
in a T-shirt. It’s the size

of a ten-year-old boy. I once
left it hanging on a nail.
Next to the cracked paddles.
Bound-up sails.

 

 

 

 

Ali reads "More Reasons" from Hymnswitch.

 

 

 

 

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Ali Blythe's first book of poems, Twoism, was released by icehouse poetry to critical acclaim in 2015. He is the winner of the Vallum Award for Poetry, a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and the recipient of an honour of distinction from the Writers Trust of Canada for emerging LGBTQ writers. Blythe's poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies in Canada, Germany, Slovenia, and England. Blythe is also editor-in-chief of the Claremont Review, an international art and writing magazine for youth. He lives in Victoria.

 

 

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Thanks to Nathaniel at Goose Lane for sharing this collection with us. Hymnswitch will be available March 19, but you can pre-order it now. For more Poetry in Motion, click here.


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