There’s a Poem for That: Emily Austin + Gay Girl Prayers

Poet and novelist Emily Austin discusses her queer reclaiming of Catholic imagery, prayers, and bible passages in her collection Gay Girl Prayers (Brick Books), and shares “Genesis 19 & Hebrews 13:2” from the collection.

There's a poem for queering Catholicism: featuring the cover of Gay Girl Prayers by Emily Austin and a photo of the poet.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Emily Austin

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Gay Girl Prayers and how it came to be?

The cover of Gay Girl Prayers by Emily Austin.

Emily Austin: I wrote GAY GIRL PRAYERS while I was writing my first novel, which is titled EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM WILL SOMEDAY BE DEAD. The novel is about an atheist lesbian woman who stumbles into a job at a Catholic church. I was raised Catholic. I was an altar server, I went to Catholic school, the whole shebang. I also studied Religion in university. It was my minor.

I was in my late twenties when I began writing EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM. Time had passed since I was an altar server, or a student, and I found myself revisiting the bible with a changed perspective. While writing my novel, I reflected a lot on the impact the church had on me as a little girl. I began writing the first draft of this poetry for myself as a sort of therapy exercise. I wrote it to ease my own feelings regarding religiously fuelled homophobia and sexism, among other things. I found that exercise sort of healing.

On a whim, I submitted that draft to the Canada Council for the Arts. I was surprised to be given a grant to work on it. Because of the support and encouragement of that grant, I pursued sharing it with others. I’m grateful to Brick Books and to River Halen (who was my very talented and effective editor) for helping me share this collection with others.

ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?

Emily Austin: I am a big fan of Diamond Sharp’s SUPER SAD BLACK GIRL. It’s a strong collection of poetry that deals with many topics including race and mental illness. I also loved PIG by Sam Sax, which uses pigs as a way to explore religion, queerness, violence and more. GRIEF SLUT by Evelyn Berry is another brilliant poetry book. It’s a queer portrait of a girl living through boyhood, among other things.

ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

Emily Austin: “VBS” by Lucy Dacus. I love Lucy’s music—especially her lyrics. I’m particularly drawn to her songs that relate to religious trauma. Another song that might be on the soundtrack is “Holy” by Frightened Rabbit. That song reflects some similar sentiments to those expressed in these poems.

ALU: Can you discuss the significance of language and word choice in your collection. How did you land on which words to use?

Emily Austin: This collection reworks catholic prayers and biblical passages. I referred to the King James Bible to write it. I often borrowed language used there. For example, the phrasing “strange women” can be found throughout the KJB. I took that for my own meaning. I also took words like “transubstantiate” to express respect and love for trans people.

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

Emily Austin: My grandma was a big fan of Leonard Cohen.

There’s a poem for queering Catholicism…
“Genesis 19 & Hebrews 13:2” from Gay Girl Prayers

While Lot was being praised, and carried around on the men’s shoulders, the angels asked

the girls, “Are you two okay?”
10 The girls said, “No, our dad is obviously an incestuous

pedophile. Can you please take us somewhere safe?”

11 The angels nodded, “Yes, for sure. We’ll take you to the gay bar in heaven.”

Genesis 19 & Hebrews 13:2

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A photo of poet Emily Austin. She is a light-skin-toned woman with long blond hair, wearing a toque and dark sweater, leaning against a graffiti'ed wall.

Emily Austin currently resides in Ottawa/the territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation. She is the author of the novel, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, which was longlisted for The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, and a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. She studied Library Sciences, English Literature, and Religious Studies at King’s University College and Western University.

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Thanks to Emily Austin for answering our questions, and to Brick Books for the text of “Genesis 19 & Hebrews 13:2” from Gay Girl Prayers, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.