Image Credit: Anna Sullivan via Unsplash
“I was thrown/into the river/behind that schoolyard/and spent years swimming
against the current/At last / I made it upstream—” the speaker says in David Hanlon’s debut collection of poems, Spectrum of Flight.
The pieces discuss Hanlon’s experiences being bullied, facing depression, as well as dealing with homophobia and coming to embrace his own sexuality.
In the poem, “Swimming Lessons,” the speaker says, “They say I am ‘Gay’/taunt and bully me/they think they know/the damage—/they don’t.”
“Still / the decision has been made/It is me / It is bad / I am bad/When I learn what ‘it’ is/come to realise for myself that I am ‘it’/I think how could they have known/this about me before I did?” Here, we can see the speaker’s confusion. If it’s something that’s an ingrained, natural part of him, then why is that the thing that is considered negative?
“Why am I this bad thing?/I try to hide it—/I can’t.” This line left me gutted. The speaker is recognizing that it’s not something he can change or hide.
By the end, though, there’s a resolution. The struggles that he’s been through have shaped him. He’s proud of who he is and who he loves. He’s comfortable within himself, and it’s a really cathartic, beautiful moment.
“I was thrown into the river/behind that schoolyard/and spent years swimming against the current.//At last I made it upstream/a gay man…wondering/what they would say now/if I told them how lucky I feel/that I became/a strong swimmer.”
Here, in this final stanza, the speaker overcomes his childhood bullies. He’s proud of the very thing that they used to taunt him with.
The book is a cleansing fire, in the way that it shows how Hanlon overcame both exterior and interior struggles that he faced. This book is a testament to the prejudice that LGBT people face, and how embracing oneself and one’s sexuality is the bravest and scariest thing that some people can do, but also the best and healthiest thing at the same time.
Hanlon’s poems are expertly wrought, at times devastating, at other times, eloquent. Overall, the collection is absolutely lovely. I highly recommend Spectrum of Flight, which is available through Animal Heart Press.