The Tender, Canonical Queerness of “All The Gay Saints”

Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s second book of poetry All The Gay Saints, winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, is a stunningly sentient collection of ekphrastic love poems inspired by Herman Baspaintings that unpack the intersections and intricacies of rural America, masculinity, queerness, and the body.

In “My Body is Constantly Conjuring a Tempest (Or, Weighing the Pros and Cons of Attending My High School Reunion),” “On Trespassing,” and “I Wish All Children Could Touch the Sky At Least Once,” Candrilli creates portals to an “unsafe house” of a “past life,” teeming with toxic masculinity–“raised fists, those/ holes in drywall”–and the generational violence and destruction it breeds, the “boys that threatened to rape me in high school.”

Body and land, boyhood and Appalachia–where “beware of dog signs are security systems” and “the warning is to draw blood first”–are inextricably and excruciatingly linked. Yet as much as Candrilli’s narrator is entrenched in their homeland, they are just as hyper-aware of its patriarchal mannerisms, its influences and after-effects:

Everything has its doppelganger and nowadays I plagiarize men’s
bodies indiscriminately. I have a right to take what’s not mine;
this is what both men and the earth have taught me.

Although they were taught by their “father and the land” to be “small and quiet,” they overcome these repressive lessons by “opening [their] mouth” and “[using] it” to reclaim and rename their narrative and body, to detach the body from the aforementioned version of earth. They will, as asserted in “On Wanting Top Surgery in the Fascist Regime,” “rip myself apart,” but “drink/the body to solar power and…make a beautiful mother.” In this way, Candrilli’s poetry is the raw pink of (re)birth and beginning, each poem a root or tendon trusting it’s own vitality and resilience, finding cohesion within transness.

Nowhere is this resiliency more palpable and deeply resonant than in “Our Root System is a Tangle of Pipecleaners (Or, Being Your Man Has Made Me One)” where Candrilli’s narrator and their “future-husband wife,” a transcendent and healing refuge of a human, “lick my wounds/ and yours”and “[together]…have no time/ to be anything less than large.” 

In “There is a Point at Which I Tire From My Own Fear,” the dangerous realities and descriminatory histories of being LGBTQ are acknowledged:

Queers are killed

and have always been    killed in any number

                       of ways.

And conquered:

                            But my partner tells me again and again

how they love me, and I know one day I’ll try to die

in their arms.   I know this     is how     we will win.

All The Gay Saints is a book of vital reminders that a distinguishing quality of our love is it’s protectiveness – loving for survival and both self and communal preservation. That the dichotmous, conflicting truths of “glitter, glitter, glitter, and guns” musn’t deter or demoralize us from loving ourselves and our queer/trans siblings, but instead fortify and fiercen our queer love. And that:

At the end of the day 
all we have is this ritual

of love, and that, I think, 
will be enough

to live forever.