At the Altar of Touch
Poetry Award Shortlist
Title: At the Altar of Touch
Author: Gavin Yuan Gao
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
These richly allusive poems weigh violence and tenderness, wound and cure, history and future. Boldly and tenderly, they balance loss and gain, adventure and quiet, as they hum to one another of love and loss. This is a scintillating and exhilarating collection from an accomplished and distinctive new voice.
Gavin Yuan Gao’s deeply moving debut crosses countries, languages, memories and themes with undeniable grace and skill. From the Kahlo-like portrait of its opening poem to the requiem of its closing, At the Altar of Touch is both capacious in its philosophical explorations and intimate in its invitation to readers. Lucid and lyrical, this is a work that demands conscious attention, both for its command of language and imagery and the sheer elegance of its execution. Consistently restrained yet irresistible and memorably elegiac, there are glimmers of hope(fulness) in its poems about family, loss, heartbreak, history and erasure.
Self-Portrait as the Last Wounded Stag
I’m walking into the quickening blizzard
as if into a hunter’s dream—
the flint arrow through my chest keener
than earthly desire. Wherever I went
teeth followed me, relentless as the shadow
of the doe-eyed boy I thought
I couldn’t live without. Long ago, love
made all gestures of flowering
possible on earth. Now I’m tired of living
on the peripheries where the witch-hazels thicken
as inkblots & the light over the hill grows
more distant each year. Father, far
& reticent as you are, let me not be a memory
of blood & musk salting a wolf’s breath.
Let me be antlers. Let me be lightning
branching jagged into sky. Let me be sky—
View the full extract here.
About the author
Born in Beijing, Gavin Yuan Gao is a genderqueer, bilingual immigrant poet who grew up in Beijing and Brisbane. They hold a BA (magna cum laude) in English Literature and Creative Writing from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. They live in Brisbane and read poetry for The Adroit Journal. At the Altar of Touch is their first book.
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