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VPLA 2023
At the Altar of Touch

Poetry Award Shortlist

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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.



Judges’ report

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 JournalAt the Altar of Touch is their first book.



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