The Spirit Can Crest
In The Spirit Can Crest, Steven Riel’s second chapbook, we see this gay poet attempt to describe the process of losing his younger brother, David, to AIDS. From first learning of his brother’s diagnosis to confronting his own new identity as a survivor of the AIDS pandemic, Riel discovers both helplessness and strength, nearly silencing sadness and some nuggets of hope: “The spirit can crest as the body subsides. / Let me not have witnessed this in vain.”
Lessons gathered from this difficult experience echo throughout the book. Several poems trace the transformation of pre-diagnosis innocence into post-diagnosis experience. Using personas such as a caught fish and the character of Rosemary Woodhouse in the film Rosemary’s Baby, Riel maps the upending of innocence, asking, “Was Eden a lie?”
Readers familiar with Steven Riel’s first book How to Dream will recognize his ongoing work of exploring boyhood, gay identity, effeminacy, and camp, but The Spirit Can Crest is permeated by an additional sense of seriousness.
Praise for the Book
“If Steven Riel were a window dresser instead of a poet his carefully placed objects in elegant proximities—as the words in the lines of these poems—would render tableaux with wry and tender precision so as to stir your spirit and stretch your heart.” — Franklin Abbott, author of Mortal Love and editor of Boyhood, Growing Up Male
“He should have either caved in or lashed out. I mean, what else do you do when society says you can’t be who you are. Not just once, but twice. Because you are Franco-American. Because you’re gay. But Steven Riel rejected the obvious choices. Instead, he decided to explore, examine, exist. In the process, he grew stronger and more comfortable in all of his identities. Not just Franco and gay, but in all of the plural ways that link us all together, in spite of the singularities. And somewhere along the way, he decided to take us along. Readers who, like me, discover the beautifully written—often breath-taking poems in this volume will most enthusiastically applaud that decision.” — Grégoire Chabot, playwright