Palimpsest Press, 2020
Mythical Man is David Ly’s sharp debut collection of poetry, and it makes you think about identity, race, social class, gender, and gender preference. It makes you think about love and desire, about our relationships with one another, about distances that grow when connections are shattered, and about how we constantly define and redefine ourselves as humans. It’s a book of poems that questions masculinity, as well as the notion of toxic masculinity, and it’s a book of poems that is full of lines that sing with wit and bittersweet wisdom at the same time.
The four “Mythical Man” poems weave a thread through the collection. They feel like tiny touchstones as you read, as you discover them one by one, like markers of identity along the journey. In one piece, the speaker’s voice says, “We press against each other/so hard/that I should just admit/I want to be/absorbed into you.” In another, the poet writes “This will only feel/like forever for now.” In the final poem in the series, he alludes to how we are defined by our ancestral and familial bonds, suggesting that even these bonds can become restraints—things to be broken free of, and the very things that need to be questioned and destroyed in order to permit new creation. Our identity reveals itself slowly, through the way in which we lead our lives, and through our ability to question the patterning with which we’ve grown up. Ly asks us to think about what identity means, but also about how we maintain our independence when we come into the strange and exciting geography of a new intimate relationship.
There’s an underlying thread of desire and intimacy that runs through the collection, with a focus on the nuances of gay love and creating relationships within an urban centre. In “Logging On,” the poet writes, honestly, “As simple as it is, hookup culture is confusing as fuck.” In “Poem Made From Kindling,” the speaker wonders “how long is too long/to hold a gaze?” The poem, “Transit Romance Guy” speaks to a situation that any of us could easily relate to—a chance meeting on the city bus, and an imagined ‘what if’ sort of story that is woven in a person’s mind. In “Hunt,” the speaker pleads: “Clutch me in the dark—together we’ll stay/silent as I brush the vertebrae/protruding from your charcoal-flecked skin.” All of it is about the importance of connection—emotionally and physically—on a deep, human level.
Ly is a poet who can craft beautiful images. In “Nymphaeacea,” the speaker says “I should have believed more as a boy.” Now, as an adult, they say that they would feel less guilty “for moments of self-compassion” that “bloom/in the imagination like pink lilies/bobbing on a boiling black lake.” The images in “Walking Together At The End Of The World” are—quite simply—stunning: “We traverse hand-in-hand//across frozen seas, across engulfed metropoles/built to withstand the apocalypse, the ice//beneath our feet pulsating with the glow/of a skyscraper-sized cuttlefish.” An eyelash is lifted by a bit of breeze, sending it “dancing through the air.” Sometimes, reading a David Ly poem is like seeing a line, an image, or a stanza dance elegantly in slow motion across your field of vision. You must pay attention.
Mythical Man is a collection of work that lays out the myth of what western society imagines a man should be, based on the veneer that is so falsely and erroneously conjured in popular culture. It makes a reader question what masculinity really entails, and what makes toxic masculinity rise up in such a wildly unchecked way in our culture. The poems also remind the reader that race and identity can never be separated from our explorations in love and human connection. Then, it slays the preconceived myths, charging the reader to consider and then subvert their own deeply embedded biases and stereotypes. Why continue to propagate them without purpose, and so thoughtlessly? Mythical Man offers alternate doorways of understanding to readers who will likely find themselves with more open minds after reading Ly’s work. Here is, to be sure, a strong collection of poetry, and one that bodes well for Ly’s future releases.
Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. She was poet laureate in Sudbury from 2016-18, and was the first woman appointed to the role. Kim's latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She's a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers' Union of Canada, and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim blogs fairly regularly at kimfahner.wordpress.com and can be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com