Admittedly, I have a penchant for the fantastical. I spent most of my formative years reading Harry Potter and Redwall novels, and I still find myself drawn to literature that deals with the strange and otherworldly—even as an adult. It makes sense, then, that I would be intrigued by the premise of C. Dale Young’s collection of poetry The Halo. I was even more intrigued to learn that Young was recently awarded the Hanes Prize for Poetry by the Fellowship of Southern Writers and will be a guest at SouthWord in Chattanooga on November 3 and 4. However, although this collection abounds with references to angels, monsters, and mythical gods, The Halo deals with subjects that are anything but fantasy, asking questions of faith, existence, and identity in starkly beautiful verse that can only be described as haunting.
Throughout the collection, Young adopts the persona of a young man who, at the onset of puberty, discovers that he has sprouted a massive pair of wings. Although these wings seemingly give him the appearance of an angel, Young’s speaker finds them repulsive and believes himself to be a monster. This pivotal moment marks the beginning of a life of secrecy as the young man struggles to hide his wings, just as he struggles to hide his attraction to other men. The speaker’s faith is shaken even further when he is struck by a car at the age of eighteen, leaving him seriously injured and immobile in the hospital. Although frequently tinged with the suggestion of the supernatural, the anguish, longing, and anxiety that resonates from Young’s poetry is heartbreakingly human. It is both sweeping and intimate in its scope, both refreshingly original and timeless in its focus. The Halo ultimately forces readers to question their assumptions about what is good and what is evil, and upon reaching its conclusion, they are likely to agree with the Rainer Maria Rilke quotation cited in the collection’s epigraph: “Every angel is terrifying.”
C. Dale Young is a full-time physician, writer, and editor. His body of work consists of both poetry and short fiction, including the collections The Day Underneath the Day, The Second Person, and Torn. Originally from southern Florida, he now lives in San Francisco with his spouse, Jacob Bertrand. He will be appearing as a guest writer at SouthWord in Chattanooga on November 3 and 4.