A Review of john compton’s the castration of a minor god


the castration of a minor god is the third full length book of poems by john compton. The book explores themes such as the sacred & the profane, sexual identity, grief, the roots of a dysfunctional family, and religious hypocrisy. As a poet’s life is revealed, bit by bit, each stanza offers morsels and moments that are raw. Like Tori Amos’ lyrics, and Sylvia Plath’s poetry, the confessional style works because the poet’s voice is vulnerable and honest; it isn’t one of angst. The collection will also feel familiar for those who have struggled with an existential crisis and/or traumatic experiences. 

the castration of a minor god digs deep into the brutalities of the human condition by questioning a religious ideology that often contradicts itself. Although one must love thy neighbor, many strict religious organizations also believe that homosexuality is a sin. Consider the trilogy his hair went up like a wick: the first part dissects a dysfunctional family that believes in traditional values: 

lost in the atmosphere 

wanting the flames 

to undress my body & ashes 

cover my mother’s face. 

//

my father told me to shoot her again 

The “her” is a deer. The gun becomes a metaphor for reclaiming one’s masculinity, specifically toxic masculinity, which is translated as violence, the lack of sensitivity, and void of any femininity.

In part two, the poet wants “to build a church from poems/so god will understand/how religion can congregate.” Here religion is replaced with literature as the savior. The final poem portrays religious hypocrisy as “two lovers/destined together/within this unholy regime.” Those familiar with the scripture are aware that “God is love,” but for many, homosexuality is depicted as unholy. The last line reads: “let me be as i was born,” and again, we are reminded that the speaker is rebelling against those who constantly challenge and question his sexuality & identity.

While compton’s collection does explore philosophical themes and ideas, we witness the way in which those ideologies can be put into action in a sinister way. In the poem, the men who made bonfires, we witness two men being dragged out of their beds to be burnt. The last line is profound and disturbing: “they clothed them in fire/made them women in orange dresses/dancing.” This hints that barbaric behavior seems to be more desirable than two men who are in love. The physical results of such actions are no doubt apparent, but where compton equally shines is in showing the subtler ways in which even something like language can be used menacingly. In mary, it is clear that the speaker wants to be accepted for his sexual identity; and yet, he is continuously haunted: 

your mouth is my grandmother’s 

now she speaks with her dead voice 

from your vocal cords.

Once again, the poet is confronted with a religion that states he isn’t whole because “she drives to me with prayer/ [and] i turn her away with heat.” 

One of the most difficult and courageous pieces is “the rapist with no name.” In the poem, a stranger violates the speaker by clutching the back of the neck, calling him a tease, making a yum sound and penetrating him.  A sexual act becomes violent and traumatic leaving the speaker “loose/[opened] like a mouth/gaped in awe.” There is no closure, and the speaker is left traumatized by the situation. But john compton’s poetry is always concerned with wrapping words into disturbing images, similar to Francis Bacon, the painter who often distorted the faces of figures to show the corruption and or unholiness of their very essence (including his own portraits). Consider this line from rowland, “if my father had not sewn his palms/to my mother’s womb/i would have never known his existence.” Sometimes, existence is forged through these realities.  

the castration of a minor god is brutal, raw and challenges the readers to look at the norm as sinful and the sinful (specifically as it pertains to homosexuality) as normal. This play on the sacred and  profane, along with sexual identity and a longing to be accepted in a judgmental society, is what makes this collection a powerful piece. The poet shakes readers to view the world from his perspective. In all the book’s unholiness, castration and pain here, there is courage, beauty, honesty and truth. 

Caroline Reddy’s work has been accepted or published in Active Muse, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Braided Way, Calliope, Clinch, Grey Sparrow, Deep Overstock, Fresh Wods Magazine, Indefinite Space, International Human Rights Arts Festival, Literary Heist, The Opiate, Quail Bell and Star*line among others. In the fall of 2021, her poem “A Sacred Dance”was nominated for the Best of The Net prize by Active Muse. Caroline Reddy was born in Shiraz, Iran and is currently working on a collection of poems titled Shake the Atmosphere to Reclaim an Empty Moment.