By Izzy Astuto
Sean Patrick Mulroy is a writer, actor, visual artist, and musician from the American South, who now lives all over the world. A nationally recognized writer in the US, Sean is a performer, an award winning professor, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sean is a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow, a 2017-2018 Writer-in-Residence at The Kerouac Project in Orlando Florida, and a 2019 Writer in Residence at Villa Sarkia in Sysma, Finland. He is the author of Hated for the Gods (Button Poetry), Winner of the 2020 Button Poetry Prize.
In 2023, acclaimed poet Sean Patrick Mulroy released his long-awaited debut collection of work, Hated For The Gods, winner of the 2020 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. Mulroy isn’t solely known for his writing but also for acting, music, and visual artistry all around the world. In this collection, he brings together his vast experiences and knowledge to craft a poignant timeline for queer people, specifically gay men, throughout their history.
The collection starts with the poem, “fetish.” Queer sexual identity is often equated with kink, creating far too much discourse over what should be allowed to be “flaunted” in public. From the very first words,
leather braided into leather, bound into a cord and dyed night black,
Mulroy wants his audience to know that he feels no shame over the “lifestyle” he leads. With such a statement poem starting off the chapbook, it is clear what the rest of this collection is going to be— loud and boisterous.
In this text, Mulroy attempts to make sense of the pain he has suffered as a result of who he’s loved. The fourth poem, “My First Date,” expands from a terrifying cop encounter into a diatribe against the police force. Amidst his recounting of the date, chaperoned by his weed dealer, he breaks down the structures in place that thrusts not just queer people, but any marginalized community, into daily danger.
On page 17, the first of a series of poems is written, each called “the evidence speaks for itself.” All of them document different pieces of ancient art, such as a statuette of two Gala priests from 2450 BCE. They serve as proof of queer people’s existence, despite the efforts made to stomp them out. The repeated inclusion of these historical items is an important testament to the proven strength of the LGBTQ+ community, and a beautiful way to educate readers on their past.
These aren’t the only pieces of history included, many of the poems are written from the perspective of historical figures, or about certain events. The poem, “St. Lucia is not known as a volatile place for homosexuals,” references the attack on three gay American men on the island of St. Lucia in 2011. These men were tied up and beaten by locals, and as soon as the news broke, the island government rightfully apologized for this type of behavior. However, in 2015, when a local teen to the island, Marvin Augustin, was stabbed 56 times on their beach, no official statement was made. Mulroy struggles with the dichotomy of these crimes, writing on page 43,
Perhaps here is the proof that faggotry is daylight in reverse. Unnatural, and rising in the West.
The collection focuses a lot on the fear that has always bound queer people together, the feeling that society bakes into anyone who may feel or act against the norm. Poems include snippets of gay people in hiding, touches snuck in secret. The language becomes especially intimate in these moments, such as in “sex dream in which Narcissus lives in your subdivision.”
The most popular boy in school,
the poem’s titled Narcissus, isn’t particularly kind, pushing
your head into his lap until you choked,
but the moments are treasured nonetheless. It's a twisted type of worship, as the two boys share a secret in the piece that no one else can be let in on.
Other relationships, less hidden, are equally painful. Through unique formatting, “love will be your undoing” tells the story of the author’s past lover, but in the opposite order. Before ever meeting, the two break up in the first four lines. We move backwards through their short time span together, watching “you” erase poem after poem about him, the end of the relationship at their first meeting, as he wipes jungle juice onto “your” white shirt. The second person perspective really adds to the confusing nature of the poem, reliving an idealized reality with the author where no one’s heart, or spotless shirt, were ruined.
Many of the historical remnants included are only so impactful when reading the whole work in full, such as “барские шалости.” Russian for (very loosely) “Royal Mischief,” the narrative documents letters from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous Russian composers. A gay man whose sexuality was hidden by history and family who believed they knew him best, Mulroy uncovers Tchaikovsky’s true self and connects it to his own poetry. At the end of his musings, he proclaims,
let there be left no room for a convenient lapse in understanding. Know in life I treasured nothing so much as the body of another man
He refuses to be erased, as so many others have been.
The collection holds moments of happiness and tales of queer joy that hold important and true. But Mulroy’s words, while hopeful, are realistic. The final poem is bittersweet, titled “jacking off to my dead boyfriend.”
Anyone who says they don’t have mainstays—moments that they reach for with a slick hand—is lying,
Mulroy declares. He reminisces on his late lover, but doesn’t merely remain stuck in the grief. The poem honors him, mourning from a place of sadness, yes, but acceptance too. It's a celebration of life— not just his boyfriend’s, but all queer people’s. Like champagne, Mulroy
pour[s] myself out like a bottle on your grave.
Hated For The Gods can be purchased as a paperback here: https://buttonpoetry.com/product/hated-for-the-gods/
Izzy Astuto (he/they) is a writer majoring in Creative Writing at Emerson College, with a specific interest in screenwriting. When not in Boston for college, they live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His work has previously been published by Hearth and Coffin, Sage Cigarettes, and Renesme Literary, amongst others. He currently works as an intern for Sundress Publications, and a reader for journals such as hand picked poetry, PRISM international, and Alien Magazine. You can find more of their work on their website, at https://izzyastuto.weebly.com/. Their Instagram is izzyastuto2.0 and Twitter is adivine_tragedy.