Swear to Me, an anthology of struggle and survival from Nicholas Gagnier, is a triumphant reveal of lonely hearts which aren’t so lonely after all. It appears a slim book of poetry when in fact it is the friend checking in on you. The friend who makes you a hot beverage or pours you a drink. The friend who listens without questions. The friend who doesn’t shrink from the boxes you’ve labelled ‘MADNESS’ but helps you unpack them. The friend who with just a smile, call or brief squeeze of your hand says: ‘You’re still here and I’m so glad you are.’
There is an undeniable sense of community in Swear to Me. Gagnier himself comments on the contributing writers being ‘the heart of a message this book represents.’ They are the chorus swelling behind Gagnier’s honest, raw solo. The stand outs for me were Christine Ray’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and Nicole Lyons’ ‘The Mmm of Her’. This chorus hits a crescendo with ‘A Room So Still and Quiet’ – a culmination of the powerful, healing voices Gagnier evokes in his poem ‘Survivors’ – they are the ‘light that refuses to die.’
However, this anthology is also crafted in the knowledge we don’t all want battle drums and war paint; sometimes we just want to know we are not alone, we are understood. Gagnier and his words are the close friend we all need and deserve and whilst some poems ignite a fire in your belly, others nod with understanding or wrap you up in shaking, ‘we can do this together’ arms. ‘A Normal Life’ is one of the most touching odes to struggle and survival I’ve ever read:
‘you are my beacon, even brighter
in the maddest of ways.’
It’s love. Battle drums, war paint and love. Love of yourself, others and life itself – embracing the madness as your normal. Letting the walls crumble, the expectations you are something other, pack their bags and realising the home you want to build is inside you with a ribcage scaffold. ‘Ten Year Story’, ‘Beautiful Human’ and ‘Longhurt’ are other personal favourites which all remind me of the importance of love and acceptance.
Finally, like all good friends, you will always have fond memories to reminisce about during your darkest and brightest days. The friend I found in Swear to Me is no exception. Upon finishing this anthology, I’ve returned to two poems in particular time and time again. ‘Homeward Legend’ reminds me the heart on my sleeve isn’t a weakness, and my story is not over. ‘Almost Happiness’ reminds me we do not have to be everything all at once – we don’t have to bottle up the darkness and strike false smiles like matches because:
‘Almost happiness is better
This anthology was a long time coming (ten years) and yet I’m glad because in it Gagnier displays his heart for all to see and touch; and in this act of catharsis gives you the courage to do the same. To live unashamedly in the dark and in the light.