Spotlight series #97: AJ Dolman

rob mclennan
3 min readMay 6, 2024

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


“From crisis comes opportunity” is a cliché for a reason. I am learning that having your first full-length poetry collection published only at midlife can be a gift. I would not have had the knowledge, perspective, or means, for that matter, to aim to lift others up with me should it have happened much earlier.

Groups that have been marginalized, whether based on gender, orientation, race, indigeneity, ability, class, religion or any combination of myriad reasons, often rely very much on community. Although my mental illnesses have at times kept me away from the writing and bi+ communities, I have felt at once welcomed back inside on my return. Crazy / Mad’s release is highlighting that for me. There is no financial reward (just breaking even seems like an unattainable mirage) for poetry. So, I see the opportunities for connection that poetry allows me as my ultimate goal and reward these days.

I’ve been told the poems in Crazy / Mad seem dark, and yes, they are. These poems are about fear, above all. But I feel they are hopeful, too. Once we can identify our own and others’ pain, we can start to heal, together. In suffering or joy, we are never as truly alone as we might believe. Even if we never meet our fellow travellers. Even if they died years ago, whether in an asylum or a protest, perhaps believing they had been forgotten.

The poem here, which really has two titles, one a signal and the other an indicator, is one of the very few occasional poems I’ve ever written, this one for a talk in 2023 by original Stonewall rioter Martin Boyce, who, aside from being a delightful storyteller, is himself a bringer of hope in increasingly retroubled times.

Stonewall / Autonomy
for Martin Boyce

I wasn’t born then,
but I believe in reincarnation,
which is to say that I believe
a body is a body is a body,
until it belongs to a cop

Scarred and incomplete, my body is mine,
is a brick, a stiletto, a machine gun, a home;
is the memory of abuses before it
and after. Is the same as my queer mother’s
before mine, yet so different, so mine

Delaney poses a question about writing the body:
“When have you felt gender euphoria?”
and it occurs to me I don’t
always notice love, but I notice
when it’s missing. My first memories

are of a hate so deep it would have
choked a lesser man. It takes a lifetime
or more to understand such anger
as a type of love. A fistful of stones
says you still believe you deserve better,

that a body is a body is a body,
unless it belongs to a cop

AJ Dolman’s (they/she) debut poetry book is Crazy / Mad (Gordon Hill Press, spring 2024). A professional editor, Dolman is also the author of Lost Enough: A collection of short stories, and three poetry chapbooks, and co-edited Motherhood in Precarious Times (Demeter Press, 2018). Their poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, recently including Canthius, Arc Poetry Magazine, QT Literary Magazine, and The Quarantine Review. They are a bi/pan+ rights advocate living on unceded, unsurrendered Anishinaabe Algonquin territory.