Judas Goat: Poems

Tin House. Jan. 2023. 104p. ISBN 9781953534644. pap. $16.95. POETRY
Refreshingly absent of any defining conceit or thematic throughline, Bates’s debut collection is difficult to classify. The abstracted force of motherhood, the shadows and in-betweens of relationships that harm and haunt us, the slippery liminal space between the religious—all are revisited, but the larger spectrum is wonderfully fluid. There’s often a rooted, corporeal quality to the writing, which dips its toes into Southern Gothic tradition—a swirl of scripture and violence and elemental living—as Bates paints identifiable portraits that are infused with both dark humor and simmering rage: “Behind the bleachers, a boy takes off the shirt of another boy, paints a letter there in red paint/ (R, and then another boy, I-O-T…)./ When the sun goes down over the ridge/ all the painted boys will make patriots.” Sometimes Bates finds her way straight to the profound with economy, while elsewhere she relies less on caustic wit than pure linguistic beauty: “My mother’s eyes were are also blue, but warmer,/ softened by greens—/ algal blooms/ stitching blankets of unswum pools.”
VERDICT Thrillingly bold, this collection is at once unique in approach, mischievous in its navigation of ideas, and lush yet controlled in its use of language, rupturing the division between the domestic and the primal to both delicate and brutal ends.
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