Intimate Distance

January 24, 2023

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Poetry Off the Shelf: Intimate Distance


Helena de Groot: This is Poetry Off the Shelf. I’m Helena de Groot. Today, Intimate Distance.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Southern Gothic is the big old mess it makes of good and evil. Few characters are ever completely irredeemable, but also, nobody is innocent.

Gabrielle Bates, who grew up in the Deep South, does something similar in her debut collection, titled Judas Goat. Let me read you a few lines from one of her poems. It starts with this couple, and they’re in their kitchen. And it’s clear something happened to the man but he doesn’t want to say what. And then he starts talking anyway. Okay, so here goes.


I saw a dog, he said. I was on the train.

A man with a dog on a leash. The man ran and made it

but the dog hesitated outside, and the doors closed—

no, not on his neck—on the leash, trapping it.

The man was inside, and the dog was outside on the platform.

The button beside the door, ringed in light, blinked.

The man was shouting now, hitting the button,

all else silent, the befuddlement

of dog pulled along, the pace slow until it wasn’t.

The tunnel the train must pass through leaving the station

is a perfectly calibrated, unforgiving fit.

It’s so upsetting that it made me wonder who to blame. The owner? The person driving the train? The dog? And why do I get the sense that the person telling the story feels guilty, too?

When I sat down to talk to Gabrielle, I didn’t want to hit her right away with questions about good and evil. So my first question was about the place where she grew up, near Birmingham, Alabama.

Helena de Groot: Can you take me to that place? You know, like your house, the landscape. I don’t know if you had like a favorite tree or like, can you make it really granular? Like, what was your world?

Gabrielle Bates: Yeah. Oh, I love this invitation. I grew up sort of bouncing back and forth between a pretty small neighborhood just outside of Birmingham in a little white house right across the street from a Presbyterian church. So I could see the stained glass Jesus from my kitchen table, where I sat for all my meals. And in the back yard, we had some trees that my dad planted, including a maple tree that, I say we planted it together, but I was really too young to actually help. And we also planted a mulberry tree.

Helena de Groot: Oh, I love mulberries.

Gabrielle Bates: Yes.

Helena de Groot: That is just the most delicious food.

Gabrielle Bates: What an incredible fruit, yeah. Just kind of falls apart in the mouth.

Helena de Groot: Yeah.

Gabrielle Bates: And so dark. Such a dark fruit.

Helena de Groot: Exactly, it stains you, you know, beyond repair.

Gabrielle Bates: Yes.

Helena de Groot: But it’s great. (LAUGHS)

Gabrielle Bates: Oh, beyond repair. I love that phrase. So I say I bounced back and forth between that setting and where my mom was living, which was in some other neighborhoods and often right in downtown Birmingham. So, not a lot of kids grew up downtown. There wasn’t a lot of like, residential opportunities there at the time. There was a huge white flight in Birmingham in response to the civil rights movement, and it really just kind of decimated downtown in some ways. Like, it didn’t even have a grocery store. Like it was just where people worked, really. It was like businesses. So my mom bought this abandoned slaughterhouse that had been abandoned for many years. It was just covered in dust. And that was where she worked and where we lived for a little while. Yeah, so my childhood and my home, the place I grew up in, is sort of a constellation within the Birmingham area, I would say.

Helena de Groot: And so the slaughterhouse, did it have any visible remnants of it being a slaughterhouse?

Gabrielle Bates: Oh, yeah. It had in the basement drains for the blood, really big industrial doorways for the animals to be brought in from the back alley. The elevators were massive because they needed to be able to carry animal carcasses up the five stories. There were old smokers that were still there with just like these huge iron doors. And those were the main signs, (LAUGHS) I would say that remained.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah. And how did you feel about the concept of a slaughterhouse?

Gabrielle Bates: I think it felt somewhat abstract, actually. As much as I loved animals and was obsessed with animals, I didn’t have a lot of firsthand experience seeing them slaughtered or slaughtering them myself. Fish I’d seen, but not livestock. And so, it was, it was a haunting idea. And yet, I think because I was experiencing it through ghosts, for lack of a better word, it felt more in the realm of magic than real life. Yeah, it haunted me for sure, but I was also, I was interested in it.

Helena de Groot: Uh huh. I don’t want to typecast you, so if I’m doing that, please protect me for myself, but I felt in your collection these undercurrents of the Southern Gothic. And I’m wondering, like, does that resonate with you at all? Like, is that a tradition that you feel close to?

Gabrielle Bates: Yes, I do. I don’t feel typecast by that at all. I, I think that’s absolutely a major influence and inspiration in my poetics, is this gnarly, kind of twisted up, God haunted, eerie yet sacred, a little bit of dark humor, a little bit of severity. I really loved Faulkner as a teenager. I grew up reading O’Connor’s short stories, so there is definitely something in the grotesque of the Southern Gothic that has always appealed to me. And yeah, I don’t mind being a part of that tradition at all. I, I have questions about, you know, what the Southern Gothic really is and what it can mean and how people have been troubling it and pushing the esthetic of it. I still have a lot to learn about that tradition, but I, I do feel myself to be a part of it.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. And I’m interested in what it was like for you when you first started discovering those kinds of novels and reading them, kind of the glasses that they gave you to look through, what it was like then to look at your environment. Like did it heighten something about where you were or like, did it explain it? Like what, what did it change for you?

Gabrielle Bates: I think reading those books distorted experience in a way that felt exciting to me and also like a way that maybe I could get at a truth of an experience. It was a way of distancing myself, ironically, from the place I was in, which I kind of desperately wanted to get out of and experience other places. And so it’s funny that writing that came out of the South, that’s interested in the South was sort of my one of my earliest escapes from it, because it showed me how literature can be that sort of intimate distance. And then when I moved away from the South, those literatures of the South, I felt more empowered to try and write my own work in that tradition. There’s something that happens when you’re physically in a place it can be really difficult to see it and engage with it, because you don’t have that point of contrast and you don’t have that necessary distance that allows the imagination to breathe, you know, like a fire needs air. I don’t know if that’s answering your question anymore, but.

Helena de Groot: Yes! Absolutely. And that makes so much sense that it’s a form that you almost connected to more or that became more generative, you know, like necessary for you once you were no longer there. And, you know, just because you were saying that, you, you know, kind of wanted to escape, you know, your home base. And I’m wondering, like, what were the points of friction for you?

Gabrielle Bates: I think I always had, even though I was a very cautious person by disposition and somewhat fearful by disposition, I also had this just massive sense of adventure. And that may have come from reading all those novels, but I just hungered to experience more of the world. And I could feel all of the stereotypes of Southernness bearing down on me from inside of it. And that was one of many of the pressures that made me feel very stifled and like I did not want to be from there or of that place. And, but I always would be, I knew. And even more than that, I always would be if I didn’t ever leave it. And I studied other accents and I tried very hard from a pretty early age actually, to not sound Southern. And as an adult now, it makes me so sad because I, I think accents are so beautiful and I think my family’s accents are beautiful. My parents’. And I can’t get it back. I really can’t. I mean it, it’s conjured back in little bits here and there. And there are certain words I’ll always say with a little bit of an accent because I can’t help it, but it feels very fake if I try to talk like my family. It feels like a costume I’m putting on.

Helena de Groot: That’s interesting.

Gabrielle Bates: But I also felt sort so constricted by just the general culture that I was growing up in and the type of Christianity that I was steeped in and devoted to. And these ideas about what a woman was supposed to be and how she was supposed to act and how she was supposed to think. And I just, more and more and more could feel that the true me was not compatible with all of these pressures. And I thought, you know, maybe by leaving this place, I will relieve that pressure and feel some freedom to try to figure out, yeah, a little more of who I actually am outside of these expectations that I was so desperate to try to meet for so long.

Helena de Groot: Uh huh, right. You know, you mentioned as one of those pressures the Christianity that you were raised with. And of course your collection is titled Judas Goat, which is only one of the many references to the Bible or scripture. And so, I want to know a little bit more like what kind of Christianity were you raised within and then how much were you within it, or were you already kind of a little bit on the outside of it? Like, you know, what was the kind of faith water that you were swimming in?

Gabrielle Bates: It was a little unconventional, even by Alabama standards, the sort of Christianity that I grew up in. We had what we called home church that was really just—and this is in my dad’s home—on Sundays, it would be me, my dad, and my stepmother, and that would be it. And I would read the Bible a lot and I would pray pretty much constantly. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t praying all the time, that my thoughts didn’t feel like a conversation with God as I understood God. So I very much identified myself as a Christian. And I had all these people at school who were constantly inviting me to their churches because for them, Christianity looked very different. And it looked like going into a building, going into a church. And so I visited a ton of different churches with friends. I went to a bunch of different kinds of churches of various denominations with my mom when I visited her. So it was a little odd, my brand of Christianity that I grew up in. And somewhat self-directed, but not really. But there was that element of me just studying the Bible on my own and gravitating to certain books of the Bible because they were the ones that called to me the most. So it was a source of, of meaning making for a long time that made the world feel like it had an added layer of depth. You know, I was reading Christian symbolism into everything. And there’s some way that that earliest way of moving through the world with that particular kind of Christian lens will always be with me, even as I, you know, continue to ask questions about faith and Christianity and other religions. But that was sort of the lay of the land, if that was clear at all.

Helena de Groot: Absolutely. I mean, I actually hadn’t, have never heard of home church. You know, homeschooling is a concept I’m familiar with, but I didn’t know that this was a thing that people did. And so I’m wondering, were you, I mean, you already said, like, you know, there were certain books that you were drawn to. Am I understanding it correctly that you got a lot of freedom then, in the way that you explored your faith? Or what did those Sundays look like?

Gabrielle Bates: It was a really odd mix, because on the one hand, I was quite empowered in a way that’s kind of cool to me, looking back. You know, not every little girl is told that, you know, her interpretations of the Bible have value in any sort of religious setting, you know. And freedom is certainly not the word that comes to mind when I think of those times, when I think of that type of church. Because, I mean, my stepmother was a complicated figure in my life and she was really running the show. So it did not feel free. It felt like a really kind of terrifying scrutiny, spiritual scrutiny that I was subject to on a weekly basis and then some. And I really cherished a lot of those times, just me alone with the text. It is probably my earliest—well, no, because I loved novels more, but because I was told that this text was the ultimate text and that it was living, you know, we talked about language in the Bible as alive. And this was so many years before I really knew that poetry existed. But this idea of a living language really, really called to me and felt right to me, that that needed to be a part of my life, that might have something to do with why I was on this earth. So, oh, it’s so complicated. And I think that’s why I’m drawn to poetry is because it makes a space for me to reckon with all these really complicated pushes and pulls and twisted up polarizations. And it’s a place where I don’t have to have all the answers. Even if I’m writing from a declarative mode or something, it’s still all me asking questions and excavating and imagining and saying things I think I might believe to see if they sound true or not. That’s where I feel the freedom, is in poetry.

Helena de Groot: Uh-huh. And I don’t know if I understood this correctly, but you said something that, you know, what really drew you to that text was that the language was alive. And I don’t think I know what you mean, because when I read the Bible, it looks not terribly alive. You know, of course, I wasn’t raised religious, but like, it’s, the language is difficult, you know?

Gabrielle Bates: Yes, and I think that idea that the language is alive wasn’t an observational thing. It was something I was told. I think it’s based on a particular verse in the Bible and something to do with how a word is translated from, you know, the Greek or the Hebrew, where the word that means “text” or “word” also means something that’s alive.

Helena de Groot: Huh.

Gabrielle Bates: So this was an idea that I was told about the Bible, not an observation I was having of it. But that idea that language could be alive lodged in me somewhere and began to apply to other texts as well.

Helena de Groot: Uh-huh. Well, I’d like to pull two strings out of, you know, what we were talking about together, Christianity and the slaughterhouse. Because, again, your collection is titled Judas Goat. And I was just wondering, you know, like, well, first of all, what is the concept of a Judas goat and where did you learn about it?

Gabrielle Bates: The Judas goat, as the title poem sort of defines it, is a goat that’s trained to live with the sheep that leads the sheep in and out of the slaughterhouse, so that the sheep don’t panic, so that they don’t realize that they’re about to be slaughtered as they would if a human was leading them into the slaughterhouse. So they learn to trust this goat as one of their pack, one of their herd, and this goat leads them in and then the goat gets to leave the slaughterhouse and the sheep don’t. So, it’s this kind of added level of domestication and training towards this very sinister end. And I don’t remember exactly when I learned that the Judas goat was a thing. Like that this was a type of trained goat that existed out in the world. But I, my memory is so bad, and I don’t remember exactly how I heard of it,

Helena de Groot: Of course!

Gabrielle Bates: It could have been a random thing on the Internet. It could have been something I was researching purposefully, like looking into different kinds of animals who had been named for Judas. I honestly cannot remember exactly.

Helena de Groot: And do you recollect if it was actually called a Judas goat or did you name it that?

Gabrielle Bates: It is called a Judas goat. Like that is not a phrase that I invented at all. So that’s not my term. Judas goat is not my term.

Helena de Groot: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, I think what is so fascinating about it is Judas, of course, I mean, like, Judas betrayed Jesus out of his own volition, right? Whereas this goat supposedly doesn’t really know what kind of charade he’s a part of, right? Like, it’s actually the human being who is the, you know, the one who pulls the strings, you know?

Gabrielle Bates: Yes.

Helena de Groot: It seems unfair to the goat, you know?

Gabrielle Bates: Yes. As so many things in regards to goats are, it’s totally unfair. I mean, goats have a kind of dark and subversive reputation throughout history, which is so interesting to me. And, you know, we have this idea of the scapegoat. I, yeah, these poor goats! As human beings, we’ve saddled them with so much and abused them in so many ways. And it’s precisely that layer of the interaction between ignorance and culpability that’s just endlessly fascinating and haunting to me as a person. And so I saw in this animal, this Judas goat who’s been trained to be a betrayer, who may have no knowledge of what sort of role it’s playing, I just, I became really interested in that.

Helena de Groot: Do you want to read the poem?

Gabrielle Bates: Oh, sure. I’d be happy to.


Judas Goat

We, of our ends, are perhaps all this oblivious: one goat

trained to live with the sheep, neck-bell jingling

in and out of the slaughterhouse. To the goat,

the shackling pen is no more than another human

room. After, it’s fed a feast of roughage:

sprigs of sage timothy, cedar chips, carrot beards.

It sleeps. What sheep? Wild goats’ eyes,

when we catch them, are always open—

but this goat dreams. Its lips twitch as it lies

curled chin to thurl behind the pen. Each morning

that silver bell is affixed to its neck, it leads the flock.

Whiter than all the loose-legged lambs,

it approaches under a bright summer sun

the gate—Grass on either side, green.

I am too dying of what

I don’t know.

Helena de Groot: Thank you. Well, you know what I thought was so interesting about this poem was like, when I just heard about the concept, I thought, “Oh, this is so mean to the goat, it’s unfair, you know, what can they help it,” you know. But then the way that you complicate that in this poem is really interesting to me. You know? “It sleeps. What sheep?” You know, it’s kind of like it’s already sort of, the sleeping and the sleeping sort of the sleep of the innocent, you know, is, is, it has already forgotten about the sheep, you know. It does make me think, “Okay, goat, maybe you do know what’s up.” You know? “Wild goats’ eyes, / when we catch them, are always open— / but this goat dreams.” It just seems as if, like, it’s such a happy dream too. I don’t think that this goat is necessarily dreaming of slaughter.

Gabrielle Bates: Oh, absolutely. Because while this goat is innocent in the fact that the goat was trained to do this thing and probably doesn’t have a lot of power over that, it is still guilty in this way. Like it still did the action, whether it understands what it did or not. And so, that’s the space that’s really interesting to me is, yeah, what sorts of harms are we doing that we might not even be conscious of, and yet we are still their agent. I don’t know if I can say anything very eloquent about it except that I, as just a human being, Gabrielle Bates, am really haunted by the harms I might be doing without even knowing it. That I might have even been trained towards doing.

Helena de Groot: Yeah, that’s kind of the inevitable question, right, that I had for you. Can you remember a time in your life where you were struck by your own culpability?

Gabrielle Bates: Let me think for just a second. This stepmother I had when I was a child created a lot of mythologies about my birth mother. And I felt so conflicted by these things that I was being told were true that didn’t feel true. So because I, that was the water I was swimming in, I’ve had to do a lot of undoing in regards to that particular mythology. And I think part of writing this book was writing towards some of the fears and terrors and nightmares that grew up out of that soil. But I have certainly felt betrayed by that story and that sort of family mythology of my childhood that, in some ways, tried to keep me from seeing my mom as a real person. You know?

Helena de Groot: And when did you wake up? Was there a specific instance or was it just age and distance? Like, when did you turn from a goat into a human who can see things?

Gabrielle Bates: (LAUGHS) Yeah. I don’t think I ever fully bought into the mythology. I was really torn apart by it. I was really split by it my entire childhood. And I can remember in my earliest diaries that I kept as a kid, I was always writing about how I felt like I had these two different consciences in my head, and I couldn’t figure out which one was real. Like I feel like I have this one conscience that’s been created by this figure in my life, this stepmother. And then I have my lived experience and my observations, and I can’t figure out what the truth is. And so it wasn’t that I had this revelatory waking up epiphany moment. It was just this long, prolonged splitness that then, once that stepmother was no longer in my life anymore, I really felt free to process. Because I no longer felt the pressure to try and believe the false version in any way. I could just kind of fully put that one aside. But of course, you know, there’s a line in the book that’s something like “what the self forms around cannot be undone,” you know, in the same ways that my self grew up around certain ideas of faith, my self grew up around certain stories I was being told about family and what it meant to be a mother and who I should love and how, you know, that’s something I get to reckon with forever, you know, in good ways and bad.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. And today, do you carry bitterness or resentment or rage that you’ve missed out on so much of her?

Gabrielle Bates: There have been periods in my life when I did feel that very strongly. Although for me, in general, my anger manifests as sadness. So I’m always the one who cries when they’re mad. So there is a sense of loss and mourning over that aspect of my childhood and adolescence, and it definitely isn’t what consumes me now. I’m so grateful and full of joy and excited by my relationship with all my family members who are still alive. And my mom is this amazing artist in her own right. She’s a photographer. We’re actually collaborating now on a short film version of one of my poems, “The Bridge.”

Helena de Groot: Wow!

Gabrielle Bates: So it’s really exciting. And we always sort of had this sense growing up that my adulthood would be our time together because we had this person keeping us apart in many ways. But there was this sense that once I sort of came of age and was an adult and was out on my own, and could have a relationship with my mom without that mediation in between, that that would be our time to really hang out and get to spend a lot of time together. And that’s, and that’s exactly what’s happened.


Helena de Groot: There is a poem in your book that actually made me cry. It doesn’t happen so often, merely reading words on a page, you know?

Gabrielle Bates: That’s really one of the highest compliments.

Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS LIGHTLY)

Gabrielle Bates: Thank you for sharing that.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. It’s that poem called “Sabbath.” It’s on page 32 in my version.

Gabrielle Bates: Yeah, I’ve got it.



Round white mushrooms emerge in clusters overnight,

soil scattered across their brows

like Catholics bearing ash. It’s taken me

almost a decade to admit it: I miss. I’ve missed

feeding all my thoughts through that revolving blade

so thin it could only be felt.

I’ve missed that arrowing of the—I

almost said soul—but it was the mind,

mostly, wasn’t it, that winnowed?

I knew God listened. And I knew where to aim.

All the time, every second. I lacked

but with aim.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. Do you feel like that poem is more naked, more vulnerable, more something, you know?

Gabrielle Bates: Yes. I do. It felt like an extremely vulnerable confession. It was one I had a hard time admitting even to myself. And so to write towards it, to try to attach language to it in this way, it did feel incredibly vulnerable and truly confessional. You know, what the confessional means in regards to poetry is varied, and there are many different definitions. But in terms of just making a confession, this felt truly like one.

Helena de Groot: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Gabrielle Bates: And also, like a kind of elegy that I haven’t seen a lot of before. You know, we see lots of elegies for family members who have died and whatnot, but this particular kind of elegy for a kind of faith felt very vulnerable to disclose, probably because I hadn’t seen it done before. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist, just that I hadn’t encountered it.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. I mean, this poem, it just, it just kind of knocked the wind out of me from the very first line, you know, the way you, the opening image “Round white mushrooms emerge in clusters overnight, / soil scattered across their brows / like Catholics bearing ash.” You know, because the poem is about the most interior thing you can imagine, you know, the speaker’s relationship to God. And so it’s incredible that you start with an image that is very concrete, that kind of grounds you, well, literally in the earth, you know, like with the mushrooms. And then that second sentence, if I can use that word, “It’s taken me / almost a decade to admit it: I miss.” The ellipse of that. The fact that you don’t even say what you miss, but in so many ways you’ve already said it. And it makes the missing even more like missing, you know, because the thing you miss is literally missing. And I wonder was it always like this? Did you—was that a later edit or how did that come to be?

Gabrielle Bates: This poem didn’t change a ton from its earliest draft, and I believe that those first sentences haven’t really changed. And I appreciate you talking about how it starts with an image. And, you know, this book is dedicated “for the image” for so many reasons, but one of them is the way that imagery can be an anchor for these ideas and feelings that are just impossible to approach otherwise. I think without being rooted quite literally in the ground in this poem, I never could have made the leap to the confession that I needed to say. Or if I did, readers wouldn’t come with me and feel it the way I needed them to. Because the image is the bridge. The image is what activates the body of the reader, the person hearing the poem. And that’s so magic to me, that capability of imagery. And I feel really grateful and indebted to it for that reason. And for many other reasons.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much religion writing that I just cannot read because it’s too up there, you know, it immediately wants to rush to the God stuff, you know, and it’s like, you cannot. That has to kind of emerge naturally out of, out of everything else you’re saying, you know, and—I mean, look, in my totally (LAUGHS)

Gabrielle Bates: Yeah, I agree!

Helena de Groot: outsized opinion.

Gabrielle Bates: I completely agree. We know things through our senses first. And so to try to skip that part of the process feels both untrue to how human beings interact with the world, and yeah, like it’s going to make it a lot harder for a reader to come with you.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. And then of course, I mean the, the end, you know. First, the kind of tragedy of like, “I knew God listened.” Like the certainty of that. It’s so declarative, you know? Like, without any complication, you knew God listened. “And I knew where to aim. / All the time, every second. I lacked / but with aim.”

I mean it just broke, it just broke my heart. It’s, because it’s so true, you know, it, it didn’t break my heart because it’s sad. It just broke my heart because it’s true.

Gabrielle Bates: Now, I’m going to cry. Thank you. Thank you so much for that.

Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah, and I also, thought, you know, it was, there was a kind of irony about that, you know, because you write with such precision, with such aim about this thing, right, about this experience of losing that conversation with God who was always listening. But again, you know, you write it with such perfect aim that it almost negates, you know, this description of your current aimlessness. The fact that in in this poem you were so capable of precisely naming this loss, did it do anything to help soften it?

Gabrielle Bates: Hm. I think it was a really important breakthrough in just my personal life in acknowledging this loss as a loss and not just sort of continuing this fiction that, you know, my faith continued in a certain kind of way, which isn’t—I’m not quite ready to say I, I don’t have faith at all, but I, I did feel like this was a major and important breakthrough in terms of me being honest with myself about where I stood in relationship to faith. But in terms of the reverberations afterward, I don’t think it’s changed a ton. I do feel like I might be about ready to go back and engage with the Bible as a reader again. Like, I’m not quite so hurt by its betrayals to me now that I could revisit it with different eyes and a little bit of a different mind. And I think that might be rewarding actually, to study that text in a different way. I’ve had to take quite a time away from it. But yeah, maybe I’m on the cusp of a change in that department.


Helena de Groot: You know, what I love about this poem and so many other poems in your book is that, there’s a conversation between you and little you. You know, you talk about, little you “feeding all [her] thoughts through that revolving blade so thin it could only be felt.” I love that image, by the way, you know? And then, and then that revolving blade is gone or it’s stopped turning. And where then do you go with all your thoughts? And so I’m wondering like, how do you feel towards little you today?

Gabrielle Bates: I feel very tender and very distant from my childhood self at this point. You know, today. It could change tomorrow, I don’t know. But right now, today, I feel like she’s a very far away figure who I feel a lot of gentleness towards. And I, I’m sure many people feel this way to some extent, but I’d like to go back and save her from some things and tell her some things. But I feel tender.

Helena de Groot: What would you most like to tell her?

Gabrielle Bates: Mm. You can’t be perfect, so stop trying. (LAUGHS) Probably. I would also love to tell her that there’s a difference between performing well by certain metrics and learning, and that consecrating your life to learning is immensely more valuable.

Helena de Groot: And like, stepping away from, like, advice mode or something, you know, like, is there like a scene from your life that you would really love to show your younger self? Like if your younger self had just like a little peephole through which for a moment she could glance at your life now, what is the scene that you would like to show her? Can you take me there? What do you see? What are you doing? Like, what are you wearing even?

Gabrielle Bates: Oh, my gosh. I mean, that was a really helpful cue you gave me, because there was a lot of stress in my childhood and adolescence about clothes and what I was allowed to wear versus what I wanted to wear. And I, I wanted to be kind of gorgeous and sexy in this way that was absolutely forbidden, completely forbidden. And so I, I think I would be shocked and thrilled just to, like, see me in my lime green blazer mini skirt combo that I just got for my book launch, you know?

Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) That’s great.

Gabrielle Bates: Like, she would just be like, “Wow!” (LAUGHS)

Helena de Groot: Ah! I also love that like, the thing that you lift out of that scene is like, not the fact that you just had a book launch! Right?

Gabrielle Bates: (LAUGHS)

Helena de Groot: Which I’m sure your little you would appreciate. No, it’s the lime green mini suit. That is really very sweet.

Gabrielle Bates: Yeah. She’d be thrilled by so much of my life now.

Helena de Groot: That is beautiful. I’m so happy for both of you!

Gabrielle Bates: (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Gabrielle Bates’s debut collection is titled Judas Goat. She has received funding and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Princeton Poetry Festival, Artist Trust, and Hugo House. Besides writing, she cohosts the podcast The Poet Salon, and teaches poetry through Hugo House, the Rosenbach Museum, and the University of Washington Center in Rome. To find out more, check out the Poetry Foundation website. The music in this episode is by Todd Sickafoose and Eric van der Westen. I’m Helena de Groot and this was Poetry Off the Shelf. Thank you for listening.


Gabrielle Bates on betrayal, home church, and living in her mother's slaughterhouse.

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