Bradley Bates’ collection Trinity is a free-verse potpourri, including lineated and prose-poetry, lyric and narrative work, with themes ranging from spirituality to family to reverence for history and the natural world.
The title conjures expectations of religious subject matter, but given the speaker’s attention to Eastern spirituality and tribal cultures, it feels misleading, as do the book’s subtitled sections. Although the collection is divided into 11 chapters, including “We Listen,” “Walt Whitman,” “China’s Summer Moon,” and “Diabetes Type I,” the order of these sections and their poems don’t seem to offer a clear narrative arc or discernible organizing principle.
Bates’ poems vary in theme and style. Sometimes, the author presents a striking phrase or surprising view, such as: “Moon intimate/ and deep./ Don’t forget/ our names”; “He stands/ as timeless as a dream”; and “white lilies dropping into the white snow.” Interesting juxtapositions occasionally startle, as well, serving to wake up readers. A poem that begins describing what seems to be a normal, contemplative winter day, turns into a poignant lament about the speaker’s lost cousin and the passage of time: “Each moment to be aware/of is exactly each moment./I heard he killed himself. I have/ forgotten nothing about our time.”
While there’s much to like here, too often the author depicts familiar scenes and ideas without linguistic or imagistic innovation (i.e.: “The white men killed buffalo./ The white men broke treaties./ The white men interfered and got scalped.”). And frequently, he simply spells out his thoughts explicitly (“Any loneliness I handle/ in meditation, and I know/ and remember how and why/ meditation’s important for me.”).
Bates’ many allusions to classic and contemporary poets and writers, including Phillip Levine, Keats, Kerouac, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Neruda, indicate that he’s an accomplished literary reader. While he shows promise here, he is encouraged to emulate these writers in future work with an eye toward creating more of the original imagery and fresh insights that occasionally spark this work.