Working Animals is a dissection into the daily reflections which consumes more hours of our lives, than we tend to immediately realize in casual conversation. How often does “going through the motions” of waking life become a subconscious herding, thus rebranding us as cattle to larger industries? Bates addresses this through careful consideration, and in highlighting the little moments in our lives. Through this process reminds us that when in the company of these thoughts, we can appreciate the beauty of the fact we also have recognized them.
“I think for a little while I was considering ‘The Animal that Therefore I Am”, which ended up as a poem title and is the title of the Derrida book that was a big inspiration.”
Deep introspection weighs the pages of this collection paradoxically in short poems. My immediate reference, Pre-social, hit close to home with lines like “so the tender bathroom air against my body feels like company”, and follow through in progressions and subtle pairings like Inside Out’s “Just goes to show, home is wherever we’ve bent the earth up around us”. Seemingly unconnected perspectives collect in the way drops of water fill a bucket. How many of the random thoughts we consider amongst hours create our memories of the day? Referring back to Bates’ quote of inspiration is the stand out piece The Animal That Therefore I Am, “Wiping away condensation to critique your reflection” stares back at me many days as I reflect, and groom myself in the mirror. Poems (in my opinion) should have that type of subtle resonation if they are to be referenced and remembered.
“Inside Out I think exemplifies one of the central themes in the pamphlet, which is of an intentional distancing. The way we (we being I guess humans in relatively rich countries) separate ourselves, from one another, from other animals, and in a larger societal sense, from uncomfortable truths.”
This entire body of work is beautiful in the way that is subconsciously connected and subtly enhancing its follow up. My favorite example of this can be seen in With the Ingenuity of Bernard Matthew flowing effortlessly into Apartment Block. “It definitely wasn’t intentional, at least not in as consciously systematic way as that, but I guess the process was very much geared towards a coherent sequence from the start, so in the first draft I was sometimes writing one piece directly after another, so I can see how that’s something I would’ve been doing subconsciously” says Bates. After reading this body of work, I discuss its topics and subject matter with a respect that I did not expect to have when starting it. That is, after all, what I expect from something worth of being called poetry.
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