Dear Judas by Melissa Jennings
Paperback: 34 pgs
Available @ Amazon
Review by Holly Lyn Walrath.
Self-published and Glasgow-based poet Melissa Jennings’ latest chapbook, Dear Judas (February 2018, available on Amazon), the first in their Dead Letters series is a relief for readers used to less-accessible poetry. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, Dear Judas chronicles the relationship of two people who are metaphorically playing the roles of Judas and Jesus. The series of short, untitled poems serve as a contemplation of what it means to be betrayed and the meaning we imbue into the colloquialism of a Judas figure.
The story is set up as letters, but many of the poems don’t have salutations because the reader already knows who is writing. What I found revelatory in this collection was the structure—unimpeded by traditional form, Jennings’ poetry flows naturally on the page in sometimes long, sometimes short pieces that explore line break and stanza while still being approachable.
your sweat betrays you.
your eyes betray you.
everything betrays you,
Jennings’ use of a personal, intimate voice is reminiscent of those who have garnered fame on Instagram and other online formats like Nikita Gill or Lang Leav. Jennings is also breaking new ground in their use of specific and useful trigger warnings. The book contains an index of each page’s triggers, a new trend that I’d love to see in other poetry books. Phrasing here is simple, to the point, conversational. Like confessions or confessionals. In some places they feel like prose poems, in others like micropoetry. It is clear that these poems belong together and wouldn’t work as well published individually. The speaker begins by addressing their betrayer in the most tender of ways: “I don’t blame you for what happened. / everyone doubts themselves sometimes.” And in this way, Jennings begins to build not only a dialogue between the two lovers who are the subject of the book, but also with the reader themselves. The reader falls easily into the work and each page feels like a natural progression, a deeper journey into the place between two lovers.
when your parents named you,
did they know that they were naming a constellation?
they looked at how you glowed, not how you were
surrounded by darkness.
Perhaps my only question about the work was the choice to explore this relationship through the metaphor of Judas. From the title, I expected there to be more religious references and iconography. In some ways, this is refreshing because I think that many readers who might find the topic of the chapbook profane would be surprised by these poems.
the taste of your tongue will always remind me of hell,
empty vessels writhing on a bedroom floor that we
thought was heaven.
Part of me couldn’t help but feel the author had missed an opportunity. In the past, Judas has served as a symbol for some in the gay community, given the well-known section of the bible where Judas kisses Jesus. It was even the subject of a controversial play in the late 90s featuring a gay Jesus. While the kiss in question appears in the book, it left me wondering how I was meant to feel about the larger religious connotations as a reader, and how those connotations related to gender. This question meant I left my reading of this vibrant new collection feeling unmoored.
Dear Judas is a fascinating meta chapbook with a firm grounding in poetic metaphor and prose phrasing, by a talented new indie poet who I for one hope to see more from.
Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Seabrook, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at www.hlwalrath.com.