Bradley’s poetry collection Mile Zero (Artistically Declined Press 2013)* is full of wonderful poems. The tendency toward the first-person makes it seem rather autobiographical; since this is poetry however, I do expect a blending of fact and fiction. There are lots of poems about love for his wife and his children. One of my favorites of these is “The Poetess in Me.” The imagery in this one in simple and beautiful:
The poetess in me speaks
in words I don’t understand,
like my wife’s body—such a mystery,
the way it works, lying naked in bed,
moving my fingers across her skin
like the best of anatomy lessons.**
In a less stylistic note, I also appreciate the gender-blending created by focusing specifically on the poetess in him.
However, I enjoyed the collection most when Bradley pushed himself a bit past the more straight-forward, autobiographical pieces. I loved “Aquarium,” which is still self-reflective, but is so by focusing on the world, and the unknowable qualities of the world, at large:
There are things happening,
behind closed doors maybe,
in the cramped space
of public restrooms
I also loved “Strippers Don’t Dance to the Beatles”:
Strippers don’t dance to the Beatles,
they save their jar-faces and swollen hearts
for the mirrors tucked in their purses.
“Strippers” especially demonstrates Bradley’s talent as it creates a dense and smoky atmosphere with the longer lines, the “d”s and the “s”s, the bruised and dark feeling of jar-faces and swollen hearts. These beautifully chosen phrases cloak the following line, “for the mirrors tucked in their purses”—a line with the potential to be just as superficial as it is desperate—with the feeling of dark, strip club hallways and objectifying glances.
“Dinner with the Family,” a portrait of a family at dinner, “feral beasts” and “artists” eating in a simultaneously destructive and creative frenzy, is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
“Atlas, Missing Earth” and its page-mate “Peter Sears” are also both remarkable poems, as are the final two poems, “For the Love of Wings” and “Houdini Holds His Breath in the East River.” Like the much-loved “Strippers,” these four all find that magical balance of the personal and the transcendent, creating worlds in which words function both as practicalities and as art.
On a last note (and I believe Bradley already knows this), but I love the cover design.
*full disclosure: I’m online friends with the author, Ryan W. Bradley—in fact, Mile Zero was a gift from him to help me through a hard time.
**In case it’s not obvious, all of the excerpts are only select sections from each poem, not the poem in its entirety.