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YANAGUANA LITERARY REVIEW

 

 

Bradley, Jerry. The Importance of Elsewhere. Temple, TX: Inkbrush Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-9824405-0-6. $15. [Inkbrush Press does not yet have direct order set up. Please go to its ordering page for information: http://inkbrushpress.com/HowtoOrderIBPBooks.aspx ]

 

 

Jerry Bradley is an exceptionally fine poet whose major fault as a poet is that he waits too long between books. The Importance of Elsewhere, only his second full length collection of poems, rewards the long wait since his first collection, Simple Versions of Disaster in 1991. The poems in this second collection show much development in their playfulness with language and firm handling of lines, diction and ciontent. They are deceptively humorous—that humor almost cloaking very serious intent.

 

In "I Never Think of My Father, Bradley writes:

I never think of my father as young

though the photos prove otherwise:

here posed in a sleeveless undershirt

and khakis.

...

I never think of my father as old either.

Dead at sixty-two, he was smileless

long before the hospital,...

All of this beautifully written and poignant, but almost predictably parallel. We anticipate a standard elegy until:

I want to hear nothing but silence,

and plenty of it, he scolded all my youth,

He has likely had his fill of it now.

This is just to say that Bradley's poetry twists and turns on a sharp pinprick of wit that lifts it from the everyday personal poetry we have become accustomed to. We read the poems, appreciate the art, and then WHAM! we laugh and then BAM! wonder why we are laughing at something that, deep down, is not all that funny but that on the surface is so filled with wit that we cannot resist.

The Importance of Elsewhere is filled with such moments and with moments of grace. Some of the most beautiful lines appear in very formal poetry, like the rhyming tercets of "Flying with the Crows":

That first night we roosted to dreams of grain,

And the blackest dropped down his head where we

Huddled as one. It was too cold for rain.

 

My feathers shivered when they fell, dark coal

Mined from the hole of the year, and hunger

Rotated like a cash crop in my soul.

 

Ah, but the plums. Fixed fast in their sweetness

By the chill! And the thicket where they hung

Not a keen moment's flapping to the west.

The Importance of Elsewhere includes some of the finest sonnets (and wittiest) published this past year. "Photographing the Cows" is just one example. Bradley's mastery of formal verse does not camouflage the basic sense of wry humor he displays throughout the book. In the sestet, for example, Bradley almost makes himself a part of the herd as he observes the photographer:

They smile, but they do not need your curving lens;

there is nowhere for them to go, won't say cheese.

They browse but are not led, ignore what passes,

are the negative your shot snaps. And their prints

pucker and pleat, gather, wander where they please,

trail to water, the sky they fell from like lead.

The last section of this collection, the hibiscus deadline, begins with a sensational poem that reminds us all of the necessity of opening ourselves to our own imaginations. "A Field Guide to Dreams" opens almost prosaically, a man owes something to his dreams, but then turns into something more with the second stanza's opening line: waking in the strange night or shivering in a stream, / he is blind beyond the curve where the hyacinth gathers This series of free verse couplets which turns, almost like a sonnet as Bradley moves in the fourth stanza from third to second person, and when in sleep you swim / the long shadow upstream to her // and away from the sneer of fish / you become something orchestral and the sense of the poem flies up with the dream sense. But then, shifting in the last stanza to first person, the poem slides back down to reality: this morning when I opened my dream box, / all there was was the moon

Jerry Bradley's The Importance of Elsewhere is a book that rewards many readings for its wit, its compassion, its basic honesty, but mostly because of the poet's firm control of language and the basic, down to earth, rightness of the poems.