Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

“Wang Worldwide”: The Poetry of Daniel f. Bradley [2] -- The Later Years

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Earlier this month, I posted a short discussion on early chapbook publications by Toronto poet Daniel f. Bradley (http://www.openbooktoronto.com...). Today, I want to briefly turn your attention to his more recent work. I am going to focus on three publications: A Boy’s First Book of Chlamydia, T=I=D=Y Language, and The Murder of Semiotics.

In the previous post, I noted Bradley’s tendency toward the surreal, scatological, and campy. In his later work, however, those qualities are gradually filtered out. Instead, Bradley produces a new realism, in which “pieces of the whole waver around” and words are “sloshing into one another." He increasingly rejects any sort of artifice. As Bradley explains, he’s simply “writing (getting language into paper) the scraps and transmissions [he receives] from the outside.”

As with my earlier post, I’ll include necessary bibliographic information for each publication. How Bradley publishes is just as important as what he publishes. He publishes for a small coterie of readers, and he publishes without institutional support.

A Boy’s First Book of Chlamydia was released in 2005 by Jay Millar’s BookThug (Toronto). The colophon notes that it was “manufactured in an edition of 300 copies in the spring of 2005 without assistance.” The book collects poems Bradley wrote between 1996 and 2004, and it includes the poem from which Millar’s BookThug takes its name: “in a crowd i feel / a small press / in a word gang / book thugs” (“PROLE”).

I purchased my signed copy in Buffalo’s Rust Belt Books, a used bookstore that regularly hosts poetry readings here in the Queen city. A few years ago, the incomparable Kevin Thurston invited Bradley to read in Buffalo. Bradley likely left a copy with the bookstore, and I would assume that’s the copy I bought.

A Boy’s First Book of Chlamydia hints at the direction Bradley’s poetry would eventually take in T=I=D=Y Language and The Murder of Semiotics, yet it still has significant traces of his early work from the 1980s and early 1990s— including a penchant for acerbic titles: “Hang the President with the Entrails of the Last Pope,” “Ten Reasons Not to Publish with CHB,” “New Vanguard Management,” “In the New New World,” “The Fresh Dewey Sun Droppings,” and “Primitive & Co.,” among others.

The “scraps” of his language are violently “sloshing into one another,” still generating surreal images now and then, as is to be expected with Bradley's poetry. (But as I say, this happens less and less). It’s also clear that Bradley hasn’t entirely disavowed word-play yet, especially puns and homophones. Tonally, however, there are some key developments. Sometimes, Bradley slips into subtle parody; other times, as in “Green Ray,” the book’s tour de force, his work takes on a more meditative and richly personal quality:

we have extreme
banter the long sentences that
kinda fills the day being and
behaving both full time . . .

through a life
direct killing of others
no single way is true
and anyone can
live longer than the
sadness in their heads . . .

mark of making
of something anything
labels you as strange
being
an object
that’s not for everyone
i have no allusion my friends
my loves should have no interests
in mine we are
singles in doubles . . .

fooled in happiness
ruled by the stomach
and
anyone is welcome
push the sand

because we know
the absolute sadness
beneath the fabric our
clothes cove the shape
and the soft dress flags
the eye away to
the corner

T=I=D=Y Language is a 115-page poem, published by Outlands in 2008. Each page includes a series of short prose paragraphs. There are no titles. There is no punctuation: “i can’t even spell punctuation,” writes Bradley. The paragraphs are filled with anger and contempt aimed at various objects: the Toronto poetry community (e.g. “doubt their intentions as critics when they fill up on junk culture smug ironic all the homage and gang rape”); Canadian poetry tropes (e.g. “each and everyone of them reaches for the lame epiphany”); the symbolic capital of modernity, which is often invoked then, immediately, renounced so as to enable claims to aesthetic progress; and the relationship between propriety and property, in language and in life. He even lands a few shots at Christian Bok: “yeah that’s his thing his street barker lame fucking parlor trick I heard merz cough up bile in the grave athleticism.”

A poetics of “bile” is probably the best way to describe Bradley’s practice in T=I=D=Y Language. He adopts an especially polemical stance using plain, direct, and vitriolic language.

blasphemy is victimless crime but many make a living through child parties and other festive occasions and workshoppin’

threatening to disrupt with vulgar behavior and to bring bad luck unless they are paid off with grants and now they were in my swallow

language is corrupted through spin doublespeak and the onslaught of commercial it is an amazing vocabulary these days

most of the words are brand names although you may want to wait until the gold has cooled down a bit and good luck with that idol faith

Bradley’s also capable of being wickedly funny:

just going to church doesn’t make you christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car number one you ain’t

you ain’t even number too destroyed language centre babylon

messing with those loops for years they are everywhere or more now jamming them together using the most basic nothing

very interesting other than for my own amusement but wondering if anyone else was doing similar suck a scream

The final line of the book suggests what you’ve been reading is some twisted or adulterated Canadian poetry fairytale, but those who live “happy ever after” are anything but poets (more like poetasters) and anything but deserving of their so-called happiness: “then they all went back to teaching their workshops."

Ultimately, Bradley’s central point is worth thinking about: that the poets who brand themselves as “avant-garde” (or poets who are branded as such by a given press’s publicity machine) are not, in fact, as different as they’d like to imagine from the poet’s who publish with M&S or Anansi. The difference is a fiction, one belied by their equally “tidy” aesthetic and social mannerisms. Bradley’s point is well taken and provesto be correct if you consider, for example, the poets who are cattled together under the category of “agents provocateurs” at this year’s Scream festival.***

Finally, there’s 2009’s The Murder of Semiotics, arguably my favourite work by Daniel f. Bradley. The long-poem arrived surreptitiously in the mail last year. I love it for a couple reasons. First, Bradley’s production is extreme in its restriction: there are only 6 copies of the book in circulation — I don’t know who has the other five copies, but I know I have one. The book is privately printed on 8 x 11 ½ inch pages, side-stapled.

Stylistically, The Murder of Semiotics synthesizes the two previous works: the scraps of words, images, and phrases sloshing into each other that characterizes A Boy’s First Book… and the social and literary critique that undergirds T=I=D=Y Language. Each page includes a single block of prose. Here are a couple of examples:

nursing home humiliation fantasies there’s a throw rug munching ideological farce of vampire minx party online church of pre-packaged dainties click to be taken to the not much but the title alone has my tab itching on the down low unrepentant probiotic faux croc rafters of the gym hall placed the bucked containing pig’s blood so close you can actually foul air likes her men to shut up and dripping in shameless nonchalant ourselves with a state of mind to be used like a dead man’s credit card at a strip clubs enjoying the high life and conjecture finding atlantis finding nazi gold i want to be there when they map loch ness

chemical demon dark and more me already one with the morning rain patter nearly burn ween knee glimmer half yellow first false pat convulsion gator anxiety of misfortunate and reversal why are some sex acts consenting who cares about the constricting emotional range of some of your therapy appears as the practioner’s guide to false pornography grasping nettles and copyright

One would be flat-out wrong to say these poems are absent of technique. Rather, they are technical insofar as they “use what important ideas are contained in the residue of history or in the now-swell of living” (to quote Baraka). Similarly, it would be wrong to say that Bradley’s poems are formless. It’s more accurate to say they are idiomorphic.

That's it for my discussion of Bradley here at Open Book. I encourage you all to seek out his work -- Apollinaire's Bookshoppe (http://www.apollinaires.com/mi...) is a great place to start!

*** David Antin, America’s greatest living poet, is part of the Scream schedule and the only performer actually deserving of the title “agent provocateur”— he’s a living genius, and if you haven’t heard him give one of his “talks,” you should do everything in your power to attend.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Alessandro Porco

Alessandro Porco is the author of two collections of poetry, Augustine in Carthage (2008) and The Jill Kelly Poems (2005), both published by ECW Press, and the editor of Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey.

Go to Alessandro Porco’s Author Page