Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of "The Inhabitants," a chapbook by Jason Bradford

When we accepted Jason Bradford’s poem “They’re Hypnotic, But…” for BL #21, it was because of a sense of connection we felt with the speaker, through his own sense of connection to, of all things, jellyfish.

That same sense of connection is what makes Bradford’s first collection of poetry, a chapbook called The Inhabitants (Final Thursday Press 2013), which includes that poem, so appealing.

No. Wait.

Not connection alone. It’s a disconnect, really, that comes to light as you move through these taut, prosy poems.

A disconnection with the more universal…well, universe. A strong sense of connection through the lens of, as J.D. Schraffenberger mentions in his blurb of Bradford’s chapbook, “a longing to connect.”

That’s a mean feat to accomplish in 31 pages of poetry: to make us feel alone in the world while simultaneously identifying with a kindred speaker; to show us our oneness  with so many living things while instilling in us a sense (and fear) of stagnation and isolation; to line up all who inhabit this planet, from the familiar to the strange, like a line of ants, then point out that perhaps we’re going nowhere.

Bradford likes animals, so the aforementioned jellyfish aren’t the only creatures in this collection by a longshot. Ghost crabs, great horned owls, carpenter ants, seahorses, spiders, and song birds amble around in his lines, with few humans to be found. Ghosts and the spirits of wind, sky, and soil have more to say to this poet, who speaks back to them on occasion: “Don’t you get that I resent you?” (p. 17) he asks a dancing Cassiopeia in “This is a Serious Situation,” a poem that employs the plural “we” in its opening line, showing a participation in an undefined group.

Things are and aren’t in Bradford’s poems. Two owls are both real and statues—“I knew they were both fake … I still think it’s real” (p. 14)—and, in an understated commentary on natural vs. industrial ecology, he tells us “My neighbored is fabricated / from plywood and concrete” (p. 19). Even when another human being is present, the speaker doesn't engage or even really acknowledge her presence except through the woodpeckers he's watching: “I wonder if she wonders are they real?” (p. 23).

In “I Believe in Ghosts”—“Not the moaning sheets … or flickering orbs of light,” mind you, but “objects /dropped behind couches” and “missed calls” (p. 27)—the speaker insists on “evidence” of belonging. If there is evidence of the existence of things that are gone, surely there must be proof of that which is still here.

Aptly, turn the page and find “Proof” in the form of crows, deer, and “always a cow with its head in a bucket” (p. 28). The speaker photographs it. Oddly, I thought of the tease, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

“Am I part of this world,” Bradford’s speaker finally asks, “or am I another tuna pushing against the net?” (p. 24)

By the end of The Inhabitants, the world isn’t something the speaker lives in, but something intrusive: “The universe is trying to break in, but I don’t know how to push against the rain” (p. 29). What Bradford does know how to do is question our own existences in a way that, if only briefly, if only through the “proof” of and intense, indiscriminate connection with what exists outside of us, trues the here and now, the only thing we truly “inhabit.”