Our Hearts Are Power Ballads, Poems by J. Bradley, Artistically Declined Press, 2012. Reviewed by CL Bledsoe.
Bradley’s chapbook begins with a brief lost-love poem, “We Belong in a Movie.” “I will finally cure the cancer of regret,” (line 9) Bradley says. The poem sets up this theme of regret, of lost love, which continues throughout the collection. In The Monogamist series, Bradley speaks of erasing names, “stick figure(ing) a life” which implies a lessening of the importance of past experiences in an attempt to move away from regret.
In “Every Girl is the End of the World for You and Me,” Bradley begins “Our hearts are power ballads.” But what are power ballads? They are big, grandiose songs, often somewhat immature in their approach but dealing with ideas too big for daily life, ideas that make daily life seem banal by comparison. Likewise, Bradley implies that his past relationships make his current or future ones pale in comparison. Often, power ballads deal with regret, lost love. Bradley continues, “There are hazards in emotional/tourism. I’m learning to stop/showing where I slept/with monsters.” (lines 11-14). With the idea of “emotional tourism” Bradley questions the sincerity of his early relationships and also their relevance to his future. Bradley is talking about working through emotional maturity, ‘the mature man who lives humbly for an idea,’ to paraphrase Salinger, that idea being love.
But just because Bradley’s narrator has left behind the grandiose days of his heart’s youth, doesn’t mean there is no hope for passion. He ends the collection with a solid love poem, “Indiana Jones Hopes for Working Plumbing at the Youth Hostel.” Bradley demonstrates his great sense of humor and playfulness starting with the title – the image of an adventurer hoping for creature comforts. “I want to be an archeologist/of you, make temporary/cave drawings on your neck/and thighs” (lines 5-8). Bradley’s passion remains, and he is wiser for it. One can only conclude this portrait of mature love resounds with a more sustaining passion than the fickle passion of youth.
The poems in this collection are mostly brief, full of humor and nice turns of phrase. I’d be interested in seeing Bradley expand his wings in a longer collection. All in all, a solid chapbook.