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  • Just You Wait
  • Matthew Brennan (bio)
The Importance of Elsewhere, Jerry Bradley. Ink Brush Press: 77 pages; paper, $15.00.

Texas poet Jerry Bradley's impressive first collection, Simple Versions of Disaster, appeared in 1991, bringing together more than a hundred poems. Now, close to two decades later, Ink Brush Press has released his second book, The Importance of Elsewhere, one of its initial offerings. Like the debut book, The Importance of Elsewhere deals with emotional subjects such as divorce, loneliness, and the bruises of childhood. But whereas Simple Versions typically creates distance from feeling through third-person point of view as well as wit and humor, many poems in the new collection are more directly personal, with autobiography undisguised. Still, reflections of the old manner return in each of the book's four sections, which end with one- or two-line poems that play wryly off their titles, like a stand-up comedian's jokes, and thus Bradley lightens the heavy melancholy of the preceding poems, which are mostly devoid of the earlier work's humor. As well crafted as Simple Versions, The Importance of Elsewhere is emotionally and imaginatively more powerful.

On the back cover of the new book, David Vancil remarks on its difference from its predecessor. A representative poem in Simple Versions is "First Marriage," which dryly evokes the black humor in a bad union: after noting that a couple's "compliments passed / hand to hand like combat," Bradley places the husband at a motel and quips, quoting his postcard, "'Having wonderful time,' / he wrote. / 'Wish you were her.'" Bradley adopts this ironic technique in only four of Elsewhere's sixty-two poems, but they come emphatically at the ends of sections full of personal lyrics. The poem concluding the book is typical: After moving poems of relationships gone sour, from "The Sad Mistress" to "If and Weather" to "…and Forty Nights," Bradley chooses to restore some of the old humor in his final salvo: "How to Make Love to the Same Woman Forever / die young." These short poems not only successfully leaven the tone of a book of sorrows, but also allow a whiff of Bradley's earlier achievements. Indeed, the volume ends with two pages of excerpts from reviews of Simple Versions (nearly all from publications in Texas), a clear invitation to reconsider it and, as Vancil does, to compare the two books

In one of these reviews, R. S. Gwynn notes the balance of free verse and formal poems in Bradley's first book; this range also distinguishes The Importance of Elsewhere. Bradley writes more than a dozen of the free verse poems in a style eschewing capitalization and punctuation—especially terminal. If this repetition of form risks mannerism, as I think it does in W. S. Merwin's work since the 1960s, most of the time Bradley's form expressively fits its subject. Exemplary of this type of poem is "Sunday Drive," one of the book's happier pieces. It vividly depicts a tour through "backroads and bayous" that culminates in a picnic, "outdoor sex," and finally drowsing irrationally "into waves" and elaborating "the lazy lake / like petals dreaming a peach." "At the Mental Health Clinic" employs a similar technique, but this time the open style evokes a diminished, unfixed sense of self: A therapy group sits "like dead mice / on the doorstep," their "having gone too far beyond" themselves "into someone else's yard." On the other hand, Bradley also builds poems in meter and rhyme, including multiple sonnets and lyrics in tercets. "Photographing the Cows" stands out among the sonnets, not only for its striking images and sounds, but particularly for its interwoven rhymes that are worthy of John Keats: abca cdbe fge fgd. Just as adept in rhyme, "Flying with the Crows" narrates another dream, but this time manifests the keenness of archetypal images through tercets: aba cdc efe. This intensity of sound effectively heightens the poem while keeping to natural syntax.

However, the most memorable poems here unfold in punctuated free verse exploiting strong metaphors and telling closure. One of Bradley's best poems, "The Face of Vegetables," opens with a nine-line stanza equating...