I Like __ A Lot
I Like J. Bradley A Lot
J. Bradley is a poet and fiction writer who wears many different hats. He is the author of two excellent books—Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books 2009) and The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot (Safety Third Enterprises 2010), a slam master for the Orlando Poetry Slam, and the Interviews Editor for PANK. If I were to use one word to describe J. Bradley’s writing, it would be sharp, like a knife. The word “edgy” is often overused when discussing writing but that term is appropriate when talking about J. Bradley’s work. He is often profane and downright inappropriate and yet, his stories and poems are compelling, sometimes funny, and sometimes they’ll tear your heart out of your chest. He’s not writings thing like, “”I’m gonna fuck you so hard, you’re gonna have Down’s Syndrome,” just to be outrageous. There’s always a purpose to the profanity, a method to the madness. When I read Bradley’s writing, I cannot help but think, “Who is this man who dares to go there?”
The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot is a curious little collection of words. Each story is unique but possessing Bradley’s distinct voice. He makes frequent use of analogy, forever comparing one thing to another in ways that are surprising or shocking or charming but always engaging. Whether writing about a boy with chainsaws for arms or a man’s wife’s girlfriend or a wedding ring forged into a bullet, each of the very small stories in this chapbook are strange but controlled and cool breaths of fresh air. Bradley’s wonderful stories offer the reader vivid snapshots you would not be able to see from the mind of any writer but J. Bradley. I loved his chapbook so much I thought I’d ask him a few questions about his writing, warped mind, and other literary endeavors.
Let’s start with your role as Interviews Editor for PANK. I have yet to meet a PANK writer who wasn’t crazy about your questions which are always interesting, fun and often times so very very strange. How do you come up with your questions? Do you ever feel like you’re crossing a line with the questions you come up with?
I read the story or poem of each author and if there are lines or pieces that catch my eye, I will use that as the basis of my question. I make sure to create questions that are interesting but not offensive. I don’t want to know why you wrote something. I want to know how you would eat the face of Mayor McCheese. We all do.
Why do interviews matter? What can be learned from a good (or bad) interview?
People want to know what makes someone tick. We clamor when someone famous or interesting gets interviewed around the t.v. or the pages of the magazine. A good interview can not only humanize your subject, but also bring about a new level respect for that person. One of my favorite interviews was the one Bill Murray did for GQ recently and the interviewer actually was brave enough to ask “why Garfield” and Bill’s answer was surprising (though I don’t quite by the Coen theory). Take John Mayer’s interview with Rolling Stone, where his candidness proved what I already knew: he’s a dick and it also accomplished one of several wishes – for people to never listen to his music ever again (unless you like being slapped around with sweaty, used cock, then more power to you).
If you could be interviewed by anyone, who would it be?
Other than you, Robert Smith. It would be the strangest, gothiest interview ever.
What is one question you’ve always wanted to be asked. And your answer?
What mythological beast would you say your penis resembles? The Kraken.
You’re active both in the slam poetry and small press world. What is it like negotiating those two, sometimes very different communities? What do you love/hate most about each community?
Let’s start with what I love about both: the risk taking, the camaraderie, the parties, the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met. I’ve only been a part of the indie lit community actively for a little over a year so I currently have no hate for anything in it and I hope I don’t develop hate. As for the slam community: the nepotism, the predictability, the exploitation, the writing (god, the writing), the hollow liberal beliefs, the lack of personal and emotional hygiene, the “I-did-ok-at-the-National-Poetry-Slam-so-that-entitles-me-to-tour” attitude. They’re both places to cut your teeth in similar and different ways and I will always be grateful for what the poetry slam has done for my performance and writing because it has helped me transition into small press world. I don’t really negotiate between the two because they are separate aspects of my art life. However, I don’t mention that I slam in my small press bios because there is still an underlying bias toward people who participate in the poetry slam movement because of the negative stereotypes (loud, emotional, expository) and while there is some truth in the stereotype, people need to get to their local slam and see that isn’t the case.
When you perform, you often memorize your work. Does memorization bring a different quality to your performance? How do you feel about poets who don’t memorize their work? How do you compose your set lists?
Memorization brings the performance to a whole new level. It demonstrates you are really connected to your work emotionally and physicially. In the poetry slam movement, memorization is a necessity to succeed in the contest. In small press world, it’s an oddity, and I like that I bring a little bit of that oddity in my readings in non-slam environments. I don’t hate on poets who don’t memorize their work, not by any means. I hate on poets who don’t rehearse their work before getting on stage, whether an open mic, a reading, or a poetry slam. You can perform very well with paper and I know some great writers in the slam scene that refuse to memorize, such as Scott Woods, as long as you rehearse your shit. I normally compose a set list a couple of hours before the show or reading begins on the back of a flyer at the venue. I do it based on how I’m feeling or what I want to read that night.
Earlier, I asked you about crossing lines with your often times provocative interview questions. A great deal of your writing is equally provocative. Are there any lines you won’t cross with your fiction and poetry? Do you deliberately aim to shock or is that a pleasant side effect?
Shocking people is a pleasant side effect, never the primary objective; putting out a thought provoking or emotionally provoking body of work is. I was going to say my writing limits are like my bedroom hard limits (no blood, feces, urine, or children) but that doesn’t really apply. I can’t lie in fiction, even when the story is fantastic, and that’s the line I won’t cross is lying to my audience. There’s always an element of truth and feeling in the story. I won’t lie in poetry. I tried when I was younger and it made my voice artificial, unfeeling, like T-Pain.
I loved The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot. What inspired this collection? What’s your favorite story in the chapbook?
I was getting stuck in a rut with my Kama Sutra series of poems and a friend of mine called me on it. I realized she was right and that’s where “Whir” came, something non-poetry. When Metazen picked it up right away, it encouraged me to write more fiction and I found flash was a good place to work my way back into fiction (I last wrote fiction in 1998-99 during college). I wanted to put something together that was tighter, more emotionally controlled yet unrestrained and I’m proud of the results. This is a cliche but all of the stories in it are my favorite because they work well together and work well independently and that’s important, like a good rock album.
How does one wear a court order like a slap? Do you jump around when you hear the song Jump Around? What is a skeetapotamus?
One wears a court order like a slap in shame. I do not jump around when I hear “Jump Around” though I shadowbox, unless I am in public, then I shadowbox in my mind. A skeetapotamus is a man who prematurely ejaculates in large quantities.
What comes first, the title or the story?
The story. The title always comes last, like a good man.
What came first, the writing or your warped mind?
The writing and the warped mind work in tandem: one cannot exist without the other.
It’s hard to pick a favorite story from your chapbook but it came down to Whir and Primer and in an epic battle in my mind, Primer totally kicked Whir’s ass. It was a bloody affair though Whir fought valiantly. It’s the ending of Primer that really gets to me. You write, “I slowly drew the .38 Special out of my pants and aimed toward the nearest apple tree. The bullet burrowed through the bark and into the trunk like a seed. Some day, I hope a little girl bites into one of the apples and coughs up the princess sleeping inside her stomach.” That’s a pretty perfect line. I don’t really have a question but are you always this angry? Are you an emotional writer?
I wrote “Primer” the day after my ex-wife began moving out of our apartment. The idea came when I was walking home from the bus stop after she decided in so many words she was moving and we were over. Originally I was going to write a poem using the idea but the poem was just all over the place so I used it in a story instead. I knew shooting someone in the face with the bullet would be way too easy, too predictable so I wanted to do something interesting but keep the emotional impact of the act. I do use my emotions to shade things and create; I have a finer control of my emotions when using them as tools than I ever have before because of the divorce.
Who are some of your favorite writers? What magazines are you enjoying these days? Why?
Matt DeBenedictis, Jason Jordan, Adam Gallari, Laura van der Berg, John Jodzio, Rachel McKibbens, Joseph Riippi, Sean H. Doyle, Warren Ellis, Roxane Gay, xTx, Jason Cook, just to name a few.
When I see one of the above writers in a magazine, I make sure to check that magazine out: it means they have good taste in my honest opinion.
Writing process questions are pretty boring but I have to ask because I am nosy. What does an evening of writing look like for you?
Listening to music, normally The National or The Afghan Whigs, and letting the ideas flow (unless I’m writing poetry, then it’s silence). Giving up cable is the best thing I’ve done for my writing.
What do you like most about your writing?
How it will never leave me for another man or woman or transsexual.