I Was a Burning Studio Apartment: An Interview with J. Bradley

J. Bradley is the author of Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot (Safety Third Enterprises, 2010), My Hands Are As Thick As Dreams (Patasola Press, 2011), and the upcoming e-chapbooks A Patchwork of Rooms Furnished by Mistakes (Deckfight Press, 2011) and Our Hearts Are Power Ballads (Artistically Declined Press, 2011). He is the interviews editor of PANK magazine and lives at iheartfailure.net

So, looking over the chapbook, A Patchwork of Rooms Furnished by Mistakes, I noticed there exists this sort of theme throughout, an assemblage of “place,” if you will—“North/South,” “Fort Meyers, August 2002”—not only in the titles of the poems and the chapbook, but also in the art—pieces of furniture—the language of the poems themselves, reflective of leaving, remembering. In the blurb Amber Sparks even alludes to your poems as “twisting meaning, inverting the language of bodies and selves, and building a new set of sounds to furnish the rooms these poems occupy.” My question: What do you think of your poems as rooms? What influence, if any, would you say “place” plays in poetry?

I think everything we write is a room of some kind. As we evolve, we destroy some rooms, redecorate others, and then abandon them for cobwebs and shut-ins to spread and die.

I’m a writer that uses emotions as building blocks. When I was younger, I didn’t quite know how to control the emotions. This is something I wrote ten years ago to the woman that all of these poems are about (I have retained the original formatting to show how emodouchy I was):

after 18 months of pushing you
and pulling you back,
you are on your way on a
severed path.
don’t know if you’re ever
comin’ back.

this is the moment
where i’m sorry
isn’t gonna do it.

you have packed your room,
your bags,
your memories,
driving down the highway
towards somewhere else.

i wish i could have understood
the signs,
your lips and skin
over the phone.
i wish i could have understood
the meaning behind you
showing up at my doorstep
at 1am
on a Wednesday night.
i wish i could have understood

a good bye reverberates
in my lungs
and you aren’t here to catch it
a good bye kiss
is caged in the cracks of my mouth.
you aren’t here to devour it.

this is August
and everything after.
loss isn’t such a disaster
once you’ve mastered
the art.

if i could ask for one last thing,
it would be for a photo booth moment
where for 30 seconds
i could hold you,
smile with you,
make funny faces with you,
kiss you,
and can remember that fragment of time
whenever i opened my

this poem isn’t
a desperation
suicide slide
in-between the maw
of regret
this poem isn’t
gonna pull you close
this poem won’t
do anything except tell you
i’m sorry
i love you
you will be missed
when you are gone.

i guess this is

I was a burning studio apartment at that time, throwing my arms like pails of water. I left that room smoldering.

Throughout the years, I got better at building lasting rooms, ones that wouldn’t sag under the weight of time or be eaten by termites. One of my most controlled, focused emotional pieces was this little number, written when I was going through a divorce and (foolishly) trying to start a relationship with someone last year:


I did not expect to wear curbs
like retainers again until I fought
the urge to kiss you in the gazebo
of the passenger seat of your car.

I cannot memorize anything
except your smiles, that one night
where Yuengling gave our hands courage
and lobster claw costumes.

You are not a band-aid.
You are the laser cannon
I always wanted grafted
to my shoulder to blow holes
into mountains, your fingertips
the contact, the battery pack
of your breath giving me the energy
to destroy something majestic
because what is truly beautiful
stands behind me.

You are not a need.
You are something
I want to miss.

I get why you’re afraid
to like me; a marriage license
is asbestos. I should be afraid
to like you this much so soon
because I’m really good at falling
and forgetting to pick myself up.

My eggshell praying mantis,
you cannot keep trying to sever my head
because I woo like a land mine;
without it, I’m built like a sidekick.

You once asked if I would keep talking
to you like a ghost; I think you were really
asking yourself this.  I’ve never met someone
who dates like an anachronist, where
every man you think likes you will eventually
do so with a fist, where you’re waiting
to catch boquets of disappointment
and wear it on your scowl like a crown.

Your signals are scrambled.
I wish sometimes
they would just be mixed. 

I know I’m not worth waiting for.
I’m an open burning book.
I never expected you
with your arms open
like a finish line
when I closed the distance
between the past and the future.

I’m no hero. I’ve got hands like sieves.
I cannot fix or hold onto anything.

It’s amazing what kind of architect getting your heart ripped out will make you.

These poems in Patchwork were written as a countdown in reuniting with someone I let go, building places where we could move through and eventually meet halfway. This particular piece, featured in the debut issue of Red Lightbulbs, gives some indication of where I am now:

“Get The Wheel. Let’s Got For A Ride.”

I fingered your number like loosened buttons.
The walls rehearsed weighing your hands.
My shoulder blades spelled vowels.
Consonants kissed beneath the arch
of my back. My curled toes serenaded them
like a gondolier. I closed my eyes like pennies.

That’s interesting you refer to the poems in Patchwork as “a countdown in reuniting.” What was the process like selecting pieces for the chapbook? How did you decide which poem came first?

I put together collections by gut instinct. I listen to the work and let it guide me in creating the overall look and feel of the final product. If the flow feels wrong, I’ll adjust it until it feels right.

Favorite piece  of furniture you’ve ever owned and how you came to own it. Do you still?

My futon. I slept on it when I lived with my mom and I slept on it again when my ex-wife moved out with her furniture. I’ve had that futon for over a decade and it has served me well.

What line/s in the chapbook are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all the pieces in the collection but I have to say my favorite line is this one:

My heart fluctuated the polarity
of these arms.

It says a lot about the way that I treated her when I was younger, being an emotard that pushed, pulled, pushed, pulled. This line summarizes that pretty succinctly.

Pitch Cadaver, an as-of-yet-unproduced cult film, starring, written, directed and edited by actor Rider Strong. Synopsis and plot spoilers are welcome.

Chet Baker comes home to find his wife murdered and it’s up to him to find the killer. Along the way, his wife’s body dismembers herself to point him to clues. Ben Savage stars as the nervous police officer whose motives behind the investigation are questionable. William Daniels is the male prostitute with the heart of gold.

Do you listen to music very often (when you write) and what do you listen to when (if) you do? Is there an unofficial playlist or set of songs you’d think fit the themes in Patchwork, just glancing at your music?

I listen to music when I write fiction generally. When I was writing “Bodies of Smoke” for HOUSFIRE, I listened to Das Racist’s Sit Down, Man because of the driving beat and the funny ass lyrics: “I’m counting Jacksons with black friends / I’m counting tens in Benzes with white friends / Wonderin’ if suicide’s a largely white trend / Google it later and confirm that, aight then.” When I wrote a lot of a project I was working on called We Will Celebrate Our Failures, I listened to The National’s High Violet to put myself in the right mindset to write about breaking up engagements through Craigslist. With poetry, though, I stay away from music because I need to write unfiltered.

Regarding playlist, this is what I recommend listening to while reading the chapbook:

1. Iron & Wine – “Walking Far From Home”
2. Bon Iver – “Calgary”
3. The National – “Slow Show”
4. Deftones – “Sex Tape”
5. The Decemberists – “Rake’s Song”
6. Beck – “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine”
7. LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”
8. David Gray – “This Year’s Love”
9. Death Cab For Cutie – “Codes & Keys”

Swell tunes. While we’re on the matter of lists: What five books are least like Patchwork and why?

The entire Transmetropolitan run by Warren Ellis—no love, just journalism, anger.

Noir—a reminder of my table top role-playing days.

Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweat Socks by Mick Foley—I enjoy professional wrestling and the stories about Foley’s rise to fame are really awesome. An incredibly well written book.

My final divorce judgment—enough said.

Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party—no koalas were harmed in the writing of my chapbook.

Ten or fewer words you would use to promote your chapbook.

Prologue of a relationship, first draft.

How do you sit down and write? Is it an everyday thing, almost scheduled, like you have this time which is YOUR writing time and nothing else happens during that time? Are you working on any newer projects at the moment, fiction or poetry? Care to share anything about them? About your process?

My goal each week is to produce three pieces, whether it be poetry or fiction. My target days are Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday. However, if I happen to write more, I write more.

I’m a multitasker. I can chat on the internet and write at the same time. There’s a book I read in college where it said that the internet is bad for your writing because it distracts you. I’m checking the scores for the Dallas/Heat game now as I write this so suck on that, unnamed book.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Like monogamy, it is an unrealistic concept. Doubt is what causes people to lock up and stop writing, not some wall of some unclassified material. I put myself out there and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Poetry, I write from the gut, the heart. No music, just the concept and watching it unfold. Sometimes, it’s taken a couple of years for one concept to unravel into a poem, like this one. Others, I’ve written right there on the spot.

Fiction, depends. I’ll often work off of one or two concepts and just let it happen, like a date.”Date Night” came from the idea of what it would be like to make out with the Kool-Aid Man. “Just Do It” came from the image of a man dressed as Marge Simpson doing coke of the blade of a knife. “Primer” came from wanting to make my wedding ring into a bullet.

I am still trying to get my MS about my separation and divorce published, a blend of flash fiction and poetry called We Will Live Like Our Ghosts Will Live. I just put together a draft of a flash fiction collection called The Internet Is A Dangerous Place To Live, compiled of flash pieces written over the last year and a half, including two of the longest pieces I’ve ever written. I also would like to put together a couple more poetry chaps.

Ten years from now J. Bradley will be

…a silverfox.

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