RAISON D'ETRE, I by bradley james


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An epic, multipart poetry cycle about the nature of life and the transience of relationships.

James breaks up this debut poetry volume into six long segments: “a few letters,” “a new place,” “a new time,” “in distance, be,” “from ocean, sea” and “her song of legacy.” In each, he presents dozens of blank verse ranging from longer, sonnetlike constructions to much shorter, almost koanlike pronouncements (“is a man now? / is a man ever? / and (far more importantly) / is a man ... at all”). He delivers them all in a direct, clean voice with a bare minimum of standard poetic diction. This is plainspoken verse, often trying to capture very simple, fleeting, common experiences of life: “(just lying there, breathing) / (just lying there, feeling).” The poems frequently evoke the incredible power of literature and art to stir the emotions (“i have read the meditation of aurelius / and the hidden words of machiavelli / i have stood before the paintings of kandinsky / and cried with da vinci’s sketches”). However, the narrator is also a realist; time and again in these poems, actual, lived life pushes aside even the most enjoyable forms of art, as in one telling scene: “sitting at the cafe and reading dumas / a scalding cup falls on a boy / and dumas / be damned to hell.” Throughout, the poetry describes the seductive power of illusions, most often reflected in the discrete moments when they are shattered: “with one toe / he breaks the surface, / and fish swim away.” All along, the narrator observes everything with a storyteller’s sharp eye—“let me tell you / a short, little story / single man / in a single city / at a single point in time”—and a sometimes-urgent need to understand: “what are the four hidden truths? / tell me—and tell me quick.” A recurring hint of deep personal loss fills the final segment, “her song of legacy,” helping to make it the most involving, satisfying section of a collection that can sometimes be rather aphoristic.

A free-form, often thought-provoking verse confessional in the tradition of Leaves of Grass. 

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4935-0357-5
Page count: 424pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2014