Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Lamar University Press Books
“Crownfeathers and Effigies” is my first introduction to Jerry Bradley’s body of works. While I sought after the meaning of the title even before I began to read, it would all too soon become clear to me; that with tact discipline, Bradley tackles complex subjects, oftentimes told with wry humour. The poems have central themes of love, relationships, divorce, history, death, and so forth and are beautifully crafted in an equally beautiful language.
The opening first segment, “Broken Glass”, is the strongest with a pack of original, carefully composed language with a unique voice. “If you can bring nothing to this place but your carcass, keep out” —— while the inclusion of this quote from William Carlos Williams (an American poet often associated with modernism and imagism) prepares the readers mind, we are equally enthralled by the imagery that the poems in this collection leave us with by the end of the reading journey.
Bradley’s poems silently speaks into our souls in a way that “…only the poem says what cannot be said” p3 After reading each poem, as readers, we are tempted to question our souls, perhaps, in response to the subject matter in question. In “An Old Familiar Offering” we come across one of the most striking lines in this collection: “Money isn’t everything, but it sure keeps the kids in touch”. p4 As the saying goes that “money isn’t everything”, Bradley refreshes our minds and reminds us of the truthfulness of this old wise saying. As the first two lines of the second stanza compare money with God, one is left with outmost surprise at the play on words:
“Like God, he needs money, always has ——
and like his mother spends it.” p4
Bradley’s “Crownfeathers and Effigies” is divided into four segments, yet we notice in the end, how the individual poems come together to form a complete interesting book. Perhaps, the order in which the individual poems are arranged scores the full mark that ignites the readers’ interest from the first page. The first poem, Primer, for instance, is a voluptuous creation that hooks you in once you begin to read. The central theme in “Primer” is universal as love is a thing of the human heart, and a heart that is so fragile that “that is how a heart learns to break … then life repeats itself.” p1
The second segment however, opens with the poem, “Reel Life” where the main character in the voice of the first person “I” succumbs to the supernatural power of the moon: “feeling small under the moon, I cast my attention toward the far bank”. p31 Bradley tactfully provides room for even the supernatural in his poetry; bringing together the body, soul and spirit which all have important roles to play in the portrayal of mankind. In “Instructions Received in a Dream”, Bradley’s relation of forgetfulness to power and the relative use of dream and night is all the more truthful to life:
“Forgetting is a kind of power too,
like satisfaction and desire
and the stammering shadows
they make when they wake in the night.” p 37
Bradley’s poems are not your usual static-like poems on paper but are also lyrical and sing to the reader in a way that is pleasing to the ear. In the end, readers are left with unforgettable memories. In a deceptively simple poem, “What We Said”, Bradley offers us a conversational narrative ending in a way that gives much to think about:
“we both said things
neither of us meant
I said I can’t live without you
She said prove it” p75
All in all, the poems in “Crownfeathers and Effigies” is an affirmation of a writer who knows his craft best and as such, manages to woo readers along with ease; of which I am certainly a victim. The poems themselves sing to the reader in times when they ought to and tackle issues at the core of the human heart. There is a certain beauty that emanates from word to word while reading. Bradley, in just 91 pages, have woven words into lines in a special simple language that will completely leave you wanting more.