by Nicky Tiso
In her 2014 Burning Deck book Apologies, divided into two sections (drafts 1-73 and drafts 75-123), the question for language artist Kristin P. Bradshaw is what are we sorry for: “a new religion? a social-political discourse? a queer’s life?,” the back cover probes. This frank discussion of religion, politics, and sexuality is handled much more allusively inside the book, where “exploded” free-verse lyric stanzas, reminiscent of Sappho, smolder. Tracing a spirit, a longing, across personas, in Apologies “an I acts out in turns / each refraction of a Self,” in the form of poems framed like journal entries, like love letters, like laundry lists, and other marginalia, with both the sense of being quickly jotted and yet meticulously arranged. Like Susan Howe, Bradshaw combines historical scholarship and experimental poetics into a powerful lyric current. In its grip, erasure and fragment form a Jabèsian commentary on absence, exile, and nomadism (13):
With an abstract determination, Apologies moves across imaginary topographies towards the codified sunset. Poems like “for Oregon” invoke the landscape of the American dream in relation to “referents, saddened” by proximity to war and economic decline, while locating “hope in the space between” these outsourced atrocities, where a quiet confessional resolve, “hungry and tired and in need of water,” tries to find what it means to be American.
Of course, movement itself is American, as Gertrude Stein noted in her nonstop prose in The Making of Americans:
I am always trying to tell this thing that a space of time is a natural thing for an American to always have inside them as something in which they are continuously moving.
So I see similarly American existential momentum in Apologies, like when Bradshaw’s narrator writes (60):
going against the rhythms of speech:
What we get is an ego aware of its artifice, moving between self-expression and self-reflexivity, the secular and the sacred, with synesthetic leaps that give language a sensuous physicality. Bradshaw’s MA in Religion appears to really animate her poetics, wherein the narrator’s voice is poised at a crisis of faith, not only sentimental, but ontological (49):
In two different stanzas we see a constancy of structure across contextual shift, and the repetition of formatted blank space draws our attention to it as a metaphor for movement, place, and death. Quiet and tempered, but polyvocal and foreboding, Apologies is a haunting of language and identity that works in nonlinear, nonnarrative sequence to explore “the paradoxical state of the spectre, which is neither being nor non-being,” to quote scholar Lisa Gye on the concept of hauntology, a Derridian term that is useful for analyzing a book with this much spiritual possession (59):
The bracketed space represents infinite potential in a combinatory sequence—non-being—while the line below it (“canaries and other yellow birds.”) represents a possible but nonbinding variable in an endless, Baudrillardian circus of signs, into which the narrator projects their exiled, queer desires. The structural vacancy and rhetorical posturing can feel cold, but the weird and beautiful thing about Bradshaw’s writing is how quickly it can oscillate from the godless abyss back to the intimate and quotidian, warmly drawing you in (75):
Due to its ecclesiastical diction (“oh my sabellian heart!”), unconventional dramatic structure (more of an elongated suspense than a conflict-climax-resolution), and spectral personae, this book of poems might come across too pedantic for some, too obscure for others; but if you appreciate what Language poetry and theological studies have in common, the transcendental lyricism of Apologies echoes Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop’s own experimental virtuosity and profound vision, establishing Bradshaw as a dope protégé.
Apologies is available from Burning Deck.
Nicky Tiso is an MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota. His first poetry manuscript, Cata/strophe, was a 2014 finalist for 1913 Press’ Prize for First Books, judged by Claudia Rankine.