Pick How You Will Revise a Memory by J. Bradley. Robocup Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Eric Van Driska
Bradley’s 2016 collection of prose poems is a work which questions the tenuous connection formed by place, experience, and memory. Submitted to Yelp as reviews of various locations—churches, McDonalds, the Seattle Space Needle—these prose poems tease out the tension inherent in shared experience, locations, and memories. Each of the forty-two pieces, written in either first-person plural or second-person singular, pulls at the reader, and their short length—no longer than a blurb—gives the feel of a diary entry through intensely personal apostrophes. Still, the common origin of the prose poems as Yelp reviews creates distance, compelling the reader to contextualize each poem in the faceless, communal nature of the internet.
The poems themselves are often murky, ambiguous tidbits that defy easy understanding and classification. As in “Dover Shores Community Center”:
The Urinals make fine graves for
Speedos, the catalyst for seconds
blackened by sunlight as you
chase the grave diggers out of the
bathroom, past the line of your
first grade class, their index fingers
not educated enough to open
cans of laughter.
Other prose poems, like “FairvillaMegastore” and “Orange County Courthouse,” present starkly universal truths about the nature of human loneliness, while others expose the fear of self-elision when immersed in consumerism, as in “The Mall at Millenia”:
You will barter your
name for a better one,
evolve your skin’s
fluency in advertising.
Carve an expired credit
card. Wear the slivers
around your neck to
ward off want disguised
as need; check for
missing organs after you
The poems are at their most powerful when walking the fine line between opaqueness and harsh clarity, mirroring the Janus-like quality of the internet as a place which reflects intense personal preference while simultaneously threatening to engulf the self in a wash of incomprehensible messages. This tension between the body, location, and identity is embedded throughout the work in startling uses of the body’s contents, usually in reference to organs. “Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church” offers the most provocative use of this technique:
We wanted to drink blood until the
tally marks of the things we did but
shouldn’t have done molted.
There were bodies we were told never
to chew. We eventually dared our
teeth to discover the texture of muscle,
bone, nerves; our mouths graduated to
the promise of skin.
By pairing intensely personal, embodied moments with the banality of communal locales, Pick How You Will Revise a Memory renders visible the difficulty of communicating across memory and space. The brevity of each prose poem imparts a meditative quality to the whole work, providing a small spark to kick-start periods of introspection and examination of unconsidered places.