Saturday, June 8, 2019

Queen Kong — Amanda J. Bradley (NYQ Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Queen Kong.  Amanda J. Bradley.  NYQ Books.  New York, New York.  2017.


Amanda J. Bradley's Queen Kong starts off with a long autobiographical poem that tells the story of the growth of a young woman in a loving family that is both frequently transplanted somewhere new on the globe and fiercely loyal.  Bradley's young woman starts us off with bubble-gum and Barbies.  By the time we're done we've finished graduate school only to graduate via the mail.  Oh yes, and a taxing but brief stay in a mental-health facility as a result of drug induced breakdown.

Bradley knows how to make us care, the details and detritus that make up her life brings us closer to empathy.  When you've finished "Belonging," (title of Bradley's autobiographical introduction), a narrative she-tale of her coming of age you do feel like you might know this young woman.  Bradley lets us in on some of the mortar needed to hold all the building blocks together.

III.  Fourteen

Long, blonde curls fly behind as I careen through Plano, Texas
neighborhoods, past red brick ranch houses on my blue ten speed,
limbs strong and lithe from years of ballet. I begin to taste freedom.
My poems begin to flutter into existence. I write them in my rainbow-
hearted bedroom, newly discovered Plath my inspiration. I sprawl
across my twin bed, swallowing books, soon to be released from braces.

We pack too much luggage for Paris and London. We have to take
two taxis to the hotel. I have a suitcase of shoes. We see the Mona Lisa
and Monet's Water Lilies. I am transformed by Rembrandt, by moving
among people I can barely understand. We eat escargot in the hotel bar.
I am fascinated by Montmarte, the stories of the artists, the histories
of romance. My mother tells me not to swing my hips. I see the men watching.
I wonder what champagne is like, wine, gin and tonic. My brother
and I climb the lions in Trafalgar Square. I admire the poets buried
at Westminister. We trudge to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
I cry at a production of Cats, knowing nothing of T.S. Eliot.

At school, I am a nerd and don't mind much except the guys are less
likely to notice me this way. Between dolls and dalliance, I begin
to realize my body can be a weapon, can be violated, can be impregnated,
can make me strong or weak. I start high school. My English teacher says
I write well. She says Justin writes well, too. We begin to talk on the phone.
I lie on my parents' bed and wind the phone cord through my fingers.
I catch myself in the mirror. I can see he makes me feel happy. I feel pretty
and smart all at once. This is important to me. "May I have this dance?"
he wants to know. We dance to Bryan Adams' "Heaven." He asks for more,
but there are rebellious boys who have moved a lot like me, who will take me
to OMD concerts and teach me about clove cigarettes. I say no. Instead, I go out
with the one who will soon have a mohawk. When I am told we are moving,
I grab matches from the kitchen and ride far to a distant park. I strike them
one by one, attempting to put them out on my wet, pink tongue, terrifying
myself, waiting for cars to pass, till I am alone, before trying again. At last,
I succeed. I settle fire in my mouth. I swing upside down from a bar on the
playground. I am a fire-eating acrobat with no fear. I can do, I can be anything.


Wow.  It's a good thing Amanda J. Bradley gave us some idea of what was happening in her poetry kitchen.  By the time Today's book of poetry got to "Queen Kong," the title poem of this absolutely marvelous assault on power of the patriarchy, Bradley has the pot smoking.  Make no mistake, as Today's book of poetry likes to say of our very favourite poets, Bradley can burn.

          "Somewhere between a virgin
            and a whore, a holy mother
            and a temptress, I learned
            that my worth was tied
            to the raging pulse
            between my thighs."
                   from My God, My God, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?

Bradley's autobiographical introduction is a frank and vivid feminist roar, Queen Kong expands her universe and ours with each intake of oxygen.  Bradley's volume increases as she takes on her mature voice.  Today's book of poetry hasn't heard a howl like this in longer than ago, but now that we've heard Amanda J. Bradley Today's book of poetry will never forget.  Bradley's got precision.

Queen Kong

          Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who...hasn't been ashamed of her
          strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives...
          hasn't accused herself of being a monster?

                                       -Helene Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"
                                         (translated by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen)

I've been shimmying up skyscrapers all my life,
swatting at airplanes that buzz my massive head.
I have been holding tiny men in my palm, careful
not to squish life from their fragile bodies.
I have spent my rage on the bars of this cage. Ripped
from my native habitat, I can barely remember
I am not a monster. My drives are ancient and furious.
I peer into the tiny windows of your offices
and see you skitter about in monkey suits.
You think you are making the world go round,
mastering complex transactions, but the world
is simpler than that. It is the stench of my breath
roaring at you through fangs clenched in a wide,
diabolical smile, showering shattered glass at your feet.


Take that!  

Our morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was a robust sunshine affair.  Good weather has finally hit Ottawa and the resulting displays of pasty snow white skin are both hopeful and a little frightening.  Today's book of poetry was the only person in this mornings office not in shorts.

Maggie, our new intern, took the reins on Amanda J. Bradley's Queen Kong.  She said that Bradley's nomadic childhood pushed so many of her buttons that it sounded like music.

Bradley reminds Today's book of poetry of the great Canadian singer/songwriter Feist.  Strong and clear with an original voice that sounds instantly familiar.  That is no easy feat.  This is what happens when experience meets intelligence and the strong woman in charge turns it into art.

Meditation on a Cutlet

          A blind agitation is manly and uttermost.

                               -Gertrude Stein, "A Cutlet"

Reduce the manly to a diminutive.
Let the cut seep blood, slice deep.
Reference Sophocles and Freud.
Mother of us all, we modern women,
help us see the chicken with its head
cut off that is war. In seven words,
reduce patriarchy to the joke it is.

You said you were not a feminist,
but you were sly and funny.
Many of us have said it before
we were radicalized by circumstance.

I was not a feminist until I found myself
mentally composing essays and poems
while scrubbing frying pans and bathtubs,
not until I noticed women in suits lugging
little ones down grocery aisles late in evenings,
scouring for cutlets, not until I saw my own
mother blossom into a badass boss,
her great brain finally actualized in work.

What would you say to your beloved
America today with its terrible
hints at persecuted rich white men?
You would balk like an ironic chicken
and repeat with great dignity
"A blind agitation is manly and uttermost."


Manifesto, call to arms, Today's book of poetry can't exactly track Queen Kong's ambitions.  Today's book of poetry is a tiny man and looking up with awe.  This giant means serious business and SHE shouldn't be ignored.  

When powerful women get real the sky begins to rumble.

Can you hear that?  Bradley just burnt this place up.

Amanda J. Bradley

Amanda J. Bradley

Amanda J. Bradley has released three books of poems from NYQ Books: Queen Kong in 2017, Oz at Night in 2011, and Hints and Allegations in 2009. She has published poetry, essays, and interviews in many journals including Kin Poetry Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, Skidrow Penthouse, Ragazine, Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle, Best American Poetry Blog, Paddlefish, Lips, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, Poetry Bay, and Barefoot Muse. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program in poetry writing at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Amanda teaches literature and creative writing at Keystone College in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Amanda J. Bradley's latest book, Queen Kong, is a courageous and audacious book. Starting with the long poetic sequence rooted in narrative, it is specific, heartfelt, energetic, honest, and we are drawn into the world of this poet. Throughout the rest of the book, the poet confronts all that is broken and lost in the world. She grieves over the damage we have caused to the environment, and gives us feminist manifestoes. This is a tour de force performance that leaps from lyrical narrative to the surreal and back. It's unforgettable.
    —Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Queen Kong is a mesmerizing book of poems. The first two sections contain candid and emotionally powerful pieces which act as a perfect preface for the rest of the book. Bradley's willingness to be vulnerable on the page, especially in her original, feminist poems is daring. In Queen Kong, she proves what an exquisite poet she is. This book has the power not only to impact the New York City on its cover but also the rest of our country and beyond.
     —Laura Boss



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