Standing in Line for the Beast
Western Michigan University
In her introduction to Richard Siken's Crush, one of Louise Gluck's selections for the Yale Younger Prize, Gluck observes of Siken's debut: “This book is about panic.” Jason Bredle's debut has little to do with panic, though one word likewise defines his first collection: riotous . In twenty-five somewhat longish poems by today's standard, Bredle offers plenty of belly laughs and wonderfully awful moments of levity, as in “Summer,” which (thankfully?) advises:
If you ever eat too many enchiladas,
don't go over to your ex-girlfriend's apartment
immediately afterwards, rip off your pants
and have sex with her, because unbelievable
cramps will be the least of your problems.
Most often, Bredle's slam-like voice gravitates toward the ditches and side-shoots your car might barrel off the road into rather than the road itself, however much he swerves back onto the blacktop from time-to-time. In other words, only the tangential gets caught in the headlights. A few lines from “Bridgeton,” a poem that opens with the speaker reliving the day his parents were torn apart by a tiger at a bridge festival in a town the poem's titled after, illustrate how Bredle allows his work its own center. Halfway through, the speaker suddenly ponders the origins of the town's name, mimicking the voice of an eighteenth century settler:
Well, we got this covered bridge, I guess
we might as well call this damn town
Bridgeton . I mean, we got nothing else
to call it do we? What are the other ideas?
Weedtown? Horseville? Grass City ? I mean,
some other guy's already named this creek
Big Raccoon Creek and we don't want to live
in Big Raccoontown do we? That'd suggest
the town is overrun by big raccoons.
Instead of grief, the speaker clings to absurdities, which seems to fit if, as a teenager, you lost both parents at the paws of tiger. Often, the openings of these poems startle with their unpredictability. “Apocalypse” begins:
If eating corndogs and watching the demo-
lition derby on TNN
Friday nights is a sign of the apocalypse,
then the end of the world is certainly being birthed
in my living room.
How does one resolve, however, poems that start so grandly, poems that often—and in good ways—find themselves off the beaten path? That's perhaps one question that Bredle will have to answer in the future because some of these poems read as though they could continue on and on and on, no matter how much a reader needs an end in sight. Still, while I was never quite sure where Bredle was taking me next, I somehow liked where I was going.