Friday, January 4, 2013

On Creativity: Jason Bredle

Image courtesy of University of Akron Press.
In the poems in Jason Bredle’s Carnival, I hear strains of Louis CK, Christopher Pike (see “The Death March” below), Peewee Herman, Ryan Seacrest, and Bill Murray. I do mean that in a good, absurd, dizzying way.

Reading this book, I was struck by the unwavering voice that carried the poems. There is no other way these poems could be, I kept thinking. In their Wes Anderson-esque tone, Bredle’s poems do everything in their power to convince you that the scenes they are presenting are completely normal or random; it’s as if a local news anchor is calmly reporting on chaotic events (including werewolves, superheroes, amusements parks, snuggly cats, and raccoons). It’s not the narrator that’s unreliable in Bredle’s poems, but the weird world.

NOTE: After the interview below, be sure to read “The Promise,” and “The Death March,” which both appear with the permission of the author.

 Q: The poems in Carnival possess a fascinating tone--they are funny and absurd, but they are also tinged with darkness, sadness, or danger. I also noticed the impeccable timing in your poems. I'm curious to know--in your opinion, what is the relationship between humor and poetry? Is there any connection between poems and jokes? How do tone and voice work for you in your writing?

A: In my case, I fell in love with comedic writing at a young age, and it’s been central to my livelihood ever since, although my real life joke writing experience is limited to two sessions I took at Second City before deciding I was kind of being scammed and quitting. I’m probably more of a student of humor and popular culture than most poets, though. For me, central to writing both jokes and poetry is the idea of manipulating words to create some type of maximum effect. In humor, the effect is laughter, but in poetry, it can be anything, which is why I prefer poetry, although being humorous in a poem upsets the sanctimony of poetry for many readers in my experience, which is unfortunate. It’s somewhat of a curse in terms of trying to get published, too, even though I don’t consider myself funny, or my poems funny for that matter. I mean, there are aspects to what I write that I enjoy in that way, but what’s more important to me is that the reader experience some kind of effect that makes him or her feel something. Poetry allows me to manipulate sentences for maximum effect of whatever effect I want to create – laughter sometimes, but also serious considerations of the self, relationships with others, anxieties about life, confusion, and sometimes all at the same time. To achieve this, word choice, word order and word conservation are paramount to both humor and poetry. There was a recent profile of Jerry Seinfeld in The New York Times Magazine which offers a compelling argument for the similarities between the two. The success of a line can be dependent on one or two words, or the particular way a sentence is phrased, more so than the actual idea behind the joke. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t craft it properly, it’s going to fail, regardless if it’s a poem or a joke.

I was influenced by a lot of things while writing the Carnival, but I was particularly inspired by the mechanisms at work, for example, in the British television series Look Around You, which is such a tonally dry mix of the subtle and the absurd that it’s kind of unbelievable to me, in the best way possible. I was also thinking a lot about an idea Julio Cortázar presents in Hopscotch – that nothing is really absurd, but what’s absurd is that we point to certain things and call those things absurd. What if, I thought, I put as many absurd things I could think of into a book, but I used the most basic sentence structures I could to normalize them? The result, based on the couple of reviews I’ve seen, is that readers think I’m being lazy and the work itself tedious. This is pretty depressing, considering the amount of time I put into the book, and the amount of boring, self-absorbed poetry I see praised almost every day. Still, I think these effects are central to the tone, which is intended to be kind of weird, but grounded in real human anxieties and fears, and the complications that arise from trying to deal with these and other emotions. No matter how many bizarre details you put into a poem, there’s no real escape from the loneliness we all share at the bottom of our hearts. All we can do is try to get through it.

Two poems from Carnival

The Promise

If you’re ever passing through the countryside and an old lady
with grotesque features stops you and tells you to beware, you’re
entering a place of pure evil and it’s best to turn back now before
it’s too late; just turn back. Why fight it? If her features are
normal, it’s your decision. If she has one or two grotesque features
but otherwise she’s normal, you’re thinking too much. I’m really
becoming attached to the cat. We’re at the lake house. No one
will look for us here. We spend most of our time reading, sleeping,
and eating sparrows. There’s an IGA in town. I set up an account
at a nearby video store under a false name. In the morning, the
cat gets under the covers with me. We doze to the sound of waves
lapping the shore outside the bedroom. Do you like a cool breeze?
I’ve painted a hex on the front door. I think if you hold something
hostage long enough it becomes yours. In the middle of the night
you ask if there’s music. There is no music. Promise me that
someday you’ll listen to what I’m trying to tell you.

The Death March

There were six of us. We decided to go to an abandoned ski
resort. We stopped at a filling station on the way. We met a
European man lurking outside the women’s restroom. Trevor
confessed his virginity. A police officer told us to go home. We
learned the ski resort had been the site of a grisly murder years
before. Not long after arriving, a man in a ski mask thrust an
icicle into Brian’s chest. Carol opened a closet door and skeletons
fell all over her. Trevor touched a local girl’s boob. We found
the European man face down in a hot tub. Susan suggested we
take off our clothes and have sex until the killer killed us. Kelly’s
dying words were, “I never loved you.” I didn’t care about
anything anymore. I illuminated the mountain and ran toward
it screaming.


  1. Great post today, Hannah. I'm not familiar with Bredle's work, so this was a welcome introduction. Love the poems. It takes a lot to be able to sustain that kind of voice and tone and make the poems work every time. Bredle manages to.

  2. Thank you for the introduction Hannah. I enjoyed your selections. Wishing you a great weekend and thank you for your visit. : )

  3. Great blurb, Hannah! I see the relationship of the names you posed to the poems you posted, making the experience richer in a separated at birth kinda way. I'd add Jack Handey to the list, and remind you that Christopher Pike to older folks like me can only be the original captain of the Starship Enterprise (played by Jesus before his early death), and boy does THAT add the requisite wierdness to the mix.

    The poems are quite well-crafted as well as funny. The Promise reads like my life in the past month or so with the exception of the cat and the IGA.

    "No matter how many bizarre details you put into a poem, there’s no real escape from the loneliness we all share at the bottom of our hearts." Ain't that the truth!

  4. Thanks, Maureen! I completely agree with you, and would recommend the book to you.

    Glad you came by, Mona.

    And Bill, Jack Handey is PERFECT. That is exactly right---I used to laugh hysterically to Jack Handey (remember the one about Disney World?) Glad you enjoyed these.


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