author photo by Alexis Fancher
Note: I want to thank Jennifer Bradpiece for the time and care she put into addressing my interview questions. If you interested in purchasing her books, they can be found on here. You can also find her on Instagram @crystallil1107 for more poems, images, & chronic pain/illness explorations.
Let’s start with the obvious question. What events inspired you to write Lullabies for the End Times?
The years these poems were written had the internal and external atmosphere of gathering end times. The title seems prescient today on a grander scale. These poems emerged from more intimate apocalypses: lost relationships, job loss, ability loss, deaths, many movings...a vast culmination of never-agains. Before this project, my writing life felt particularly doomed.
This book is Brendan Constantine’s fault. I’d been a desperate writer who didn’t /couldn’t write much for nearly six years. My body pain's “noise”had gone from varied but bad to fever pitch and near constant. The full body migraines became ever present companions, amplified by the Fibro/ MECFS. They were triggered by many things, even sitting down trying to concentrate on much of anything. Especially language. Especially at the glare of computer screens. I was lost in this battle. That Internal Critic is brilliant and necessary for playing “audience” and editing but can be a real asshole if you can’t turn it off at the right time (or ever). Internal Critique said, “this might be the only time you write all week/all month/all year. It better be jaw dropping!” Well, game over right from “go.”
I needed help falling in love with my generative process again. I was so alienated from it. It once looked like an all-night maniacal chain-smoking frenzy. That process had abandoned me long ago. I needed a workshop. I’d seen BC read a couple times and felt we might be from adjacent home planets, which is rare for me. When he mentioned his generative Industrial Writing Workshop, I let go of the pull towards all the heavy hitting, kill-your-babies, fierce editing, women-run courses (my general inclination as writer). I needed something generative, different, fun, and he’s a generative genius!
Actually, the beginnings for three manuscripts were started in various Brendan workshops (2010-2012 I think). I’ll always be grateful to Brendan and to Peggy Dobreer for hosting these courses in the former LMU extension program. They ushered in the most cohesive phase of my writing life..
Your style is cinematic, and accecable. What other artistic medium(s) have you’ve worked with that influence you as a poet, or vice versa? Why would you, or not, encourage other poets to immerse themselves in another artistic discipline?
I love that you find my style so.
As a child I was lucky to be exposed to art classes and creative projects early. I sang, played piano, danced, and acted in community plays, among other things. Later, I played guitar until the ability in my hands and back left me. I still dabble with drawing when able. Tantric dance saved my life. Even with a very bad hip I loved belly dance. (If life had turned out differently in my body, I would have liked to be a travel writing (à la Bourdain), theremin playing, burlesque artist of some sort.
Like many aesthetes, I play with images on my phone camera. My partner has a great eye, so we collaborate in different ways. He also creates endless magical playlists. Sometimes I sit in and play in that process or come up with list concepts. It's his form of poetry. Music has always been essential to me, and, as I can't sit up and work on finding music and creating playlists as I once did, I'm extremely grateful for these collaborations. They soundtrack our lives and most magical moments.
One especially visual passion has been engaging as active muse for photographers and occasionally painters. It is still worth the pain now and then to create a shared vision. A world that did not exist before. A dance between two or more beings to bring fantastical moments to life. I’m lucky to know amazing visual artists. I most recently collaborated on a quarantine shoot with a word witch/ photographer (among other artful things) who lives in another state. With two phones and one camera we made Quarantine Cotton Candy happen somehow!
*Check out @sabrina_rosalita on IG where we met!
I think, always immerse yourself in any discipline you can. Or, more importantly, dabble and play. Art fuels art. Even if it’s making art of living each day. Writing can be tedious. It’s not impossible to get lost in it, but it’s been noted many times that it’s harder to flow into the bliss of writing than it is visual arts, music, dance etc. (Of course all art forms require The Critic at some point and much discipline throughout.) Finding passions that stoke creative fires while allowing escape from language can be necessary to writers on so many levels. The more different creative conversations we find ourselves in, the more inspired and less stuck we are likely to feel. Art genres are constructs. So much can flow through the agreed upon boundaries of one art form into another. I often find that the most interesting art mixes genres.
What are three of your favorite poems in Lullabies, three of your least favorite, and why?
Ugh. Answers vary day to day. When I “finish” a project, I can’t look at it for a time. But, since my book party couldn’t happen, we are doing a video project for the book instead of a live reading. I'm falling in love with the project again through this process.
At what point did you decide to harness pain as your muse?
I’d say it definitely harnessed me. Many poets are called to write from pain and loss. The poems you wish you didn't have to write are often the ones that demand to be born.
I resisted public writing around my physical pain for years. I was bored by the idea of it. The thought of “pain poems” left me cold. Yet, I’ve always written from the body. Exclusively writing dark or sexy or death-related poetry just wasn’t as much an option for me at some point. I had to find all kinds of ways “in” —like persona poems that didn’t seem to be about pain. It’s so much more fun to share sexy poems. Broody poems are acceptable, as there’s a long history of existential “depression” in poetry. Nobody wants to read pain poems (Ha! That's my joke w/ myself, but as I deal more bluntly with the topic, it hurts how true that feels.) People fear engaging chronic illness for many different reasons. Much of it has to do with fears around the processes of aging, dying, and death itself. Now, death as metaphor or grief/mourning poems represent territory well mapped. But the relentless caverns of experience surrounding the invisible realities of a chronically ill body are a bit much for many readers.
Now that pain and illness have so entirely taken over my body, my moments— I feel an insistent call to illustrate this experience that defies language and yet shapes so many lives. For nearly two decades, I mostly publicly shared the magic of seeing differently along with more relatable dark poetry. At some point,while engaged in the avoidance of expressing your daily reality, or expressing “around” and not through it, you deplete your ability to be seen and ask for help. Suddenly, it feels like: fuck it! You know what? See me and, more importantly, see the many like me. You’re all going to experience some version of “here” too, if you’re lucky. Consider it a public service announcement!
There’s still magic to share. It’s getting harder to translate, but it’s deepened too. I’d done what many do and held my stuff close and invisibilized the impossible of my survival for so long, when it got decades worse, I began to render myself invisible. I don't regret anything. I chose to live the narratives most interesting to me at the time. And so, I come to this particular place honestly and definitively.
How do you feel about cancel culture, particularly with poets being censored for their political views, or for their mistakes?
Whew. That’s a complex one, Marie! Perhaps I can try to share overall thoughts about such cultural shifts. I think there’s holding people accountable, and then there’s something else that sits strangely for me energetically. There’s the question of the energy with which calling out is done. There’s motive. There’s the accountability in the hard work being engaged or avoided by the caller-out or lesson-deliverer. It’s part of the conversations I have with my intimates. Particularly my partner (who works at a social justice oriented university) and a dear friend (who engages social justice work in complex ways). As a relativist who sees things as multifaceted and seeks multiplicity (perhaps due to the dizzy fuzzy vision I was born with), I’ve often felt outside the lines in most conversations. Unless there’s a need to deep dive into contradictory metaphor-land. Then folx know where to find me.
It’s no longer an option to engage in creating work or looking at a past works without a critical sociological lens. And still, with any past work—the historical context of that work exists —however messy. It’s complex. It's challenging not to oversimplify when speaking out. I often wonder: maybe time is not this linear thing and perhaps understanding is more elliptical than evolutionary. What if it’s also this psychedelic multidimensional conversation? I mean, Patti Smith cites problematic Picasso as one who lit her artistic flame early in her life. A question might be, “what cancelled Picasso might influence tomorrow’s Patti?” Perhaps one life/artist’s body of work is a faulty and unfinished sentence that must be critiqued and held to account and yet may also lead to another part of a sentence that wouldn’t exist without it. Perhaps this addition will have more empathy, sight, and heart. If time is an elliptical conversation, always overlapping and arguing with itself, then simply deleting certain things seems problematic.
Maybe it’s possible to critique and contextualize at the same time as we begin to turn fully towards marginalized voices. Voices ignored, suppressed, or silenced for far too long. I hope we all get on board to do the work that requires. At the same time, I hope we don’t lose the ability to communicate in the messy in-between all together. That Public vs Private space issue that the internet so conflates. I hope we don’t lose that thoughtful isthmus between entirely. I hope we don't become so constantly serious about it all that we lose irreverence.
But, you know, I’m 43 and live in a body that feels much older. I spend much of my time attempting to exist creatively “in here” without losing it these days. Often in bed. As a White cis woman, I mostly feel it’s not my business to openly judge what seems like newer generations’ ways of doing things. I take it in. Listen and reflect. Try to support. I see things, of course. I see there are folx lifting up multiplicity and complexity in the accountability holding. And then others (or the same folx in different circumstances) who appear to simply be inhabiting patriarchal binaries and flipping them on their heads.
I honestly can’t think of many times revolution went well and didn’t end up replicating circumstances in a new order anywhere in the world. I don’t really see anything in America’s history that indicates we will get it “right.” But there are so many important conversations finally happening in the foreground, it feels impossible not to be excited or called to challenge oneself anew each day. To me, the intersection of Queer, BIPOC, class, (and hopefully more and more—ability issues!) is the most interesting and complex space. Intersections and overlaps problematize what seems simple. I think that’s always a good thing. Messy is real and honest.
I absolutely get and respect that there are many who are in a clear and immediate fight to survive and be seen.
The grey in-between space is simply where I locate myself. Where I can speak honestly from. Though it can be an exhausting space, I do appreciate the perspectives it gifts me. Messy ambiguous space is the perspective I was born into from at every angle. Eyes that blur edges and transpose figures despite three surgeries before age 3. I have the privilege of appearing abled (a double edged sword). Though I present cis and carry cis privilege, I personally (interiorly) always identified with what would now maybe be described as drag/gender artist of some sort from a young age. I’ve always felt strongly that gender was an art form. The 1st “woman” I ever thought was beautiful was Boy George, when I was far too young to understand. I've never identified or lived as straight, though I've often appeared to. Queer has always felt like home to me, yet the look of that home varies through history and generation. May it always change, yet always fold in the experiences of elders. I think we all have so much to learn from each other. I desperately hope the space of Queer remains fluid and doesn’t become over-defined and labeled (a ploy the hetero-normative binary uses to define and separate all that seeks to challenge it).
Most importantly: the youth are up front leading, and I’m an ever crazier mind-slipping disabled crone in bed. Lol. Still, I'm engaged. I form questions and critiques regarding positions which seem to over-simplify or amount to community policing. These “Notes from Bed” rarely see the light of day. It’s especially painful to see White people who seem to be engaging social justice from a space of their own un-dealt with individual trauma, instead of separating the personal from the systemic and listening and applying critical thinking and deep self-work on their own. This creates performative activism or judgmental virtue signaling. It misses the point. It is a huge lost opportunity for learning and eventually for conversation and listening/seeing differently. Ultimately, for showing up differently.
Even my ability to see some of this is my privilege (some of it upbringing, some education, some just how my brain happens to work). Still, I think seeing better is key. Seeing the invisible/ineffable experiences of others. That’s something that literally seeing differently and running into walls as a kid taught me. Something invisible illness and pain drives home. Something poetry offers to all who can receive it. In the end, what kind of world do we want to live in? Is that world expansive with possible room for intense conversation and debate?
Right now, there are artists and activists doing precise surgical work. As the saying goes, you wouldn’t want a relativist as a surgeon. But you might want one around to listen, support, and occasionally strategize when it makes sense.
Then, there’s the illustration of our popular normative society’s idiocy: every now and then, a writer friend and I will recall (with a shudder) the OG literary cancellation of James Frey (who I haven’t read) by Oprah and her book club. I have no feelings on Frey specifically. But, there felt a dangerous existential horror in that moment to many creative writers that reflected back a narrow image of what popular culture expected a writer to be that still resonates as eye-widening, hair raising, laughter inducing, and lands at, “is this where we seriously have really come to?” One imploding WTF moment in the disintegration between the space of Public & Private, even in the creative realms. I think that event was symptomatic of a time when the valuing of “True Voice” and “Authentic Self” reached fever pitch and claimed some oppressive static space on our horizons. The arts are far more interesting when they play with selves and pervert the idea of a single Self, vs attempting to express from one singular, to me, misguided and mythical trope of The Authentic Self.
I will unambiguously rail against the notion of True Self. I think it's a dangerous construction that tends to tie us to a single story. I think Queer, at it's best, could be an antidote. Also the blending and crossing of borders (I love Gloria Anzaldúa's writing on this—a tradition carried on by many young poets today). It does alarm and sadden me to see the notion of Authentic Self championed by the young in so many spheres today as “reason” for who they are and are becoming. Intellectually, I get it. Yet it feels like mainstream society wants that and is too comfortable with that. I doubt it will ever sit well for me and others I love. I'd rather society sit uncomfortably with the stories created despite or in critique of what that society and its popular culture seem to want to normalize.
Damn. Sorry. Long answer. It was either long & complex or “no comment.”
Your poems, as lullabies, focus on intimate moments that are so detailed, like “Lullaby for a Dog”, and “Lullaby for What We’re Left With”, that the reveal is so deeply woven in with the rest of narrative, to the point it forces the reader to reckon with the poem more than once. Why would you agree/disagree with this assessment?
I rarely argue with my readers. This is likely not a very original response, but I definitely feel poetry is like music in that you listen to a piece of music or song over and over—the meaning of the music, or the music’s meaning to you, or your meaning to yourself and the world are all ever changing. It’s relational that way.
Segue question: Are you the mouse, or the vulture, on the book cover? What made you choose to don that mask?
I’m the mouse. And this particular photo transpired exactly because Giuliana Maresca told me what to do. We shot at an abandoned grocery store, the boiler room of G’s apt building, and then this location— the Guadalupe River Trail. I knew one of the photo sessions we did in our San Jose shoots that 2016 weekend would deliver my cover photo for Lullabies. I just didn’t know which. As always, G captured our fantasies, and then we took direction and helped animate her own. Her vision captured the cover, in the end.
It was a hard weekend. Dear poet /fab Painling /chosen family Cat Angelique McIntire (that fuchsia-haired fireball so many in our community loved) passed away just before this specific shoot, which I call, “River’s End.” It was a gutting yet beautiful trip. I’d spent the day before on G’s bed in pain and mourning. My next book is partially dedicated to Cat. She is very much present in this shoot for me. She meant the world to me and some of those closest to me. Witty, bawdy, irreverent, punk as hell and sometimes impossible. Having someone who lives through invisible (and visible) body horrors and yet remains fierce, creative, and hysterically funny —who just knows “where” you are and can laugh and be with you in it is a lifesaving gift of a relationship for a Painling (Cat’s word for our kind). I think some of my family and I lost some foundational bones when we lost that one.
Who are some of your poetic influences?
As a kid I thought I might be the next Edgar Allen Poe. I liked translations of obscure Russian poets I can’t remember now. Lol I was an old school kid. A serious Wednesday Addams kinda kid. I cherished books by Neruda, Rumi, Edna St Vincent Millay. Read Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Later Ginsburg, etc.
Of course my teen years brought me to Plath and my marrow favorite, Sexton. Kim Addonizio. Lucille Clifton. Translations of Delmira Agustini and Alfonsina Storni. All stirred me deeply. These voices helped me more intimately inhabit my own voice in various ways.
I gravitate towards shiver quality. I identify deeply with poets who also seem to “write the body” or “from” the body in various ways. Work that makes your tiny hairs stand on end and your bones buzz. Electric, immediate stuff.
We have had an embarrassment of riches in California. My Antioch BA experience crossed my path with the work of Chris Abani, Eloise Klein Healey, and many more. I worked across the street from Coffee Cartel for years and adored Larry Colker as both human and poet. While interning at Beyond Baroque, I fell for poets like Suzanne Lummis and Jan Wesley. My time there deepened my appreciation of poets I’d admired like Wanda Coleman and many others.
I am so lucky to be influenced and inspired by some of dearest friends' work. Arminé Iknadossian and Chrys Tobey are two of my favorite poets, people, and writing partners. I could not have settled on edits for individual poems or organized this project without them. Nikia Chaney is an incredible poet who was also part of that online writing group Chrys got going. Chrys’ sister Allison Tobey has a most original voice. Together those sisters could take over the world!
For every name that’s inspired me there are twenty more. Just the CA poets I know personally could fill a book. I think everyone who ignites us with their work influences us to write more.
Though I promised myself, “no more poetry books,” as they all eventually go on shelves I have trouble reaching, I am currently absorbing two new books: Tamara Hattis' Colors of My Pain and Donny Jackson's Boy. Cannot recommend these enough.
What other poetic projects are you currently working on?
My first full-length book, Ophelia in Acid, is in final edits with Blue Horse Press. I also have other manuscripts in different states of readiness. But, the process of birthing books is very intense on my body and neurons. I hope I’ll have the ability to come back to them someday. It does feel so good to get the poems out of the computer!
My writing life has once again fractured and re-birthed. I now mostly write in brief eruptions on my phone and occasionally post to IG under my own or others’ images. My favorite thing, really, is to collaborate with other artists in various mediums (text/image etc.). The most sustainable collabs lately are through phone text (often exquisite corpse style poems) or occasionally longer form emails, most currently with Greg Thorpe, King of Covina.
Finally, Marie, I just want to thank you for supporting my work. poeticdiversity was one of the first places I was published. So much gratitude for how you hold space for so many poets. You make our community richer in so many ways.
Jennifer Bradpiece was born and raised in the multifaceted muse, Los Angeles, where she still resides. She has interned at Beyond Baroque and remains active in the L.A. writing and art scene. Project collaborations with multi-media artists, far and near, feed her passion. Jennifer's poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in various anthologies, journals, and online zines, including Redactions, The Common Ground Review, and The Bacopa Literary Review. She is the author of Lullabies for End Times (Moon Tide Press, 2020), and her first full length poetry collection, Ophelia on Acid, will be forthcoming by Blue Horse Press.
© 2021 marie c lecrivain