Ask the Author: J. Bradley on Epic Poetry

J. Bradley brings us the first epic poem we’ve published and talks with us about how the poem came about, the best Usher song to make love to and why some questions should remain unanswered.

1. You don’t see many epic poems anymore. What brought about this magnum opus? How long did it take you to compose?

Esmeralda came from a comissioned challenge from a friend and fellow poet.   Her challenge to me was to write about a “Byron-esque sexual adventurer, female” in 300 lines.   A long long time ago, I used to write fiction exclusively, cyberpunk and sci-fi, and the amazing thing about the epic poem is you can use narrative elements and poetry in conjunction and from that, Esmeralda Estrus was born.   To write the whole thing took me over four hours non-stop.   Writing it felt like I cracked open an urn and let all of these spirits out.

2. What is your favorite epic poem? Why?

I’ve always been a huge fan of The Odyssey because I’m a sucker for Greek mythology.   I enjoy Dante’s Inferno as well because of the imagery and the concept of the different circles of Hell.   I bought and tried reading Ezra Pound’s The Cantos but it was too complex, too pretentious.   My favorite mini-epic and probably one of my top five favorite poems of all time is T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock because of the musicality of the poem and the thread work within the narrative.

3. Normally, when we think of epic poetry, we think of lengthy narratives like Beowulf or or The Illiad, with highly stylized, formal language. In How Esmerelda Estrus Got Her Revenge, however, you use vernacular to great effect. Why did you make that choice?

I wanted the average reader to really get the poem, the story, and it’s weird when you have an epic poem or story where everyone talks in a high vernacular or in perfect speech where we don’t talk in exactness.   We break language, misspell things for the sake of expediency (donuts vs. dounghnuts), invent new ways of cursing things.   I feel more connected with the characters when they behave as themselves, not what an author seems to think how they should behave.   Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is an excellent example of effective use of vernacular to tell a story (though reading Scottish vernacular can be pretty difficult).

4. One of the things we really like about this poem is that the cantos work together but they also stand alone as narratives within themselves. Do you agree with that assessment?

Absolutely.   I wish I could say more to this but you hit the nail on the head on this one.

5. There were many pop culture references throughout the poem. Did you include those to make the narrative more accessible or are they more an organic part of the poem?

The pop culture references felt incredibly organic as I was writing Esmeralda.   If it made the narrative more accessible to the reader, then that’s a bonus.   Eliot worked in Dante’s Purgatory with Prufrock.   I worked in Joy Division.

6. Is Esmerelda satisfied with her revenge?

I will leave that to the reader to decide.   Frustrating answer, I know, but what fun is art if it turns into a Choose Your Own Adventure book?

7. What is the best Usher song to accompany love making?

I got the Usher thing from my wife who lost her virginity to an Usher song, “Nice & Slow” to be exact.   I could have went with Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” but that’s way too predictable.

8. There are vulgar elements to this story and yet, it is still a piece of literature. How do you balance the line between literary writing and pornographic description?

That’s the neat trick, walking the fine line between porno and literature.   It’s a matter of perspective.   If there’s going to be tits, then there better be a reason other than making a deposit in the spank bank.   Same thing with other titillating scenes in literature; it must contribute to the story.   On average, pornography treats the story as a barrier to the sex, rather than intellectual foreplay.

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