Sunday, April 11, 2010

5 Star Citizen-Poet: Elizabeth Bradfield

I was happy to see this 5 Star Citizen-Poet at AWP this year. In fact, it was two years ago at AWP in New York that I met Elizabeth Bradfield by the Red Hen Press table. Eloise introduced us and in the throngs of the book fair we smiled and shook hands. Since then I have become a huge fan of Liz's poetry and her approach to the poetry community . Founder of Broadsided Press, Liz came up with the idea and created the web site while she was living in Alaska and craved an extended life of poetry. The marrying of the internet with the old "technology" of broadsides that traditionally hung in the village square is nothing short of brilliant.

Pelagic poetry is another of Liz's projects where she or anyone with a yahoo address can post a knockout poem. The idea here being that poets want to share great poems and appreciate something lyrical in their in-box. Finally, it is Liz's generosity of spirit that earns her 5 Star Poet Citizen status. At a reading in Seattle last summer (Liz makes her home in Massachusetts, although she is originally from Washington State) Liz shared the stage at Elliott Bay Book Company with poet Sean Hill. The two poets began by introducing each other, mentioning (with prepared statements)  what they admired about each others' work. Each then read a favorite poem of their friend's. Immediately, we as audience members, were welcomed into their friendship and the room filled with the positive energy that arises when close friends come together.

What are the elements that provide someone with 5 Star Citizen-Poet status? 

She or he must nurture the poetry community and extend their energy beyond their own career.

They possess a generosity of spirit that infuses their activism with creativity and risk.

Their poems move beyond the limits of the lone individual and indirectly change the world.

Here is one of my favorite of  Bradfield's from her newest collection, Approaching Ice, Persea Books

The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939

Ice is not land, so how to claim it? How to mark it owned
without thatched roofs, artifacts from conquered tribes, quaint
yeomen tilling non-native crops on the annexed shore?
The planes Passat and Boreas were catapulted
from the chill deck of the Schwabenland
into the frigid, uncharted air
to fly across the ice (one-fifth
of the continent) and photograph it (11,000 pictures),
to drop their aluminum darts
tattooed with a crooked cross
every twenty miles into what they saw
as if they could fix it, as if
they could pin it fast
and point to it as theirs
here here
anchorages rich with whale oil,
space on the map of the world
now called Neu Schwabenland.
On the shelf: skull of a fox, abalone shell,
bundle of porcupine quills—my mnemonics
of travel, of what I have discovered.
I buy star BD-03-5750 online
and name it Incognita. There’s a certificate
that comes in the mail, a mythology, a map.
Is this dog mine? She has begun,
some nights, to growl, low and defiant,
when I move her from the couch, hers.
If my lover leaves me, what will become
of our photographs and stories,
who will keep the dog?
I claim the lips of Barb Burzynski
that night in the woods on Vashon before
I knew that she was married.

Ice is not land. Is restless. And what was claimed
has moved, is inching toward sea,
has maybe broken off,
calved from the frozen edge, and now trails
its dust and shit and egg shards and abandoned fuel tins,
trails what stories it held
through the ocean’s haloclines
and thermoclines, its pelagic and benthic layers,
scattering them across its sea floor.
Maybe by now one of the marked aluminum darts
tall as an emperor penguin and
dropped dropped dropped
let loose in calculated transects then
stumbled over, perched on, nested under, scoured
by wind, maybe scoured of its markings,
thin and pocked, maybe it is settling
beneath miles of water, is crumpling,
declarative not of claim, but of time.

Elizabeth Bradfield
"The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939" first appeared in Field, Fall 2004, No. 71.


  1. Thank you for another wonderful post on a marvelous poet. Now I'm off to visit her Broadsided Press.

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