We will not know what it means / but we will understand’—those are the words that Plasma ends on, and it earns them with a verve that is impossibly inventive, by turns wry, melancholy, decent, hopeless, sweet, fed up, amused, and alarmed.
The poems in Plasma, Bradley Paul’s third book, use common objects, animals, people, and experiences as starting points to consider one’s connectivity to the world. Riddles and obituaries alternate with rants and memories of things that never existed or that the speaker has never seen – or that he has, and struggles to remember. The title is inspired by all our conceptions of plasma: an infinitely conductive state of matter in which the many disparate parts act collectively to create a single, ever-shifting whole. The part of the blood that communicates and provides. The ethereal medium by which we watch thousands of electronic images, sounds, and stories.
Plasma opens with ravishing terror: a child crying and suburban violence and the long shadows of the heart and the mind and the imagination. These poems are funny in the way that falling down is: the unexpected punctuated with, or punctured by, sudden pain. They break you up like gravity. They speed down the page and through history and across the screen. Think Frank O’Hara and Dante. Blake and Bosch. Heaven and hell. Right here. Right now.
If everyone on the ship is dead where are you and who are you and what responsibility do you have? What kind of migratory bird are you, what kind of psychic octopus, what kind of emperor are you, what kind of son, father, citizen? Bradley Paul's poems ask these kinds of questions. You can tell the poems in this book have kept at least one person alive. You should try them to see how that works.
There's a cosmic, loopy logic at work throughout these impressive poems, even a Zen-koan-like defiance of rationality that nevertheless seems to be digging for something more profound.
Bradley Paul’s books include The Obvious (selected by Brenda Hillman for the New Issues Poetry Prize) and The Animals All Are Gathering (winner of the 2009 Donald Hall Prize of poetry). His poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Smartish Pace, Fence, Pleiades, Iowa Review, and more. A native of Baltimore, Paul lives in Los Angeles, where he writes for television.