I was asked by Greg Gerding to interview Eirean Bradley for the new University of Hell Press website. I jumped at the chance, because not only do I consider Eirean Bradley to be one of my close friends, he is also one of the few people in this town whom I trust and whose viewpoints I highly respect. The first time I performed at the Portland Poetry Slam, not without my own major misgivings of slam poetry in general, Bradley complimented my work and made me feel very welcome. He was actually the only person who talked to me that night. So I kept going back to the slam and getting more and more involved in what was going on. The relationships I most cherish these days have all been fostered at the Portland Poetry Slam, and it is hard for me to separate the slam from Eirean. He is also the person closest to my age and subculture, which really helps a 30something feel comfortable in such a youth-driven culture.
Being overwhelmed as a 31-year-old man, with what being in school for the first time in 19 years can be, I dragged myself from bed and came down to Backspace, the coffeeshop in Portland, Oregon where we have the Poetry Slam, to meet Eirean for the interview maybe 30 minutes after waking up on a long overdue Saturday. When I got down here, Eirean took me outside and told me how the night prior he woke up in the middle of the night which such intense chest pains, he eventually went to the hospital with fear it was a heart attack. Come to find out he has three ulcers. And here was this champ, who is a dear friend of mine, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for our interview.
Eirean’s stubborn bullheadedness might come off unsettling to some, but the growing number of poets in the vibrant Portland poetry community is a testament to this man’s drive and determination to create a space for everyone. He may not be appreciated by everyone, but if they come to the Portland Poetry Slam, they are taking direct benefit of what Eirean has done for this town, and for the Portland Poetry Slam, after taking it over, around two years ago. One would be amazed at our weekly, hundred-plus crowd, one of the biggest in the world, if they were told it is only two years old. Somebody is putting a lot of hours in, behind the scenes, to create such a welcoming and vibrant weekly event. Here he is:
So who are you? Who is Eirean Bradley?
I’m a 35-year-old guy living in Portland, Oregon, the goddamn youth capitol of the U.S. I work for a not-quite corporate sellout coffee company, as Director of Operations for Oregon, and I’m also hack writer, hack artist, and hack musician.
What is your writing/poetry résumé?
Well, um, depends whose reading the “résumé.” Academics? I have none. Slam poets? Too much and I am obsolete at this point. I have been writing seriously since 17. I have been published in tons of little online zines, been in a couple of anthologies that you can’t find in a bookstore, toured extensively as a poet in the lower 48 states, and I have a book coming out on University of Hell Press. This is my first “real” book, with binding and everything.
How did you find yourself getting into poetry, how did you discover poetry and how it evolved into writing poetry?
Eirean’s Genesis story: OK, here we go. The poetry slam in Phoenix, Arizona used to have bands play after, and I was the vocalist in a real shitty punk rock band called Shrug (couldn’t come up with a name so we shrugged our shoulders), and we were scheduled to play. We were watching the slam and it was awful, whiny, pretentious stuff, and my band mates said to me, “You could totally win that.” So I showed up the next week with three poems, actively making fun of people who had read the week before, and I won. And I kept winning. Then I won the Phoenix City Slam Championship. It needs to be said I was 17, which was unheard of at the time. Then find out I am going to the National Poetry Slam in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My plan was to win the entire thing, ’cause I had never lost at that point, flip off the entire crowd, and take the goddamn check and go home. That year I finished 127th out of 145 poets and learned humility. My first bout at Nationals (what slam poets call the National Poetry Slam) I got sandwiched between Patricia Smith and Taylor Mali. Even though my ego was bruised, I realized there was a lot more to the art form than whiny-ass, half-formed writing, and that sold me (ish).
Who are your three most major poetic influences?
I’m not as well-read as some may think. Umm, Daphne Gottlieb for one. The economy and brutality of her work is amazing. Black Francis from the Pixies. The dynamics from loud to quiet to loud, and pretty to ugly, is a major influence. And Frank Kozik.
The artist that makes all the weird toys?
Yeah, I love how he juxtaposes really beautiful imagery with really fucked subject matter. Life is never just one thing, that there are different shades of it, and all three of them are very good at showing that contrast.
What other literary influences do you prescribe to?
I’m such a late nineties indie rock kid and I was raised by that generation. I definitely felt like Douglas Coupland was speaking to me. I read Girlfriend in a Coma and cried for like three days straight. I really loved the 90s slacker novels. Things I love? Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and Dorothy Parker. Goddamn Dorothy Parker. She is a genre all unto herself.
What do you find is the hardest aspect of writing?
Actually doing it. I can dream ideas and concepts all the time, but execution is a bitch.
What is your favorite aspect of writing?
Let’s be honest, I am a chubby, angry, bearded guy and my writing has got me laid more than anything else. All jokes aside [he is not joking], writing is a great cultural equalizer. Anybody can do it.
Do you have any other creative outlets outside of the literary realm?
Too many. I play bass in a really spazzy pop band called Hollywood Tans. I’m a hack-ass artist. I’ve had a couple art shows around Portland. I would tell you that eating Cheetos and bacon is an artistic hobby of mine, but last night I literally went to the hospital in the middle of the night ’cause I thought I was having a heart attack and was told I have three ulcers. No fucking joke.
What are you currently reading?
Transmetropolitan. It’s a graphic novel series. I avoided graphic novels for the longest time ’cause of how expensive they are. But I enjoy the shit out of them. I think it’s the purest way to tell a story, less flowery language and subject matter.
What can we expect from Eirean Bradley in the future?
If I don’t die in the next goddamn week? I’m not shitting you. I got Jell-O in the passenger seat of my car. Jell-O is man’s vegetable broth. My next book of poetry, I’m thinking, is going to be a series of biographical poems about history’s greatest fuck-ups.
And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring writers and/or slam poets out there reading this?
Dance with who brought you. People always try to tell you to chase what works. Fuck that. Do you; do what brought you to to the party. Be you. Dance with who brought you.