The Politics of Terrestrial Music

Upon first reading Terrestrial Music, I came away with a sense of someone who most definitely had some things to say about not only the human condition, but how we, as humans, treat each other and the world. The overall sense of John Bradley is a sense of quiet outrage, almost as if he does not wish to draw attention to himself, but through his poetry, bring attention to issues he cares deeply about.

Bradley works hard in his poems to make the reader stop and consider any number of situations. “Bosnian Love Poem” is his simple comment on the atrocities of genocide. “Improper Disposal” is his view on our society’s varied mistreatments of children. “Watch Alice Glow” and other works with an atomic theme discuss the nuclear age and demand that we turn our attention to it, if only for a moment after reading the poem. John Bradley is very successful in forcing the reader to confront issues that more often get swept under the rug.

When considering how Bradley communicates the politics, he uses images primarily, and form secondarily. His images in “Watch Alice Glow” not only give the reader a sense of the wasted women (a silent assistant, a skeleton), but those images and the lists of names from “The Book of the Radioactive Dead” seek to enrage the reader about this particular injustice. The form of “Watch Alice Glow”, almost a conversational or journalistic method, communicates the apathetic acknowledgement of the issue. The phrase “They get a good laugh out of that” is a key example.

When looking at the text as a whole, the organization is not obvious at first. In fact, the three sections seem quite disparate from one another. Section one, “Where I Live”, speaks plainly about America and how it is seen by outsiders, as well as how we, as Americans, view ourselves. Section two, “Science as a Mechanism”, talks about our progress as a society and how that progress, when rushed into, is ultimately very harmful. At first glance, section three “Earth Angel”, offers poems with a purely religious aspect. However, upon further review, section three combines our human aspects and traits (seen in section one) and our faults and shortcomings (seen in section two) and proclaims to us that our only redemption will come from a higher power.

The politics of Terrestrial Music, while varied, serve one indisputable goal: teach the reader about his country, himself, and his redemption. Without such lessons, this society will continue to destroy itself and America will cease to be a great country. In some respects, the losses have already begun and John Bradley’s poems are not so much a warning, but an opportunity to review the mistakes of the past in hopes of not repeating them.

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