Volume 71, Issue 13
December 12, 1999

Brady commits verse to heart, recitation astounds audience

Jennifer Hewson

"The feeling that Brady portrayed was like the flu, only much more pleasant, but just as contagious."

That powerful reaction to Philip Brady's poetry reading was given by Junior Sasha Thachik. Brady recited his work in the CAC Forum Thursday, November 4 at 4:00 p.m. This was Brady's second visit to Washington College; his last appearance was in 1997 at the O'Neil Literary House.

Earlier in the afternoon, Brady visited Professor Robert Mooney's Contemporary American Poetry class. He impressed the students he worked with by quoting lines from the work of various poets such as Whitman, Pinsky, and Yeats.

Immediately following the class, the reading began. Freshman Matt Wolfe commented on Brady's appearance: "I felt a kinship with the poet because, like me, he is bald."

Mooney, a personal friend of Brady's for eleven years, gave a warm introduction. He said, "During a chance meeting in the library lobby at Binghamton University, he had asked if I would read some of his poems."

He continued: "Accepting that invitation was, I quickly found out, to accept a great gift - the opportunity to read, to discover (it seemed to me then) a truly gifted poet - The Real Thing, The Genuine Article - and my expectations of poetry from poets of my generation have not been the same since."

Brady grew up in Flushing, New York, near Creedmore, the infamous mental institution of New York. His poem entitled "Creedmore" is about the myths and fears and experiences he attained from growing up next to such an ominous place.

Brady went to high school in the Bronx. He left New York when he was eighteen to attend undergraduate school at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He then went to the University of Delaware, San Francisco State University, and finally Binghamton University where he received his PhD. His book, Forged Correspondences, was chosen by Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin as one of the best books of poetry published in 1996.

Mooney explained that Brady has had the opportunity to work with some of the best poets of our time, including "The Irish poet John Montague, and the American poets Jerome Rothenburg, Ruth Stone, James Wright, W.D. Snodgrass, and Galway Kinnell."

Mooney also said in his welcome that, "Much of [Brady's] poetry has appeared in a good number of journals and literary magazines over the years: in Poetry Northwest, in Abraxis, in the International Poetry Review, the Berkeley Poetry Review, the Journal of Irish Literature, and many, many more."

Brady began by reciting a poem that he had completely memorized about his "younger days." This alone appeared to impress many members of the audience. Thachik explained, "Philip Brady was amazing in that he had all of his poetry memorized, which was unbelievably long."

Not only has Brady mastered the usage of the English language in his poetry, but he also included quite a bit of French and Swahili in his poem "Mazembe". He introduced the poem with a humorous warning: "This poem has a lot of French and Swahili in it. Too bad."

Brady introduced one of his poems entitled "Proof" by saying, "This next poem is shorter. Well, not short, it's about ten minutes long."

He went on to describe it: "It takes place in the Czech Republic, in a tiny little village in Bohemia. A little known fact is that much of Czechoslovakia was not liberated by the Russians; it was actually liberated by American soldiers."

He explained that this myth has finally been recognized, and while he was in Bohemia this past summerhe noticed that now one "can see all these souvenirs from American soldiers from 1945, things that people have been hiding for fifty years."

Much of Brady's poetry has a historical background, and many are set in places other than what most people would describe as "everyday locations."

Brady now lives in Youngstown, Ohio, and he teaches at Youngstown State University. Some of his classes include Poetry, Creative Writing, and Irish Literature, to name a few.

When asked how long Brady has been writing, he responded, "I didn't write in a serious way when I was young. I always wrote for school and a little bit for myself, but it wasn't really until my mid-twenties that I began to make some kind of steps towards a more serious career."

He acknowledged that he knows a lot of people commit to writing when they are younger, but he countered that with, "Well, I was really into sports."

Asked why he writes, the poet responded, "Boy, that's a hard one. I love what a teacher of mine once said to answer that question. When people were writing poems and would ask him if they think they should be a poet based on the quality of the poems, he would answer, before even looking at the poems, 'Not if you can be happy doing anything else.'"

Brady continued: "I think that's really the truth, that if you don't have to write, you shouldn't. It certainly is not remunerative. I think most people who write don't necessarily ask themselves that question. It is just something that has become so deeply embedded as a need that it happens. It is something that you cultivate, also."

Brady added, "It is something you need to do, but it's also something you cultivate consciously. As Frost said, 'It is both a vocation and an avocation'."

Brady's poetry recited during the reading dealt with topics such as his college days, basketball, and statues of naked men facing the Norwegian sea. He said, "I think of the themes I write of as something that comes from me and about the accidents of my world. For instance, some people in a class would say what recurring themes they saw in my book, and I would respond with 'Oh, that's very interesting,' because to find out how your book is perceived by others is really interesting."

He further explained, "It's much harder for me to talk about the major topics I write about because I'm in the forest, and it's hard for me to see the whole picture, so I don't necessarily choose subjects. I think I start with a line or a few lines and go where it takes me."

Brady, like most other writers, looked up to other poets while growing up. He said, "I grew up with Yeats, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, and W.D. Snodgrass, so I continue to read in the Irish and American 20th Century contemporary letters."

It was apparent that Brady was well-received by his audience. Junior Jenn Reeder commented, "I attended Philip Brady's reading here in 1997, and he was just as dynamic and brilliant this time as he was two years ago. His book, Forged Correspondences, is one of the best collections of poetry I've ever read. Brady is, very simply, inspiring. Can you tell I like this man?"

Thachik had the same sort of reaction: "The only thing that comes to mind is a list of exclamations, such as 'Wow!, Oh my goodness!, You've got to be kidding!, Amazing!,' and the list goes on."

Thachik also said, "I would almost categorize Brady by himself because he was so different. He seemed to be the true essence of poetry; someone that loves it enough to live it, breathe it, and recite it."

Mooney may have put it best when he said, "Some poets present wonderful work poorly, other poets present poor work wonderfully. Brady presents wonderful work superbly. He makes the experience of poetry a personal experience - one to take to heart."