by Tom Parisi
The “writing on the wall” usually foreshadows failure, but in John Bradley’s case, it’s just the opposite.
The veteran NIU English instructor and accomplished poet would appreciate the irony.
Bradley holds a fascination with Cheng Hui, a 13th century Chinese poet known only for one short poem, “Written on the Wall of an Inn.” In his new book-in-progress, a collection of prose and poetry, Bradley assumes the voice of the obscure poet, who comments on and critiques the work of his more famous Chinese peers.
Based in part on the strength of excerpts from the manuscript, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Bradley with a 2007 Literature Fellowship in Poetry. The NEA also spotlights Bradley in the Writer’s Corner section of its Web site.
The highly competitive NEA fellowships recognize poets, encouraging the production of new work by providing the time and means to write. Each literature fellow receives a $20,000 award.
Bradley says he will use the grant money to travel for research purposes and to set aside time off to revise his manuscript.
“I originally came across Cheng Hui in a famous anthology of Chinese poets,” Bradley says. “He has one four-line poem in the anthology. Other than that, we know almost nothing about Cheng Hui. We know he lived around 1210, but we don’t even have a date of birth or death. I started imagining his commentary on the lives and works of famous Chinese poets, and it grew into my manuscript.”
Bradley imagines Hui in a playful but sometimes serious voice.
“Cheng knows he’s an obscure man,” Bradley says, “and he knows that he will die as an obscure Chinese poet.”
The NEA award caps a string of recent successes for Bradley. Late last year, he published two books, “Terrestrial Music”and “War on Words.”This past spring he won a prestigious 2007 Pushcart Prize for a poem from “Terrestrial Music.”
The prize will give added visibility to the NIU instructor’s work. Published every year since 1976, the Pushcart Prize anthology features a collection of the year’s best short stories, poems and essays originally published by small presses and literary magazines.
Bradley’s poem will appear in “The Pushcart Prize XXXII: Best of the Small Presses” (2008) edition.
Bradley has been teaching first-year composition and a variety of other courses at NIU since 1992. He also has been the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council grant and a previous NEA Fellowship in Poetry. His 1989 book of poetry, titled “Love-In-Idleness,” won the prestigious Washington Prize.