My exile in Casselberry ends in early October and I’m starting to pack my things for my second move in almost two years. As I’m packing my stuff, I’m finding my old self-published chapbooks from my poetry slam days, along with some self-produced CDs.

In the one discussion about publishing that I delivered a few months back, I mentioned from a poetry perspective how self-publishing is not a good idea unless you are aiming for a very specific market (like other slam poets, or regulars at the open mic you frequent, or whatever other group you want to buy your self-produced wares). With self-publishing, the quality control is you and you are biased because everything that you put in said chapbook (you think) is good enough to see the light of day, like this gem from 2004

Lego maniac

my mother took a hands-on approach
in raising children.  i was the Lego set
sealed tight in translucent plastic bags,
she was the 5-year-old waiting
to tear open the box and begin building
not according to the pre-packaged instructions
but inspired by her own whim,
envisioning plastic perfection
on her terms only.

wielding a leather belt and her bullhorn
Bronx accent, she defined her own idea
of who i should be, creating a strong foundation
that would allow me to grow properly
into a man, a manly man, one who knew how to
fight, one who knew how to fix, one who knew
how to take care of business.  any deviation
of her plan would have video game and GI JOE
privileges held hostage or three lashes
across the backside until the flaw
was stamped out. and that’s when i
decided to become as unmanly as i could be. 

backpacks became littered with dittos
and assignments that inadvertently became
unnamed polyhedrons, impossible to label
because the sides were too oblong and unpredictable
and sometimes smelled of week old bologna

hands learned to clutch the spines of books tighter
than the cold chrome of tools
or objects where the skin was gradually stained
by sweat or grass.

varsity letters were earned by singing
The Lion Sleeps Tonight with forty other
seventh graders.

the only time i raised my fists in battle
was when i had a high enough roll
to hit my target.

at an early age, i learned that in certain situations
outright rebellion gets crushed quickly
so sometimes it’s better to use guerrilla tactics
to erode ways of thinking and believing
of what others think you should grow up to be
so you can seize those Lego blocks
and build yourself the way you had in mind,
because despite the flaws that could be in your design,
they are yours and they are

Looking through the self-published work of my former slam peers, the quality control from a content standpoint isn’t there and that’s because you are the quality control when you self-publish (unless you pay someone to talk you out of your bad ideas).

I wrote mostly for slam from 2002-2008, tapering off as I realized my voice was stronger in shorter poems and I wasn’t good at competing in poetry slams outside of my own in Orlando. I wasn’t good at writing slam poems because I wanted to use what was the most popular gimmick, rather than be honest with myself. When I became more honest with myself, and wrote about things where I had to face some awful truths, the work produced was more authentic. I listened to one of the CDs I self-produced ten years ago and I sounded very 25 (unsure, somewhat high pitched). I cringe at reading the above poem. I cringe at hearing my old self. But I need to cringe to remind myself don’t ever do that again as a writer (and as a human being). 

I want you to cringe, too. I’m selling some of my books, including the ones I self-published in 2002, 2003, and 2007 over here. Take a look and get something. You can read it while drinking and make fun of it. You can burn it. I’m ok with whatever you do with the work as long as it provides you some kind of teachable moment. Proceeds will help with moving costs.


Next week is the first installment of There Will Be Verse. Fingers crossed that people show up and dig the format. You can check out the invite to the event over on Facebook here.

I have a hybrid tech writing poem over in PurplePig, which you can check out here.

In May, I read at Functionally Literate, one of my favorite reading series in Orlando. You can watch my entire set below.


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About J. Bradley

J. Bradley's is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals including decomP, Hobart, and Prairie Schooner. He was the Interviews Editor of PANK, the Flash Fiction Editor of NAP, and the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle. He is the author of the poetry collection Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012), and the graphic poetry collection The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014), illustrated by Adam Scott Mazer. He is the curator of the Central Florida reading series There Will Be Words and lives at

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bad poetry, chapbook, Functionally Literate, poetry, poetry slam, PurplePig, self assessment, self-publishing, There Will Be Verse, Uncategorized