Oz at Night lives up to its title: it is dark and fantastical, frightening and playful. A courageous looking is at the center of Bradley's poetic project, and in this her second book of poems, her gaze never falters. Oz at Night tackles philosophical musings and personal insights with equal passion, yet its interlude section contains lightly comedic poems. Its poetic forms cover as much ground as its topics, incorporating everything from short-lined free verse to strict and loose sonnets, a prose poem, an acrostic, haiku. Through the variety of Oz at Night run a consistent sincerity and an unwavering desire to understand.
Confronted with our contemporary chaos, Amanda Bradley's poems create a clear, lively order with intelligence, humor and the "jittery crescendo" from lots of caffeine. Oz at Night offers an intriguing set of snapshots of a mind and world busily at work on each other. The interface yields some wonderfully unlikely encounters between everything from Kant and a women's clothing catalogue, to the Jabberwocky and the Nicene Creed. With great formal dexterity, she makes a place for contemplation in our hyper active lives.
These are not poems about language, not words for words' sake, not words about words. They are language in the service of ideas, words about the inscrutable specificities of pain and love and the heuristics of trying to see through pain to love and then, perversely, back through love to pain. Images appear where they must, in these poems. They are like found objects, stumbled upon and then insisting upon themselves; never summoned, petted, cunningly and preciously crafted.
The poet says: "Today, my faith/in the importance of art is slipping"—and we're introduced to the ironic disposition of Amanda J. Bradley. The poems that follow dissolve that lie about slipping. Recording one troubled mood, she says "I brim with secret/knowledge"—and she lets out the secret, over and again, which gives body to this clearly imagined verse. Whether conversational or highly charged, the language of these poems suggests a steady engagement in the life of poetry.