Heart of the Breath, a posthumous collection of Jim Brodey's work, shows him in true form-a master of the lewd on cloud nine. His state is a constant elevation, as if nothing is vile in a poem, or if it is, it's in a poem, so presented to the reader are swirls of "deboned chicken blood," "Boric Acid Chowder," and "cat shit." His music is adopted from Kerouac and with jazz forms taken from his acknowledged influences: Ornette Coleman & Red Garland among others; his casual tones are akin to Frank O'Hara's sofa.
The poems date back to the late seventies (his last publication being Judyism, United Artists, 1980) & move right to the end of his life. The seventies & early eighties saw Brodey as an inspiration to the punk generation: here was a guy with Whitmanesque enthusiasm & writing sometimes 30 poems a day, he had catalogue-like musical knowledge & reviewed albums for Creem, & at the same time he was providing younger poets with first publication & first reading opportunities. But as the eighties moved on, Brodey's economic stability collapsed, he was homeless & battling drug addiction-never ceasing to write-but wearing out his welcome in New York City to say the least, and moving on.
In the work, particularly the section titled "Panda Heart," there are moments of real inspiration, sparked by figures of friendship and artistic admiration. There are roughly a hundred poems (out of an apparent eleven hundred), ten stanzas of three lines apiece, with no hard stops. The intention, as Brodey put it, was to "take the so-called academic line and blow it to smithereens." Each poem seems to be in a "key," but poetical rather than musical. The title of each poem is the name of either a poet, musician, or friend, occasionally a historical figure. The poem is then referring to, or about, or inspired by, or seen through the eyes of that person. So you have a poem in the "key" of Frank Lloyd Wright, with images of landscape & social distortion: "If stones could speak I'd be wed to the motor car The plans for your living tomb are our agony & awe." In the "key" of Link Wray, surf music pioneer, the music conjured is "The natural sound of train wrecks." In "Ornette Coleman" Brodey finds his sound in a blend of Coleman, Kerouac, & his own ears: "All America gas gone nuts has whelmed/ To its rosy bosom holding blues cry/ High above the muses and fates/ That frequent those areas where the horn/ Blazes down its rap and stomp of constant/ Blast spiral leap fork scissorkick."
At his best Brodey commands sound by following it, that is, he taps into a sound that already exists and rides for awhile, highlighting the risings and fallings wherever they appear to him. To the dismay of some, he sometimes chooses to serenade the "thirst for vomit in the wind," but the disgusted can always turn the pages to "Song of the Open Mind": "All tongues are one tongue with its own frisky mouth." Brodey learned his art at one of the more fertile moments in American poetry, and reflects it.