Fourteen years after graduating from UCF, Jesse Bradley, known in the literary world as J. Bradley, recalls one of his first UCF creative writing professors telling the class that it would take 10 years to become known in the literary scene.
Bradley, a 2001 alumnus with a BFA in creative writing, now chuckles at how accurate his professor was. In 2011 — 10 years after turning the tassel — Bradley created and now still hosts a poetry slam called There Will Be Words.
According to therewillbewords.com, this slam was named Orlando’s Best Literary Reading Series by the readers of Orlando Weekly in 2013 and 2015.
In addition to There Will Be Words, Bradley started and continues to host a similar event called There Will Be Verse in 2014. He also has a graphic poetry collection called “The Bones of Us,” which was published in 2014.
During his senior year at UCF, Bradley started Orlando’s first poetry slam called Broken Speech Poetry Slam through UCF’s English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta. Currently, his daily life involves a full-time job as a training consultant at Express Scripts and the online pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts of writing from Lindenwood University, but Bradley still has his passion.
The Central Florida Future caught up with the writer to see how he became successful in the slam world, how to handle failure along the way and advice for students pursuing this creative route.
What did you do at UCF that prepared you for this type of career?
I saw this documentary called “Slam Nation.” I saw the way that poetry was being performed, and it was something that was really interesting to me. So I decided to start doing a poetry slam out in Orlando, over at UCF in the Student Union, and slam gave me a lot of tools that, when I started transitioning from doing performance poetry into more traditional page poetry and other forms of writing, it prepared me to read better in public. It prepared me also to handle rejection because in a slam setting you’re being rejected by three or five random people. They’re told they have to give you a score between zero and 10 based on how they feel about your poem. And nothing prepares you more for rejection than getting a zero on a poem or getting a one on a poem. First you take it personally, but then you realize it’s all subjective. And when I started really taking the true writing craft of it seriously, that’s when all those lessons I’ve learned from poetry slam transferred over really well.
What’s it like to be the host of There Will Be Words?
There Will Be Words is typically each and every month. We feature four writers from all walks of life in Central Florida, and they read typically 1,000 to 1,500 words of their original work. And the background of the readers doesn’t really matter to us. We’ve had faculty from UCF read, faculty from Rollins read, people where writing or teaching isn’t even their day job. Their day job is something entirely different. It’s all about, more than anything, good writing. And what makes us unique about our reading series is that we actually accept submissions so people who come to There Will Be Words, and are interested in reading at a future There Will Be Words, can actually go to our website and submit their original work. We have found some really good writers that way who submitted over to us that I never would have met before if it wasn’t for the fact that they actually submitted their writing.
What advice would you give to students now in the creative writing program or who are interested in slam?
I would definitely encourage anyone who writes poetry for sure, even people who write prose, to do slam because it teaches you things that you don’t get in creative writing workshops. So in creative writing workshops, they don’t teach you how to read your work in a public setting. They don’t teach you how to engage an audience fact-to-face. A poetry slam does that. And you learn really quickly what works and what doesn’t work. If writing is something that you’re interested in doing, reading in public is also very important, whether it’s through poetry slams or going to open mics or going to other events where you can read for however many minutes publically. I think you have to read in safe places that also have a little bit of conflict like poetry slams that have that competitive conflict to it. The other important advice that I would give to other writers in the program is that failure is a part of writing, more than anything else. And you are going to fail. And what’s really important is learning from your failures and keep going. If you give up, well then what’s the point of you being a writer in the first place?
What’s your role in There Will Be Verse?
I used to run a poetry slam for 10 years, and I used to send teams to national competitions or to the national poetry slam that takes place in August in a different city each year typically. I stopped running that poetry slam in 2011 and decided last year to start There Will Be Verse, and instead of sending people to nationals and follow[ing] some of the standard slam rules, the winner of the season is actually going to get a chap book of poetry, or not quite a full length, but greater than like a page or two published through There Will Be Words.
Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByPaigeWilson or email her at paigew@CentralFloridaFuture.com.