Cleveland State University Poetry Center

You Don't Know What You Don't Know by John Bradley



You Don't Know What You Don't Know
by John Bradley

Winner, 2009 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition

A collection of prose poems that might be described as Franz Kafka and Frida Kahlo going out for a date at Coney Island. The book reflects what happens when you drop an American history textbook, an issue of People, and a short history of dreams into a blender.

List price: $15.95


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Barnowl Review: John Bradley, You Dont' Know What You Don't Know

Interview with Poetry Center John Bradley at Inquire


Parable of the Indeterminate Cave

I’m living in a sealed cave with Madonna. At least she tells me her name is Madonna, but I'm not so sure. She never wants to have sex, though I've tried many times to subtly suggest it. I'll tell her that an oak chair was left out in the rain, and she'll say that wet wooden chairs make her depressed. I'll say that a glazed doughnut is rolling down a hill, and she'll say that doughnuts make her feel fat. I'll say that a child is sleeping with his head on the stretched skin of a drum, and she'll tell me that drum skins make her perspire. There is one thing Madonna does like, though. She likes it when I read to her. Sometimes I read her knuckles to her, though I usually read her toes. I'll read until I start to get bored, and then I'll change a word in the story. I'll say, “Father stroked his seersucker mustache,” and she'll yell at me. “That's not right,” she'll say. “Father stroked his cerise mustache!”


“Reading John Bradley is like holding a flashlight and staring into the abyss. His poetic vision is, by turns, terrifying, humorous, and illuminating. Each poem conveys something of the psyche of contemporary life, the texture of our own peculiar madness, where the senseless seems normal, and logic but a figment of one’s imagination. In this new collection, Bradley clearly establishes himself as one of the premier prose poets in our country today.”
—Nin Andrews

“Bradley’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know reinvigorates parables, legends, and lists to both familiarize and destabilize sacred and secular histories. By turns surreal and humorous, chilling and strange, Bradley’s work engages pop culture and politics, making a rare and intelligent music. Bradley’s linguistic prowess will have you reading these poems aloud at parties.”
—Denise Duhamel

“Amid the current prosperity of the prose poem, there are masters responsible for the rise of the form and Bradley is one of them. The result is a poetry that goes beyond the tradition by finding different approaches toward revelation and mystery. This book proves that a lifetime commitment to one’s art is also the road to a language where the prose poem is the center of all things. Reading this book honors those who have changed poetry, but also welcomes those who are about to be transformed by encountering the idea of ‘paragraph.’ ”
—Ray Gonzalez

“‘I once dated a woman who had a miniscule role (she bit the head off a marigold) in a movie that was never released but gained cult status mostly because it was never released.’ Thus speaks a narrator in John Bradley’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, who gives hints at the shenanigans we might expect—like another narrator (or is it the same guy?) who lives in a sealed cave with Madonna, who, unfortunately has no interest in sex. In the hands of a lesser poet, these scenarios would be merely amusing, but by now Bradley has become a master of creating modern parables that take on the superficiality and narcissism of our personal and public lives. No one escapes his scrutiny. And for us, that’s a good thing.”
—Peter Johnson


John Bradley is the author of Love-In-Idleness: The Poetry of Roberto Zingarello, Terrestrial Music, and War on Words. He also edited Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age, Learning to Glow: A Nuclear Reader, and Eating the Pure Light: Homage to Thomas McGrath. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and two NEA Fellowships, he teaches at Northern Illinois University.

Ordering Information: For a full list of titles, please visit Books are available through SPD (Small Press Distribution) at,, and as well as many corporate and independent bookstores. For media review copies and printed catalogs, contact Rita Grabowski at 888-278-6473, or 216-687-3986.