D.M. Bradford’s ‘Bottom Rail on Top’ is a prismatic, paratextual intervention on Black history in America
This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with poet D.M. (Darby) Bradford, author of the collection Bottom Rail on Top (Brick Books), a kind of archives-powered unmooring of American histories of antebellum Black life and emancipation. Somewhere in the cut between Harriet Jacobs and surveillance, Southampton and sneaker game, Lake Providence and the supply chain, Bottom Rail on Top sets off a mediation between the complications of legacy and selfhood. In their sophomore collection, Darby stages the action of the collection in tandem with the matter of their own life, creating a poetic palimpsest of Black bodies and stories. These are stories told in knots and asides, held together with paper trails, curiosities, and hooks—again, a kind of “archive-powered” disruption, or what poet Douglas Kearney calls a “slo-mo recoil” of what we know of Black history in America.
Darby Minott Bradford is a poet and translator based in Tio’tia:ke (in Montreal). Bradford is the author of Dream of No One But Myself (Brick Books, 2021), which won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, was longlisted for the Grand Prix du livre de Montréal, and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Governor General’s Literary Awards, and Gerard Lampert Memorial Award. House Within a House by Nicholas Dawson, Bradford’s first translation, was published in 2023 by Brick Books.
D.M. Bradford recommends:
Empty Spaces by Jordan Abel (Yale University Press)
The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr (Coach House Books)
A Is for Acholi by Otoniya J. Okot Bitek (Buckrider Books)
Harrowings by Cecily Nicholson (Talonbooks)
Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies by Dylan Robinson (University of Minnesota Press)
or, on being the other woman by Simone White (Duke University Press)
perennial fashion presence falling by Fred Moten (Wave Books)
Lauren Korn recommends:
Calamites by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)
Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip (Wesleyan University Press)
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)
Anodyne by Khadijah Queen (Tin House Books)
The Book of the Dead by Muriel Rukeyser (West Virginia University Press)
The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, and editor; and Jake Birch, co-producer and editor; and Aidan McMahan, sound engineer. This episode is sponsored by Elk River Books in Livingston, Montana, offering new, used, and rare books—and frequent author readings in their line-up of events offered each season. A full events calendar and online shopping can be found at ElkRiverBooks.com.
The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at iamthemollruss.com and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.
Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.
The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.