Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So I just discovered a kind of aspbergers in which people develop sexual attractions, and even love bonds, with objects. I also found an excerpt from a documentary on Youtube about a woman who is in love with a rollercoaster. At first I thought it would be kind of kooky, but it was actually one of the more profoundly sad things I've seen, next to the sight of physical distress.

According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know), these people believe in the animus in things, and that's what they're...focusing on, I guess. Personally, I think the idea of nature or objects having a spirit something like our "soul" is interesting, but also smacks of a kind of homo-jingoism. It is implying that the true value in these things is that part of ourselves we can see in it. It is ignoring the thing itself, and instead trying to foist our own (imagined) qualities onto it. Kind of like eating at McDonalds in Paris--why travel all that way to be at home? It lacks imagination and perspective.

I'm talking about ideas of animus in general, but with these objectophiles, what I'm saying, and of course, I'm no expert, but these people seem to be projecting their own feelings onto these objects, and then responding to that mirror image.

I don't mean to sound like I'm judging or anything like that. I'm just trying to understand. Lots of "normal" people seem to be in "lust" with things--cars, clothes, etc. These things feed their self-image. And yet many times these people have no respect for their things--they cast off the new car every year or two, buy new clothes whenever a button drops off. It is a never-ending quest for fulfillment. Much of this is a response to marketing and learned bahavior. Objectophiles just seem more pronounced. They actually love things, or claim to. Is this better or worse? Is the woman who marries the Eiffel Tower any worse off than the workoholic who devotes all of his life energies to acquiring toys?

Who can say. I suppose, to answer this, one must have a working theory towards the purpose of living other than just living, which I do not. All I can say is that I think either way of living must be stressful in certain ways. But I definately find Mrs. Eiffel more interesting than the Joneses.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This is an interview from the Adagio Verse Quarterly. I was a featured poet there several years ago (2003 or 2004, I think). Patricia Gomes, the editor, was very kind to me, interviewed me (my first and best) and later blurbed my collection Anthem (which took 4 years to come out...). She made me feel like a "real" poet by seriously examining my work. Thanks for that, Patricia.

AVQ is no more, so I thought I'd dredge this old thing up and repost it. I always come off sounding self-indulgent and pretentious when I try to sound thoughtful, but cest la vie. (That's French for "fuck if I know.")

Interview with Featured Poet CL Bledsoe
*reprinted from Adagio Verse Quarterly
(conducted by Patricia Gomes)

PG: I'm loathe to discuss only poetry with you; poetry is Life … let's talk life, yours to be specific. Tell us about your first recollection growing up on a catfish farm. And please, for us city dwellers, what is a catfish farm?

CB: My family operated a farm in the Arkansas delta that produced rice, soybeans, and milo, and also cattle. During the winter, when the crops were laid by, we had a fish shop that sold catfish and buffalo fish which we raised during the summer. We kept cattle in a wide, fenced in valley, our house sat on top of a ridge overlooking the cattle on one side and a stock pond on the other. The fence around the house itself had long ago fallen down, though, and growing up, I often woke to hear cattle chewing outside my window, or scratching themselves against the bricks of the house. It was very comforting to hear the sounds of them living nearby.

In the fall, we rounded up the cattle for vaccinations. They were usually scared and skittish, likely to bolt if given the chance. The men used electric cattle prods to keep the cattle under control. When I was very young, I remember asking if the shock hurt them, and a friend of the family who died recently, a man we called Bob "Hollowhead" (a pun on his name) tried to convince me that it didn't hurt at all, come here and I'll show you... He proceeded to chase me around, shocking the air inches behind me while I ran, giggling and terrified, afraid to come near him for hours.

This is a pretty idyllic view of things. Much of the time, things were much darker, but as I move away from them, it is these livelier moments that stand out.

PG: One of my favorite Bledsoe poems is Night Variations. The opening line reads:"Stand on the corner of the night and don't allow it / to unravel itself into something less velvet. …" what inspired that particular poem?

CB: This poem was heavily influenced by the writings of Italo Calvino. If you haven't read Calvino, check him out. For example, his stories narrated by Qfwfq, a being older than...everything. Qfwfq might tell a story, in a grandfatherly sort of way, "In my day, we didn't have matter; we were free-floating accumulations of energy." I like the fable-like quality of his work.

This poem is a sort of ars poetica, or maybe arse poetica, because it is very tongue-in-cheek. It is full of little lessons on writing and life, presented in a fabulist style. "This reiterates the necessity of always keeping a journal. But remember/ that which tastes sweet to the termite may leave others' tongues bored." In my writing, I am often (perhaps always) struggling with the idea of "how to live," though not always so blatantly. I don't think this is something one can ever consider an answered question. All of my life, I hope, I will be forever revising my answers to this question. I consider it an accomplishment just to realize this much. It has taken some work.

PG: Speaking of inspiration, which of the following is most likely to inspire your poetry: nature, family, or personal insight?

CB: When I was in high school, I had a teacher who always tried to get me to write about nature. "Everything you write is so dark," she would say. "My favorite thing to do in the world is work in my garden. You should write about that." I didn't have a garden, but I had worked in rice fields, and this is not a fun thing to do. Though the first poem I ever published (in a little student journal at the University of Arkansas, which I later joined the staff of) was inspired by my grandmother's garden, it was really about racism, and my experiences with a black nanny. So in that poem, nature inspired a personal insight about my family. I think that my personal insights are heavily linked with my family, whether I agree with them or not, so these two things are often very close. My family is my model for the world.

My father instilled a deep appreciation in me for nature. I remember coming home over a break from college once with a friend. We had been walking around the pasture and as we approached the house, my father pulled up. I made the comment that there were so few trees left, compared to when I was a child. To which my father replied, "I'm doing the best I can." It was important to him to preserve the trees, but many of them had to be cut down because they were sick or dying. Nature can be very abstract. Man's relationship with nature and each other, and the insights one can draw from this, interest me more. So I'd have to say personal insight inspires me most, but they are all closely entwined.

PG: Name the first poet who made you gasp for air.

CB: I wish I could say something really hip, like James Tate or Charles Simic, both of whose work I love now, or even Ginsberg, but I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, which was, at the time, 49th in education, so I didn't hear about any of these people till I was out of high school. Suffice it to say, I wasn't exposed to as much poetry as I would've liked to have been. What we did read, and there was a lot of it, was older writing. Aside from Maya Angelou (a fellow Arkansan) I don't remember reading a single living writer in school. I loved Dickenson in grade school; this was probably the first book of poetry I bought. Frost was probably the second. At some point in high school, I read Plath. This would be the third. I remember being incredibly frustrated with William Carlos William. When I graduated, I went through a period of self-education before entering college. I read everything I could find. Anthony Hecht was an early discovery. When I discovered a writer or poet, I would drive to a city with a decent book store, and buy every book I could find by that author. This is something I still do, though now I use the internet. I came out of school so ignorant and confused. I just wanted to dump everything they'd told me and start over, so I read. I remember reading Camus and Thomas Mann, while the people I knew or worked with were reading Goosebumps books. It was very alienating.

PG: First woman you wrote a poem for? (First name is sufficient.) How old were you, and how do you feel about that poem today?

CB: I wrote a terrible poem for a girl named Karen when I was fifteen or so. It was called something like, "This is How I Feel," and consisted of a list of images and situations meant to convey certain emotions, like a child waiting to be picked up from little league, only his mother has been killed in a car wreck two streets over, and he has to wait all night. Really awful melodramatic teenager stuff. I turned it in as a creative writing assignment at school, and had to stay after class and convince the teacher (also my Aunt) that I wasn't suicidal, on drugs, etc.

PG: Does the poetry come easier than the fiction?

CB: I don't really think any of it comes easily, but poetry comes more often. Lately, I've been writing more nonfiction. Who knows where that will go?

PG: Title of the poem you're most proud of. Title of the poem that embarrasses you to no end. (Don't worry; I won't ask to read it!)

CB: I've seen the answer to a similar question often being, "The one I've written most recently is my favorite," and I wish I could repeat this answer, but it wouldn't be true. Perhaps I am a negligent father, but I play favorites. I wrote a poem a few years ago for a workshop taught by the inaugural poet Miller Williams. The poem was later printed online in Story South, and won the Blue Collar Review's Working People's Poetry Contest. The poem, entitled, "Roaches," isn't the best poem I've ever written, but it was a breakthrough. I was in a class with some good writers, and I wasn't very good. Some of these people were writing about things I didn't care about, relationships that'd gone sour, travel, angsty stuff, and I realized that I was also writing about things that I didn't care about. The good ones, though, were transcending themselves, using themselves and their experiences to represent larger issues. So I wrote a poem about working in a rice field, the way the sun just sort of perched on your shoulder and sat there all day. This was my father's life. It was miserable work, for me, and at night, I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed and listened to the roaches scritching in the walls. There is misery, but there is also beauty in this. The noises the roaches made were like music. The poem turned on the lines: "I sank into the mud of those fields/and into myself, waiting/until night came/when I would crawl into bed/press my face against the wall/and listen." This was also a very stripped down poem for me. This is something Miller Williams taught me. Economy.

The poem I mentioned earlier, "Garden," is pretty embarrassing. It is very fumbling and unclear at times. And so, so long.

PG: Finish this sentence: "I write poetry because ___________________ ."

CB: If I didn't I wouldn't understand the world. Poetry is how I make sense of life.

PG: Share with us your initial reaction upon winning the Working People's Poetry Contest.

CB: I was surprised. I'd never won anything before. The Blue Collar Review is a good journal. They'd published my work before and actually I have work forthcoming with them. I respect what they are doing and I am honored to have been chosen by them.

PG: What do you envision for yourself five years from now?

CB: Hopefully a job. I couldn't say. I hope to improve in my writing and life. I don't think I could have predicted where I am today, five years ago. I would like to think that Ghoti Magazine will still be going strong, and this is the plan. I am shopping around a chapbook, working on a novel. Maybe in five years, these things will be published and I will be working on more.

Notes, 5 or 6 years later:

1. No, nature isn't abstract. Society is abstract because it's a construct imposed over Nature. There's nothing abstract about the lion's teeth, but, as Terry Pratchett said, put the universe through a sieve and show me one molecule of "Justice." What I meant is that man views nature abstractly because we are so distant from it we no longer understand it. Just look at how we describe it--"All Natural" means something is clean and pure, when it should mean dirty as hell (what's more natural than dirt?). We describe murder and rape as a "unnatural acts" and yet they are commonplace in nature.
2. Maya Angelou is not, exactly, an Arkansan. She lived there for awhile.
3. Is Charles Simic hip? I mean I enjoy and admire his work... These were both poets I was really into at the time.
4. The first "poet" who made me gasp for air was Susan ______. She did things with her tongue...
5. "Hopefully a job." I was in college, maybe grad. school, but I think I was still an undergrad. at this point. I wanted to teach on a college level.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I just found out that my story "Leaving the Garden" was chosen by Story South as a notable story for 2008. It was originally published in Wheelhouse Magazine.

The official link: (You have to scroll waaay down--Wheelhouse Mag...)

Yaay me.
Chris and I have been working on a script from an idea I had awhile back. It's a revenge story set in Alabama in the 70s. Hunting accident/race issues. Just a week or so's work. The hard part, for me, about writing screenplays is the language. Think Hemmingway after severe head trauma.

I've been trying to catch up on freelance work. I finally wrote the article that was due a week (okay ten days) ago for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "Wayne Raney. Harmonica playin' sum-bitch." I don't think they'll like the title. I had to contact the subject of another article because of lack of available info. One more I need to edit and a review for American Book Review is due in about a week. I also have about 10 other reviews I need to do ASAP. I find with reviews that it's best to write them while reclining in aquatic circumstances, such as sitting in a river or pool. Of course, one has to take periodic dips to appease the water gods. But appeasement is essential for the good of next year's crops.

Time to light a fire under the ass of class prep. I've got about a month left before classes start. Nothing of any interest to say about that.

I've asked five people to blurb Riceland, and all five have agreed. The brilliant Jo McDougall already sent hers in. I think that this will be "my book," he says, jinxingly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

32. If the Delta Was the Sea, poetry by Dick Lourie. I'm reviewing this for American Book Review.

33. The Redneck Bride, by John Fergus Ryan. I really enjoyed Ryan's The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer's. This is still true. What I will say about Bride is that it is very short.

34. True Grit, by Charles Portis. Enjoyable. Humorous. Not laugh out loud funny, but nicely done. I'd recommend it.

35. Gringos, by Charles Portis. The thing about "funny" books is they often lack any sort of forward movement. I'll use A Confederacy of Dunces as an example--clever enough but there's no real tension. So, after awhile, it becomes tedious. Portis is more or less the same, though I enjoy his writing.

36. A Year at the Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey, but Kevin Murphy. MST3K's Kevin Murphy (or Tom Servo/Bobo) went to a film a day for a year, at various theaters including the world's smallest theater, a theater in the artic circle made entirely out of ice, he lived for a week entirely on theater food, he snuck Thanksgiving Dinner into a theater, etc. Interesting enough for a "bathroom book," as I like to call it. Murphy is funny, though I was expecting him to do more. As he says himself, he travelled all over the world but neglected to go to Bollywood or Hong Kong. Really, some of his destinations seemed pretty random.

37. A Field of Colors, by Charles Lennox. A Mud Luscious Press chapbook I'm reviewing for Ghoti Magazine.

38. Family Secret, poems by Rich Murphy. A Finishing Line Press chapbook I'm reviewing for Ghoti Magazine.

39. The Narcoleptic Yard, poems by Charity Ketz. I'm reviewing this for Ghoti Magazine.

40. Light Boxes, by Shane Jones. I'm reviewing this for Ghoti.

41. book alter(ed), by David Wolach. A chapbook I'm reviewing for Ghoti.

42. Revealing Moments, by Wayne Scheer. A chapbook of flash fiction I'm reviewing for Ghoti.
I'm something like 40 pages into the best thing I've ever written, and I feel like I could walk away and never write again. That's so not true. I am, of course, an obsessive (am I? Yes. Really? I don't know. But is that fair...? Shut up. Okay.). No ideas. No ambition. I'm just going to sit here for a moment typing out whines and then erasing them. I'll just be a sec. No more than five minutes. Okay. I'm better now.

I write because, in the words of the great Josh Chapman, I'm damaged in such a way that this is how I communicate best. Well, some of those were Josh's words. The better ones. But to what end am I communicating? It would be nice if, after, what, eight, nine years of publishing, and another, who knows, ten before that of writing, a naked, nubile young blonde would show up at my door with a bag of cash and a keylime pie. Is that too much to ask? Okay, she doesn't have to be blonde. Forgive me--I don't mean to be sexist. We all know the most important thing to me in that image is the pie. Sad sad sad. But the cash really wouldn't hurt. It would all go to student loans, but still. A nice thought.

A prof. in a writing class once asked me what my goals were for being a writer. I said I really wanted, some day, to be a mid-list writer--you know, the guy with a couple university press publications who's respected and enjoyed, but hasn't become a slave to New York? Slow and steady for me, baby. As with most of my long range plans, when shared, this was met with a glazed look. Mostly because, as an MFA student, I was supposed to be convincing myself that I was going to be the NBT (next big thing). I was going to go blow Rupert Murdoch and become the next you know, that one guy with the golf book? Or that chick who writes about vampires? And everyone would love me and respect me and realize that I am better than them. Well, that's how it seemed, anyway.

This is all my way of saying it's nice to know, from time to time, that someone is actually reading something I've written. Because that's all I'm really after. It's nice to get a little bit of cash here and there from writing too. It helps. But it's much nicer to read an editor's response when she identifies herself as a fan of mine. Or to see Glenn over at Feel Free To Read posting some of my stuff (and lots of other great writers) with visual accompaniment. He's found over 100 pieces of mine online. Thanks for that. Now, do you have any pie?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I came to ramble about my novel in progress, but first I have to say how blown away I am by Blenn Buttkus's photography and artwork selections on his blog Feel Free To Read It doesn't hurt that he's reposted several of my poems and stories.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You know what miffs me? People on Goodreads or Facebook or whatever who send out event invitations and DON'T ACTUALLY SAY IN WHICH CITY THE EVENT WILL OCCUR. How lazy is that? Many times, they will send street addresses, even directons without actually mentioning what city the thing is in. This implies one of two things: 1. The event organizer thinks the only people who will attend already know about the event (so why spam ME? And way to think big, folks.) 2. The event is happening in New York, as all civilized events do, and everyone in New York already knows about it, because they're New Yorkers. I mean, come on. What are you, from Jersey?

So no, I'm not coming to your reading, and neither is anyone else. Maybe you should try a little harder next time.

Speaking of New York, Jillian and I have tickets to see Eddie Izzard at Madison Square Garden in January. You're jealous, I know. We fully expect to be eaten by bears. Bears with incredibly annoying accents. But with no bees in their mouths since bees are going extinct. Which is sad, because wouldn't you rather have bees than the accents? I must be jealous.

This is part of our new "we teach/babysit kids for 11/15 hours a day (depending on if we're on duty), five days a week plus weekend duties so wouldn't it be nice to cultivate a life during our scant free time" project (or AAAAAARHGHBWAAABWAAABWAAA!!!!! for short). We also have tickets to see Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull in October. What can I say, I was raised by a child of the 60s. The tentative plan is to have one "thing" per month. You know, like real people. A couple of those months might devolve into dinner and a movie. But even that is more than we did this past year. We hope to see a couple plays as well. We've seen a couple of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's performances this year. Great stuff, really funny. They're an up and coming troop (not actually a festival. Tricky, I know.) We're putting together a nice road trip for next summer with Chris and Elise, also. This summer, we've done some short trips to the beach, but haven't been able to really afford any long trips, which is okay, really. I'm applying for a residency for next summer as well. Wish me luck.