Thursday, August 29, 2013

Corey Mesler's Mitmensch

I've been meaning to pose something about Corey Mesler's excellent poetry chapbook Mitmensch for some time. I blurbed it a while back. Here's what I said:

In this series of linked poems, Mesler paints a portrait of an Everyman: Mitmensch, who "knows there is feeling here somewhere" in these lives that are like "a message that never gets through." He "was once a god among bugs" but now is trying to convince his coworkers he's a genius. He's "hungry for...a little more of everything." Mesler shows us again why he's one of the most widely published writers out there.

The collection is from Folded Word Press. You can order it or read more about it here on Corey's blog.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meet Me in the Dollar Bin

I grew up in a small town in Eastern Arkansas, about halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, an hour or so from either. We had one book store which was Christian; if you wanted to read C.S. Lewis or wanted a new bible, okay, but that was about all it had to offer. The county library was about the size of my bedroom, and I quickly burned through what it had to offer. They had a surprisingly diverse selection, though. I read Clive Barker's early horror novels there (sneaking into the adult section) and I forayed into capital L "Literature." Sure, I could've requested they borrow books from other libraries, which I did with certain things that weren't too risque, but this meant enduring the ire and judgement of the librarian, a slight, severe woman who appeared distracted and confused much of the time but would subject any overly adventurous young people like myself to questions like "Why do you want to read that?" I was actually afraid to check out the aforementioned Clive Barker novels because I was pretty sure if she examined them closely enough to find out what they were about, she'd pull them from the shelves, so I read them straight through, hiding in the stack. Perhaps this was all in my imagination, but coming from an extremely closed society like the Bible Belt, I had long ago learned not to draw attention to anything that brought me joy lest it be condemned. Perhaps this librarian might've been a secret ally, but I had noticed that certain more interesting books did disappear from time to time. Once I inquired about one, thinking it had been checked out, though it had been missing a long time, and she claimed the library had never carried it. I always wondered why she'd ordered the books if she didn't want them there. Maybe she just hadn't vetted them and ordered them blindly, but that didn't seem like a very effective approach to censorship, and I thought I was being clever by slipping past her lowered guard. The reality is probably that she removed them after complaints, but I didn't consider this at the time.

So where to get my reading fix? The nearest mall was in a city called Jonesboro, home of Arkansas State University. When my friends and I became old enough to drive, we'd travel nearly weekly to visit the bookstores, music stores, movie stores, etc. in the mall and near the college. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, after the Tiffany/Debbie Gibson mall tours had thankfully ended. We grimaced at the association, but we didn't have a lot of choices. For music, it was classic rock on the radio or head to the used record store by the college. Most trips, we'd buy music by bands we'd never heard, sometimes never heard of, because there was really no way to have heard of them. In this manner, we found tons of great bands -- many of the "Grunge" bands of the day, but also some really interesting less-hyped bands. I discovered metal, folk, jazz, and all sorts of stuff. I remember buying my first Heavy Vegetable cd in a store in Memphis because the cover looked interesting. This led to a compilation called Mud on the Wheel which also had a song by the Canadian avant garde folk musician Kathleen Yearwood, whose music I was able to acquire through a Canadian penpal (I traded her a Pavement CD). Heavy vegetable led to lots of other bands. Even Smashing Pumpkins and super-successful bands like that were once nobodys whose album a friend or I bought on a whim. (I remember trying to convince a friend to eject his Skid Row tape long enough for me to listen to Siamese Dream for the first time. He preferred Skid Row, as I recall.) Of course, we ended up with plenty of awful stuff, also. The same was true of movies. We'd order the most obscure films we could because the theater in our hometown showed only the most hyped of Hollywood movies. Most of our film forays were into horror, and it was only later in college that we truly began to explore the indie film explosion of the 90s. We did have a movie rental place in town which carried quite a few horror films, but it was only later, in college, that we were able to truly explore Argento, Pater Jackson's early work, and the like.

But the real treasures, for me, were books. Let me backtrack for a moment and mention some other sources I found. Flea markets were a strangely interesting source of books. Many of the classics I read as a teenager came from boxes of battered paperbacks sitting on the edge of some warped wooden table at a flea market or a yard sale. I always wondered why there might be a well-thumbed copy of Plato's Republic in a small town flea market. It was a tantalizing thing to consider because it implied hidden outposts of intellectuality. Likewise, Goodwill often carried surprisingly decent books, which were affordable. I started my love of Dostoevskiy with a copy of Crime and Punishment bought for a quarter when I was a teenager. Similarly, the mall bookstores carried an overlooked secret: the reduced books bin. To this day, I'm surprised by what one can find in these. Many of the books are unsold copies of last year's cut-and-paste Best-Sellers (or not-that-best-sellers) but squirreled away amongst them were some really odd and interesting finds. My first Genet novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, came from a marked-down bin at a mall bookstore. Likewise, Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School, among many others. At the time, they just seemed like interesting books. I bought them, read them, and then followed the rabbit trails of similar authors they led me down. Hardly a month went by that I didn't special order some book that had the staff looking at me strangely. (I remember having to order Frazier's The Golden Bough twice because I hadn't known how to pronounce "bough" and ended up with some young adult fantasy book.) But special orders were an expensive treat. There was something much more fullfilling to finding some random marked-down book whose author I had maybe heard of, taking it home, and discovering a world beyond this world.

Many of these books would've never survived, I think, if they'd truly been discovered; imagine if the people of my hometown, some of whom burned Anne Rice's vampire books as being Satanic, had discovered Acker or Burroughs. It is, exactly, their obscurity that allow books like these to survive, in the same way that a studious, intellectual like myself survived by keeping my head down, for the most part, and avoiding detection. This was a lesson thoroughly made clear by incidents like the persecution of the West Memphis Three. I remember being pulled over by a cop, after the events for which the 3 were wrongly imprisoned, and being asked if I was "in one of them cults out of Memphis" because I had long hair and was wearing a Metallica shirt my sister had given me. This sounds funny, now, but at the time, it was a terrifying situation.

After high school, my closest friends went to college, while I continued my education through books, reading every author I had heard of associated with Literature, or whose books just looked interesting. One boss at a fast-food place maligned Camus, saying it was the kind of crap he'd had to read in college, so I drove for an hour to order every book I could by Camus, and then two weeks later, drove an hour to pick them up when they came in. If I tried to discuss many of these books with anyone, well, I quickly discovered that many of my peers, other than my close friends, were reading Goosebumps books (a series of kids books) while I read Becket's trilogy. They responded with distaste, distrust; they warned me that I was endangering my soul by reading too much. One boss at a grocery store took it upon himself to proselytize to me because I had been reading about myths other than the one he believed in. He'd stop me in the aisles and preach while country music twanged overhead. "You have to be careful," he said. "I'd be afraid to know too much."

But I read everything. I read Stephen King and William Faulkner, Greek myths and apocryphal books of the Bible. I would stack books by my dresser as I finished them and then sell them to a used book store when they reached level with the top of the dresser, maybe keeping a couple if they were really interesting. When I finally went to college, after most of my friends had graduated, I continued reading inside and outside of classes, while most of my classmates seemed to only mention books long enough to malign them. Just down the hill from the University of Arkansas I discovered Dickson Street Bookshop, which is still one of the best bookstores I've ever known. I would get lost in the stacks, leaving with books piled four-feet high. I discovered Baldwin there, and Laurence Sterne, Tom Jones, and Donald Harington, many of them for a couple bucks each.

Of course, a book being remaindered or used means the author isn't getting paid. To this day, because of economics, I acquire most of my books either used or for free as review copies. As a writer, myself, I don't really have an opinion about this; if someone enjoys my books, I'm not going to ask how they got them. If I encounter an author I enjoy, I do buy his/her books. And I write about them. Perhaps that goes some way to paying back the debt I owe, but it's a large debt.

Nowadays, it's difficult to find something truly obscure. I can order a book from Amazon that I used to have to drive an hour to maybe be able to order. Music is even more accessible, as are movies. I'm not arguing for obscurity, I'm simply considering that these discoveries meant so much more to me when they were so hard-earned. These books were shining beacons in a wasteland of anti-intellectualism. Kathy Acker understood things about life, clearly, that C.S. Lewis never even considered. And some people want to pretend those things don't exist, but they do. I'm not saying I totally empathized with Acker, but the fact of there being a dissenting voice at all filled me with so much hope. I think it's safe to say that books like hers and all these I've mentioned were more salvation to me than the Bible ever was, though I've found it to be an interesting read as well.

-CL Bledsoe

* * *
* The title comes from a Les Savy Fav song.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

College & Suicide Dreams

I had two more odd dreams in the last few days that have stuck with me. I dreamed my daughter (currently two) was in college. The wife and I were visiting and Ellie, my daughter, and the wife were butting heads for some reason, so I went with Ellie on a tour of the campus. I went to a couple classes with her. The first was some kind of math class. Instead of desks, there were risers and seats reminiscent of a movie theater. I was weighted down with bags of swag and a chair they'd given me to carry around. I made my way towards the back of the class to be out of the way, and as I reached for a rail to steady myself, another student bit my hand. I told him I would break his skull if he did that again and apologized to the person I was trying to get around, then I went to the back. When the class was over, I realized my buddy Bevan (my age) was in the class. A current student of mine was also in it, along with another friend my age I can't remember. I asked Ellie if she had any friends in that class because there were some good people in it. Then we went to a music class which was so crowded students had to stand in the hall. After that, we climbed down a cliff and played in the water. I took off my shirt and was extremely buff. Unfortunately, this upset the nuns who ran the place, and I was arrested and taken before a tribunal of nuns for indecency, which embarrased Ellie.

I only remember a little bit of the other one. I discovered I had a terminal illness, I assume Huntington's Disease, which runs in my family. I was at my father's house for some reason, alone. I decided to commit suicide before I lost my faulties, and took a bunch of painkillers, after texting/calling several friends, who were mostly too busy with their own lives. There was no recrimination in this; it was good that it wasn't a big deal that I die. There was actually very little emotion in this dream at all. I was sleeping on the couch in the living room and lay down to die, but I woke up the next morning having failed to die, and decided to get back to work on some writing project. I called Bevan (weird synchronicity, there, that he popped up in both dreams) and got his help on some project. Then one of the friends I'd texted called and lectured me and didn't believe I'd attempted suicide because I'd texted him a bunch.

I consider both of these dreams very positive. The first, obviously, is a vision of the future. Mydaughter was beautiful and successful in the dream. I asked her, as we toured the campus, if she'd noticed some bit of natural beauty, and she replied, "Of course, Dad; I live here." This implies independence, and she was successful in her classes as well. She was taller than I would think, whatever that means.

The second dream, I think, implies a kind of emotional growth. I don't have Huntington's Diseas (I've been tested) but I have dealt with Depression for much of my life. In the dream, instead of lying on the couch in a kind of death, I woke up and got to work. My friends were surprised and incredulous towards even the idea of my "death." When I woke, in the dream, there was a distancing from the disease. I realized it was something I could live with and control.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Jeopardy Dream

Weird Al Yankovic's song "I Lost On Jeopardy" was a mainstay of my childhood, I'll admit, but it's been years since I've listened to it, which made this dream a little surprising. In the dream, I was a contestant of some new, post-Trebek Jeopardy which had apparently fallen on hard times. The dollar values were low -- questions were worth maybe ten bucks a pop. I was in second place the entire time until the end. The host was a lady I don't remember recognizing. At a certain point I realized I wasn't answering in the form of a question, but no one seemed to care. And many of the questions were odd--some were yes/no, some were weirdly specific; I remember arguing because the other two contestants couldn't possibly know the answer to some of them. Towards the end, the hostess was shot-gunning questions, many of which I had some idea of but was nervous about answering, since I was in second place and didn't want to lose that. Also, at one point a bizarre couple came in to, apparently, observe us (being 'from the network') but then promptly ignored us. Finally, I answered one of the unfair questions and won.

I'm not really sure about the Jeopardy angle, but I think this is a meaningful dream. I've been doing more and more work for hire gigs, which often consist of several small projects that don't pay that much individually, but when you put them a few cents a word, a few bucks an article, that kind of thing. This is something I've avoided because I never thought I could really make money from it or even do it successfully, and I think the ending of the dream, in which I just push ahead and win, regardless, is telling me to go ahead. Or maybe I should just go on Jeopardy.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Even More Discarded Poem Drafts

The Whole Booth

Prosperity is the ghost that haunts the phosphorescent
square of the voting booth, reeking of bubble-gum

cigarettes that taste like chalk. It hums a song
about the advantages of remaining celibate until marriage,

but it wears such low cut shirts...Don’t be troubled
by the transmission fluid smell pooling in your nostrils

as your own guts leak out; prosperity doesn’t know
the smell of true meat enough to bother you for yours.

Trust me. Your wallet and your heart are the only
crosses that matter when considering which box to tic,

which X to spot. Any lies will get you into the car
that promises an easy ride home. And in the trunk,

as the red oil smell of truth hits you, will you wonder
what brought you to this end? Or will you sulk

* * *

She models vacancy in her light blue eyes
perfectly framed by a face tanned almost orange,
hair golden and dead. I struggle to explain
while she struggles and doesn’t understand, and I see it,
the future of her, flailing towards understanding
and never quite reaching it.

The day before, another student confessed to me
overhearing this one, “she said your class is so easy
she doesn’t do anything and has an A.” The truth
is further down the alphabet. “I feel sorry for her,”
the student had said. “It must be hard knowing
that nobody likes you.”

* * *

The King of Split Ends

I’m not falling, but I can see
the ground rising like a hard

bed to kiss my cheek. I never
took the time to plant moss.

Don’t ask me for anything
today; I’m in a hurry to meet

tomorrow. The hair product
industry controls so much

of the economy; don’t question
it unless you want to live

with split ends. I never knew
how much I’d miss wanting

until I got everything. There’s
a demo playing every time I step

outside. There aren’t any vocals,
yet. I keep saying I’ll write some.

More Discarded Poem Drafts


The man in the maze thinks he smells cheese. Behind him, he’s fairly sure there is an entrance, though he’s lost sight of it. He’s almost certain he wasn’t plopped down in the middle like the doll in a donation box in that episode of The Twilight Zone. For a while, he tried taking all the turns that let him keep his left hand to the wall, and could not be convinced that there was any other option. Then, he did the same with his right. He thinks he knows there is an end. Maybe a door, or maybe just a wall, or maybe something he can’t guess at.

Sometimes, he stops and admires the shade of wall color in a particular tunnel. Sometimes, they all look so much the same that it blinds him for a while, and he has to stop and just sit and cry until his bones ache from immobility. Each time, he remembers a little better that he’s been in this crook before, or at least one similar, and once, he scratched arrows in a few walls just to make sure, but he never saw them again.

When his feet hurt he crawls or stops. He sits for days just humming to himself, or runs as fast as he can, racing the shadows, or walks on his head down an entire passage to see if he can. He hears noises on the other side of the walls, sometimes, and every so often, he’ll jump and scramble over the top and drop to the other side to find someone crab-walking along, or urinating, or sketching imitations of all the corners he can remember slumping through.

* * *

The Mathematics of Love

Socks love you, Ellie. So you must keep
them safe on your feet and carry them with

you, always. Like all things that love,
they limit while adding. I understand this.

But that’s not a reason to throw them
away. Think of what’s gained, not

what’s lost. Shoes will distract you from this
only so long, but they do clomp nicely.

* * *
The Habit of Doubt

You start with white to cover your shame, add
a long-sleeve shirt for winter and fear. Baggy
clothes to hide the scars, the bandages, trite
as that sounds. It's easier to sweat than answer
questions. Our neighbor talks
about obesity being a shield between the soft,
secret parts of the body and the psyche, and the hardness
of strangers. After a time, she says, I hope
to outgrow the need for it. That's the important thing:
hope. When one becomes entrenched in belief,
one might as well be naked. Nothing soft remains,
no secrets worth hiding.

* * *

I’ve told this story so much I don’t remember what’s true
or what simply makes me look the worst. I never played

football except under duress, never played pool
except all those times I won, never really cared about

the feeling of communal yelling, stadium food, the smell
of spilt beer and sweat. Hard seats and face paint

and all that other kid’s shit. But I’ve never told you this
because you never asked. I was never afraid of the ball;

I was afraid of losing my hands to something as pure
as play. I was never playing. That’s why I always won.

* * *
The Weight of Truth

It’s hard to be right, to bear the weight
of the lead responsibility of truth, dragging

it through the streets, calling for help which
never comes, only seeing shutters slam along

one’s path. No one likes the taste of honesty
forced through gaping lips, no matter how

nourishing. No one wants to trade the rose
scent of the heart for the pig stench of morning.

Picture the sharp-eyed, lonely bastard who can
only shake his head at the down-tongued devil

who always speaks easy. Inertia, that poor child,
takes the blame because it’s a constant force in

easy reach. But it’s the doe-eyed child, standing
in the street, staring at the rut behind you,

wondering why you don’t just throw the weight
aside and strut about your sorry day.

Angry, Angry Discarded Poem Drafts

The Worm

The worm is choking on the effluvium
of memory. I’m surrounded by bad actors

who keep trying to deliver the same lines.
Something that’s been lost can never be

found again. Nothing can ever be lost.
I am not the enemy. I am the only enemy.

The rain keeps our heads down, but we keep
walking. Crows draw their sleek cloaks

about them and laugh at the rain. A poor plan
is no substitute for a good impromptu.

But the worm can never eat all of the apple.
The crows remember when their ancestors

were fed us. All actors are bad when they
pretend. The sun will shine, as sure as skin

cancer. Remember: value what you can. Tomorrow,
there won’t be sun or rain, there will be wind.

* * *

The World Is Ugly Because We Are Ugly

Did you consider that the carpet you picked
for your office because it was the cheapest will

be the last thing someone sees? You’ve littered
the roadside with concrete in the shapes of worn

teeth; why not make the slightest effort towards
aesthetic appeal? Laziness is not a virtue. Painters

and poets work cheap. Gold is not the only adornment.

* * *

Which is the better lie: that malice
drives the actions of the rope-holders?
Or that their stupidity blinks when faced
with mirror glare?

* * *

The New Car Smell of the Soul

Something is wrong with my soul. I don’t value
the name stitched into the label of my shirt as much

as who did the stitching, and I find it curious which
is praised more. Of more value is the blood dried

in the thread than the pedigree of who designed
the cut. I’ve heard such terrible things about people

like me. I’m ashamed to ever raise my poorly accoutered
head. Similarly, when it comes to things, I value

that which lasts rather than the new, the replaceable.
(Aren’t we all considered replaceable enough already?)

I don’t want to buy a new car in five years, and I think
those who do are fools. It’s a sickness I must have. A lack

of personal responsibility. The ugly truth of commerce
is one whose head many simply cover with a bag

because they married it in a fit of youth and ignorance,
which is not the same as love, no matter what any

book says. But I’m just old fashioned. I like to taste
the lips I’m kissing or which are kissing me, no matter

how hairy and tainted, no matter the smell of meat on
its breath. And if I don’t love it, I will step aside from it.

* * *

Neon Flashing Light

The neon flashing light gets angry when people stare. They're just phobes, it says. They're rude. Sometimes it emits a piercing siren, and when all the heads in the grocery store turn, the neon flashing light meets each of their eyes, defiant. They want to seal me in a box with syrofoam popcorn, it says. They want to homogenize me like milk. And when no one responds, it repeats it louder.

The Neon Flashing Light alternates its strobe pattern at the bank; it changes colors in yoga class so that no one even sees the teacher. In movies, it howls until everyone walks out. They don't get it, it says. I'm challenging their world view. It looks around. Everyone is gone. There's no one to hear. I was right, it says, I was right.

* * *

Discarded Poem Drafts


The problem with poetry is that it can’t make you
a sandwich. Two nights ago, I got back
to my hotel from the Mr. Bojangles, which
was the closest thing open, and found they’d
given me five pieces instead of the three
I’d ordered. I haven’t read a poem since then,
but I’m still talking about that chicken.

* * *

Holy Honeycrisp

First off, lady, I want my goddamned rib back. I never gave permission for that shit. You never considered the added strain to my back, the lessened protection; ribs are there for a reason. Get your own.

I’ve heard your songs, and I don’t understand why you can’t speak proper English: it’s ‘Pharoah’s army has drowned,” okay? Second, we’ve all had a case of the burning bush; they have ointments for that, now. Get some help; it might improve your attitude.

* * *

My Junk

Enough about the government, baby, let’s talk about my junk. My junk is beautiful in a way the government could never be, mostly because my junk isn’t bogged down in ineffective gridlock. My junk also doesn’t get a hundred votes or how ever many the House needs to pass a law. My junk gets one vote, yay or nay, and that’s all the vote my junk needs. Listen, my junk smells like snow and tastes like sunshine. If you don’t believe me, you should really consider talking to someone about your trust issues. My junk trusts you. My junk is something to believe in because if you don’t believe in my junk, what can you believe in? The government? Come on. My junk hasn’t contributed to the national debt hardly any. My junk doesn’t secretly accept bribes; my junk is honest. That’s all I’m saying.