Thursday, January 30, 2014

Praise for Riceland

In Riceland, Bledsoe is unswerving in his depiction of the beauty, despair, and bludgeoning cruelty of life on an Arkansas farm. Be prepared—stark and startlingly revealing, these poems will sear your soul.
--Jo McDougall, author of Dirt, Satisfied With Havoc, and Daddy’s Money

C. L Bledsoe’s Riceland is full of natural wonder. Bledsoe pays attention and documents daily life with skill and cunning and we are lucky to have such a poet in our midst. At times he reminds me of Jim Harrison, in his ruthless eye for man’s connection to nature and his search for balance, in an increasingly severe world. Bledsoe writes equally well about farming, about the physical world, about place, and about family. Riceland is a book to contemplate, to help see through a true poet’s eyes and to read again for its hard-won grace and gentle wisdom.
--Corey Mesler, author of Some Identity Problems and The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores

“I know how to grow things, and I know how to kill them," writes C. L. Bledsoe in Riceland, a book set in the rice fields and dirt roads of rural Arkansas at the end of the twentieth century. Bledsoe captures the darkness, violence, and longing of a young man growing up at a time, when so many family farms, like his father's, are going under. The death of the family farm is the larger theme, but the poems about his mother--and his
inability, as a child, to understand the Huntington's disease that cripples and eventually destroys her--are the heartbreaking heart of the book. In a world that makes no sense, he approaches adulthood "wishing time would stop, speed up, something." Although he tells us, after a dream of rabbit hunting on the lost farm, that "nothing could console me," there is a consolation in the dark beauty of these poems.
--Ed Madden, author of Signals and Prodigal Variations

In Riceland, CL Bledsoe has written about his childhood in rural Arkansas, which is something I'm an expert on, having lived one myself. Growing up in places like that is all about animals, alive and killed; big, rough fathers you love and fear; mothers and sisters you can't understand. CL captures it all beautifully in this skillfully written arc of poems, filled with images of memories of a childhood which, like most childhoods, is fully tied to place. This place is Riceland.
--Dale Wisely, general editor, and

Few books have the kind of thematic integrity one finds in Riceland. Riceland reminds me of how I felt toward Sherwood Anderson’s book, Winesburg, Ohio…Bledsoe presents the experience of what it was like to grow up in the redneck south in the Mississippi River Delta in one of the poorest areas of the country…This is what Bledsoe does so well, he tells us unforgettably what it was like to live there – there in Eastern Arkansas where a father raised soybeans, rice, cattle and catfish to make a hard-earned living. Bledsoe offers scraps of life with many lines that will be remembered. The fact that Bledsoe grew up out of this experience to become the writer he has become only makes the story and the struggle more remarkable. Riceland is a singular book by an exceptional poet...
--Peter Krok, editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal, author of Looking For an Eye.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thoughtful Review of Riceland in Pank

I'm copying the review below with the link following:

[REVIEW] Riceland by CL Bledsoe
Posted on January 21, 2014 by Sheila Squillante

125 pp/ $16
Unbound Content

Review by Brian Fanelli

Since the financial crash of 2008 and the recession that followed, much attention has been given to industrial cities like Scranton and Youngstown, places whose economic problems are exacerbated in hard times. In CL Bledsoe’s latest collection of poems, Riceland, the author draws attention to another part of America that extends beyond the rust belt—the American farmland, in particular the Arkansas farm where the poet was raised. Bledsoe’s latest effort is an odyssey through childhood and adolescence, and it is a fine study of working-class themes, family dynamics, and the loss of small, family-run farms.

We are introduced to the father of the family in the opening poem “Roaches,” when the speaker confesses that Dad “worked long hours/and stayed drunk,” while the son too knew the pains of farm labor because he “came in from the rice fields/too sweaty to sleep but too tired not to.” Among the conflicts in the house, including the father’s bouts with alcoholism and the mother’s disease, the son tries to find beauty, and in the case of the opening poem, he listens to nature, more specifically to roaches singing. The poem ends with the image of him crawling into bed, pressing his face against the wall, listening for the roach songs. This desire for beauty, for an escape from daily struggles, is a theme throughout much of the book, and Bledsoe lays it out well, as early as the opening pages.

There is also a mixing of life and death that is a key part of the farm life, and throughout much of the book, the son tries to make sense of it, sometimes reacting against it, not wanting to be the hunter, fish-skinner, and butcher that his father is. In “Feeding the Fish,” the son recounts images of watching his father raise and feed the fish, his dad’s back strong “like the arc/of a sledgehammer,” as he dribbled food into the water “like sand pouring/through his rusted hands,” while the fish trailed “like children/until winter/when they lay fat/and we dragged our nets.” It is clear immediately that the son realizes the power his father has over the farm animals, how he has the ability to give and take life, and that death is necessary to keep the farm running.

Other poems recount the son trying to fulfill his father’s notions of manhood. In “The Old Ways,” for instance, the son recalls coming home from school and seeing a dead calf hanging. While the father instructs the son how to properly cut meat, all the son can do is listen, while trying to be as strong as his brother and father. The son wants acceptance, even though it’s clear that he is far more sensitive to life and death:

When we went inside—
My father shining like a knife blade—
I went into the bathroom, locked the door
And puked it all out.

The father does not come across as one-dimensional, however. At times, the father shows a real tenderness for his son, and he resembles the dad in Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays,” or the father in much of Theodore Roethke’s work: a man who is hardworking but shows his care and love, though not verbally.

In the poem “First Seizure,” for instance, after the son drinks so much that he is rushed to the hospital, the reader witnesses a change in the father. The son recounts in the second stanza:

My father, too worried to fight, remained silent,
even though he’d been the one to find me
in the dark quiet of night, shuddering, my mouth
filling with vomit. Still half-drunk from the night
before, he’d grabbed a towel, saved me
from choking in my sleep and woken
my brother to drive me to the hospital, this man
who didn’t even believe in using aspirin.

The poem concludes with the lines, “My father, who I’d never/seen ask for help with anything, ran ahead/to find a doctor, a nurse, anyone.”

In another poem, “Farmer’s Tan,” the reader encounters what years of hard farm work does to a man, how it wears the body down, how even the strongest person, such as the father, succumbs to tired muscles and sagging skin. The son describes his father’s skin as “fragile,” “falling down to his black toenails, ruined by rice field water,” before admitting in the final lines, “This man, this stone pillar who could break me/as easily as glass in a child’s hands/has been worn down by water over the years.” These other aspects of the father, specifically the poems that show glimpses of his tenderness, or how labor wore him done, are a nice change from the collection’s earlier depictions of the man as non-emotive, concerned only with farm work.

Much of the book centers around the son and father, but the mother and brother are also essential to the family. Some of the most interesting poems also focus on the small town, such as “The Boys” and “James Earl Ray,” which recall young white boys mocking Martin Luther King Jr. or hanging confederate flags from pick-up trucks and stalking and fighting black kids. These poems are some of the most startling in the book, and I would have enjoyed more of them.

Collectively, the poems in Riceland build a fine arc, a strong coming-of-age story, and Bledsoe’s techniques as a fiction writer shine through in his poetry, especially the use of voice and character. The narrative form suits this collection because, like a short story collection or novel, the reader is able to witnesses the characters change and grow, especially the young son, who ultimately reaches a deeper appreciation for his family and the farm.


Brian Fanelli’s poetry has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and the Working Class Studies Association’s Tillie Olsen Creative Writing Award. His work has been published by the Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Portland Review, SLAB, Red Rock Review, and other publications. He is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) and the full-length collection All That Remains (Unbound Content). He teaches English full-time at Lackawanna College.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Couple More Acceptances

My writing goals are right on track. I've written a handful of screenplays, one of which I'm about to start sending out to contests. I believe I've placed my next poetry collection. I also just placed another novel manuscript. Here's where we are:

Leap Year
Driving Around, Looking in Other People's Windows (forthcoming)

*Tulsa manuscript (almost complete)

Short Stories:
Naming the Animals

*The Boogeyman Diaries and Other Stories (almost complete)

Sunlight (re-released 2014)
The Necro-Files: $7.50/hr + Curses )re-released 2014)
The Necro-Files: Bloody Sexy (forthcoming)
Last Stand in Zombietown
The Saviors (forthcoming)
Man of Clay (forthcoming
Sorting the Dead (forthcoming)

*The History of the Standard Oil Company On the Moon (under consideration)
*The Necro-Files: Untitled (in progress)
*Sheriff Comes To Zombietown (in progress)
*Jubal's Daughter (in progress)
*Arkansas/Rice project (in progress)

-CL Bledsoe

Friday, January 17, 2014

Poems I don't Like Anymore


If I fall, who will catch me other
than the ground? Asphalt loves as much
as any absent father, mother, brother.

Is the chemical breath any worse than
the fermented plant one? Silence
is silence. A bruise is a bruise. At least

asphalt doesn’t lie about its concern.

* * *

Dear Politician,

I work sixty hours in a light week,
pick up odd jobs whenever I can; my

wife does the same. Our clothes
are shredding at the cuffs and crotch

but that’s money we can’t afford
to spend. So we do the best we can

with scissors and thread. We don’t eat
out; we buy generic, even for the baby.

We sleep six hours on a good night
because there’s always more work to do.

My computer is a work computer. My phone
is the cheapest I could find. Vacations mean

go to the park for a couple hours. Don’t tell me

about the working class: you don’t
even know what those words mean.

* * *



Fat softens the fists,
keeps hungry eyes from looking
at what one won’t share

because someone some
where once said it wasn’t worth
the effort to keep


Someday someone will
covet that which I hold most
sacred and I’m not

allowed to shoot them.
Listen: no one knows to whom
tomorrow belongs.

* * *


I remember enough of what it is to be alive not
to want to sleep next to the sharp chemical

smell of plastic. The grease lines under
my fingers.The crinkle in answer to my murmured

sighs. It holds a shape, they say, which is a matter
of taste for some, I suppose. But I’d be forever

afraid of popping one like a balloon, or else feeling
the string slip through my fingers as it drifted

up and away. That, and the poison in your face
tell everyone who can see that you are made

for being on your knees. Mouth full, face
incapable of showing sorrow or joy.

-CL Bledsoe

Writing Update

Over the winter, I've written several screenplays which was fun. This week, I started a new Necro-Files novel, the third one. The second is under contract and forthcoming this year. Once I finish this one, I hope to finish a couple more novels before the spring, to meet my writing goals.

I've also been getting reading gigs. I've got five or six lined up by spring, several of them for festivals. I've also been sending work out to print mags, which is something I haven't done much, lately.

I'm going to close this out with a couple poems I've decided aren't worth sending out.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Riceland Rejects

Here are some poems that didn't make the cut to be included in my new book Riceland. Check out the real book:

Wrestling (or Billy Collins Couldn't Survive a Texas Cage Match)

Lanny Boffo was the greatest poet I never met.
It was a Tuesday night. Eric and I were eight
at the Mid-South Coliseum, Eric’s dad drove us
but we lost him in the crowd. It was like having sex
with Lady Jane from G. I. Joe, it was like our first
cigarette, it was Christmas. We were ringside, and out
he came. The Poet Laureate of Mid South Wrestling.
He had them written on Frisbees, and he’d read one
then throw it out in the crowd. They rhymed and everything.
We wanted one of those Frisbees more than Maximus Prime.

Later, Eric had to go to the bathroom, and on the way out,
he says Bill “Superstar” Dundee shook his hand.

* * *

My father spent his days trudging a rice field,
wading through lukewarm water, a shovel
on his back, rolled up with a bundle of

orange tarps to regulate the flow of water,
when the ends were buried properly in mud, otherwise,
the water would rip them right out. As was he, buried good,

with the lukewarm taste of beer in his throat,
and water at his ankles,
looking for breaks in the levees, shoveling mud
into rushing water, which is all any of us can do within ourselves,

build a makeshift wall and hope it holds, shovel
whatever there is into the breach, but
what usually happens is it just ends up pushed right back at us

by water too fast to tame. This man was stronger
than water, which wears mountains into sands,
stronger than heat, which turns sand to glass, stronger
than all things but time.

* * *
Family Come to Visit

They were early. I was lying still
in bed, smelling, I’m sure, of something liquid
other than sleep. And oh, the pounding on my door,
and the pounding in my head.
I must smile and be pleasant,
it’s family come to visit.

A mouth can do so much-
narrow the eyes in a smile and move
attention from red eyes to red lips.

I was quick to hug and quicker to pull away;
either my sister has been sitting in silage or I need a shower.

But they drove for five hours
to share the noise of a five year old boy
I must not slap.
And they navigated the mountain roads and cold
to drag the subtle gray warmth of a soil
I have not had spread about my floor
in far too many days.

* * *
Kentucky Tavern

“He’s been carrying the same glass
around for days. It’s red and it smells strong,”
was all my brother knew.
Then I talked to Dad on the phone,
and he talked back.

When I got there, he set the glass to the side
and pretended to ignore it, but his hand played with it
like change in a pocket. It had been ten years
of grandkids greeted with a smile
full of nothing but teeth.
And he was still smiling;
he’d traded those teeth white as racial slurs for the real things.
My brother sat on the couch nodding with a practiced ease
while Dad spewed opinions about women, minorities, the weather.

I remembered him telling me how he’d lain on the couch for two days
sweating it out, his belt the only thing
that kept him from shitting his pants.
I remembered the loathing he’d preached of drinkers,
and the fear, every Christmas he’d been sober,
that stood him in the corner and kept him clumsy
with all but the youngest of the grandkids.
* * *
Maybe there was something

of an animal in her eyes, maybe I
was wanting to be the hunter, wanting to feel the still moving
life on my hands (this is one way to get your fingers
around warmth, to hold its purest self: blood).
Maybe it was nourishment I saw in her calm smile
like a doe leaning ever so perfectly its neck down
to drink, and I had to shoot, like when I was ten
with my father hovering over my shoulder,
I had to shoot.
* * *
Your Cousin is Lying

I never went cow-tipping, though once, Steven
wasn't looking and backed into a sleeping one,
which got up, moved away, and sat back down—
because cows sleep bellies to the ground,
that's horses you're thinking of that sleep standing.

I never made moonshine, though I admit,
my father did, but that was at least a decade
before I was born. We smoked meth. Or pot
or drank stuff we filched from our parents' liquor
cabinets or coolers. We made things from eye drops
and allergy meds. We huffed glue. We sucked
aerosol cans. Why grow it, process it, hide
it when you can buy it? We're not farmers
anymore. We work at Wal Mart. We get a discount.

I never lynched anybody, but we shot each other
same as you do over the color of our
clothes and the contents of our
wallets. I dated black girls—well, I would've
if they'd have had me.

I'm just as educated as you: I've seen the same TV shows, sat
through the same droning lectures
based on the Prussian model.
If you were from here. you'd know;
it's just like there. Only not the same.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Books Read 2014 January Update

I've set myself a goal to read two hundred books this year. I always read more than a hundred, and even though two hundred seems a bit hard, I thought why the hell not. And yes I'm counting chapbooks, full-length books, graphic novels, etc. So here's the first installment:

1. A Pure River, a poetry chapbook by John Sibley Williams. I've been a fan of Williams since my days publishing Ghoti Magazine. I'm reviewing this for a journal.
2. Ear to the Wall, a poetry chapbook by Carrie Causey. I'm reviewing this one, also, but man was I impressed by Causey's language and subject matter. Great stuff.
3. Split Personality, a poetry chapbook by Karla Huston and Cathryn Coffell. Another one I'm reviewing.

So that's the first three. I'm reading a bunch of nonfiction this year, and I have a huge backlog of review books. So I might actually make two hundred.

4. House Made of Dawn, M. Scott Momaday. I read this to teach. Nice change of pace. Tough for the kids to follow.
5. Bound by Blue, stories by Meg Tuite. I reviewed this for Prick of the Spindle.
6. Tell God I Don't Exist, stories by Timmy Reed. I also reviewed this for Prick of the Spindle.

7. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among us, by Dr. Robert Hare. I wanted to get some insight on my boss.
8. Something Like Life, poems by Barbara Novack. I'm reviewing this.