INTERVIEW WITH C.L. BLEDSOE
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editor: We love how “Iceland” weaves together many details and images in unexpected ways. What was your process behind combining these specific images?
C.L Bledsoe: Thank you. I really appreciate the interest.
I wanted to capture a confluence of feelings. When I wrote this poem, I was in process of some major life changes. It’s hard work to deal with trauma, and it’s not fun. The poem starts with this idea of running away, but that only reminds the narrator of a failed relationship, which is another way of avoiding this hard work. Un-exorcised grief is funny like that. It sneak-attacks you. And it can color so many aspects of a person’s life. I still find myself avoiding certain bands or TV shows because of negative connotations – or the fear of potential negative feelings. Of course, it’s unsustainable to pretend feelings don’t exist, which is a major theme of the poem. Much of the poem, honestly, works as a snapshot of my emotional state at the time, but a curated one. The Mars Rover, all alone and singing on its birthday/running out of power, the idea of Iceland’s name being a lie (which contrasts the idea of it being a safe-haven), these memories of failed relationships; these things all reflected various things I was feeling – or trying to avoid feeling. But I was also trying to examine and learn from them. I was absolutely dealing with executive function issues in a big way as I made all these changes. I felt unsettled, in a liminal state. The structure of the poem reflects that – bouncing around and settling on these images of loss. The image of stretching clothes over a pillow to remind of an ex – I borrowed/adapted that from comedian Kyle Kinane (who is amazing, btw). I love stand-up comedy. By the end, I’ve arrived at this representation of challenge and growth, though it’s ambiguous what sort of growth I’m really talking about, because epiphanies don’t really stick; it’s more about examining behaviors.
RR: We often encounter the second person in poems, but it can be a tricky perspective as it implicates the reader in what’s happening on the page. Can you tell us how you approached writing to the you, and how doing so shaped or changed the speaker’s voice?
CB: I thought of this voice as something like a manically depressed stranger who sits next to you on a bus, or in public somewhere, and monologues their problems to you. That is, of course, me. I think second person can come off as either alienating, as you say, or conversational. I tried to straddle that line. It’s basically an informal “I” because the reader knows the narrator (or author) is using it that way. But there’s also something desperate about it — I’m trying to force this connection (with the reader, with the various aspects of life described in the poem) in the same way I tried to force this relationship to work. I’m asking the reader to accept this obvious conceit. And it does work, but only briefly. I don’t know that I could keep it up for a longer piece, which is also representative of the relationship, and my life.
RR: We love the voice and language in “Iceland”—full of surprises, even as the poem grapples with the familiar topic of heartbreak and loss. What advice would you give to aspiring writers seeking to create pieces about loss and longing, but are afraid of sounding cliche and melodramatic?
CB: Thank you, again.
It’s tricky and something that I feel like I’m still learning. First, you have to deal with the topic honestly. When people talk about heartbreak, they often hide behind blame – of the other person or themselves – rather than examining the situation honestly. You’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable. That can give a poem a certain amount of verve and authenticity. At the same time, you have to realize that what you’re creating should be a crafted thing. No one wants to read someone’s therapy. That vulnerability has to be made into art, into something accessible — whatever that means. If you’re dealing with something depressing or even traumatic, this can be challenging because it means reliving and editing the thing – maybe shifting it in directions you might not like or that might not reflect favorably on you, like being a heartbroken schlub.
RR: We’re interested in your blog, “How To Even…,” which feels very witty and comical, a contrast to the general tone of “Iceland”. What other moods and genres are you drawn to in your writing, and do you have a favorite?
CB: I co-write the HTE blog with my friend, poet Michael Gushue. It’s essentially a parody self-help/how-to guide. It’s the most fun project I’ve ever worked on, because we’re basically just trying to make each other laugh. I’ve written horror, supernatural YA, middle grade, and all sorts of stuff. I’m probably weakest at nonfiction, though my MFA thesis was nonfiction. A lot of that dealt with childhood trauma, which wasn’t a lot of fun to write about. Honestly, a lot of my writing is dark and moody, and that’s really where I’m most comfortable. There’s often a surreal element to my writing, which I am also very comfortable with. A story about a teenage boy whose mother is a mouth, an ear, and a few ribs due to a degenerative disease, for example, feels a lot more autobiographical to me than an essay about my parents’ marriage.
I would say that the writing I’m most drawn to is writing that is subversive. To clarify: there are a lot of things – whole genres — calling themselves subversive, but they often just reinforce stereotypes and clichés, presenting things like violence towards women or colonial sensibilities as somehow being a new idea. We have to consider what is being subverted. Humor is subversive, when it punches up. Surreal writing. I think that our lives are so regimented and focused towards productivity that any kind of real joy is probably subversive. I guess I’m saying I like joie de vivre in my writing, which maybe sounds odd after all this talk of depressing things. I’m sure I’m sorry.
RR: As a writer who has published novels, short stories, and blog posts among other things, in what ways does poetry connect with you that is different from other genres?
CB: Poetry is exciting to me in ways that novels aren’t, and vice versa. This is probably due to my own limitations. When I write a novel, I navigate within certain frameworks of plot or what have you. Poetry, for me, is much more freeing. A novel, for me, is more of an intellectual thing, whereas poetry is more emotional — I don’t just mean confessional poetry; I mean the havoc of creation. To put it another way, writing a poem is like playing a 2 minute punk song, whereas writing a novel is like a prog rock album. Operation Ivy vs. Jethro Tull. (I’m a fan of both.) Short stories can definitely have that energy, for me. But poetry is the first thing I ever tried to write. It’s my home. I feel like I’m still a tourist in prose land (though I have a summer home, there).
C.L. Bledsoe’s work in Issue 7.1: