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C. L. Bledsoe

Write a bio about yourself.

I grew up on a catfish farm in eastern Arkansas in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest places in the country. During the summer, my family raised rice and soybeans as well as cattle and other things. During the winter, my father and uncles and my brother sold catfish and buffalo fish.

When I graduated from high school, my father didn't want me to farm anymore because he saw no future in it, no way to really make a living. So I worked odd jobs: fast food, I managed the produce department at a grocery store at one point, and wrote. I'd always wanted to be a writer. I knew that to be a writer you had to read, but most of the bookstores around were Christian bookstores, so I would drive maybe once a month to the nearest town with a mall and buy books.

I also knew that to be a writer you had to write. I wrote a couple thousand poems and a novel before I started college. The novel was short, maybe 150 pages. Very experimental in the vein of Beckett's trilogy. A friend of mine read it and said about it, "You know, it really picks up after page 130." This is why I went to college, because I wanted to learn how to write things people would be interested in. If I chose not to write in this style, then so be it, but I wanted to at least know how.

So I went to the University of Arkansas and got my Bachelor's in English with a focus on Creative Writing. I studied under a lot of great writers; U. of A. is a phenomenal school and I was fortunate to go there. I did a year in the MFA Playwrights program and transferred to Hollins for Creative Writing. I am in the last semester of my MFA there.

Describe the room you write in.

Very messy. I have a pretty good sized desk covered with papers and books, magazines, granola bars, glasses with a swallow of water still in them, envelopes, magazines, Jimmy Hoffa and various CDs. Soon, I will need to get a bigger desk.

What writers make you tick? Authors you read over and over.

I get in weird moods with reading and stick with one kind of thing for a long time, then switch gears completely. Lately, since I've been working on my Master's, I'm reading stuff for pleasure, outside of class. Terry Pratchett is great. Italo Calvino is probably my favorite writer because his work is so interesting. He was one of the first writers who really showed me that everything doesn't have to be confessional. Donald Harington is a brilliant, unrecognized writer. I just finished Aimee Bender's new story collection. James Baldwin was, in my opinion, the greatest writer of the latter half of the 20th century. Great stuff. I'm really all over the place.

With poetry, I owe a debt to James Tate. Again, he showed me that not only does poetry not have to be confessional, but it could be the confession of a turnip, or your dying mother. This may sound silly but it's not but that's not a bad thing, either. Cummings has been a big influence. To be honest, most of the reading I have done lately has been of books or collections I am reviewing for various journals. Daniel Donaghy has a really powerful collection called Streetfighting. Jo McDougall's poetry is slim and perfect like a ladyfinger.

One of the first things, probably the first thing I was taught as a writer was to "make it new." Anything that does that, I tend to like. If it's treading water, I usually don't care for it unless it has a hell of a backstroke. I rarely read southern fiction because a great deal of it is either set sometime before or during the 50's, or should be. And we've covered that era, I think. Of course there are exceptional examples of envelope pushing.

Where do you find inspiration for writing?

If I don't write something every day or two I get really depressed and start feeling like the only purpose to my existence is building up some sort of pension so I can retire and spend my last years watching reruns of CSI (my generation's Matlock?) and complaining. Or traveling to foreign countries to complain about things there.

Writing is a way for me to reorganize the world into something that make sense, or to show that it doesn't make sense. When I'm not writing I feel like I don't exist. Or that I'm living a kind of half-life. Also writing is fun.

I was raised by storytellers. Nothing passes the time like a story. The difference between a story and a joke is that in a story the punch line might come halfway through it, or never. It might take five minutes to get to the end, or there might be half a dozen punch lines. It doesn't matter if you've heard the "joke," it is the telling that matters. Writing is like that. Coming from this culture inspires me to tell stories. Not just funny ones. People's lives inspire me. My father used to say that you have to laugh to keep from crying. Turning tragedy into art, life into something else; it reveals the man in the monkey. Maybe that is what art is for, to cull the spark from amidst the clutter that is most of our lives, and share it.

What is the strangest thing you've done to find writing material?

Mostly strange things happen to me, or I cause them or whatever, then, later, I think "Ah, that would make a great poem or whatever." Usually I'm wrong about this.

Červená Barva Press will be publishing your book, Anthem, in 2007. Discuss your poems in this book.

I was moving beyond the confessional mode into more interesting and experimental forms and approaches. These poems were born mostly out of frustration at various limitations with writing and with life. It is frustrating to be human, to be stuck in the day to day, when your real interest lies in something beyond that. It is like being in love. The dishes must still be washed, though this is something we have no interest in at the moment.

Many of the poems are commenting on a kind of search for how to live, literally how to make it through the day and deal with all the indignities we have to face. But I am not preaching, I am looking, myself. Of course we put ourselves in these positions much of the time. But there is also humor in the book. In the end, maybe that's how we survive, by laughing.

You edit an on-line magazine called Ghoti/Fish. When did you start this magazine? What sort of writing do you look for? Talk about the types of work you publish. Who are the other people that help you publish the magazine? How long have you known them? Are they writers also?

I co-founded Ghoti with my fiancée and a couple friends. Now, there are just three of us left, myself, my fiancée Jillian Meyer, and Donna Epler. We started it at the end of 2004. We were all grad students at Hollins, all writers. Jillian is a poet and therefore edits the poetry, Donna is a fiction and nonfiction writer and edits fiction and nonfiction. I pinch hit and do the initial reads, usually, and then team up with whoever needs help. We have gone through several incarnations of editorial approach but this seems to work for us.

We publish fiction, poetry, nonfiction, book reviews, etc. What we look for exactly what we demand of our own work - something new, something different. We don't have a radically different agenda than many journals -- we just want to give a worthy venue to people writing good stuff because they love to write.

You were Editor of Exposure and an Assistant Editor for The Hollins Critic. Talk about these journals.

I was an editor for Exposure as an undergrad. We published visual art, poetry, fiction, etc.. I didn't like it, actually. I was young and dumb. There were a lot of editors and we published ourselves. And I thought that I knew everything and what I happened to be into right then was more valid than anything else.

After I left, the journal changed its name to The Aux Arc Review (pronounced "Ozark") and no longer published art or the work of its editors.

The main reason I didn't like it was that we rejected so much more than we accepted, and most of our submissions were from students, so they weren't necessarily bad, they were just not quite there. With revision, many of these pieces could've been good. And with the large amount of editors - there were something like 6 or 8 editors for writing, just as many for art, and we got together every so often and hashed everything out - so everyone got to say yay or nay. What this meant was that there was no prevailing vision to the journal, and we ended up taking a lot of mediocre stuff.

The Hollins Critic is more a critical journal than a literary one. I started as an assistant poetry editor, which means I read poetry submissions and not much else. In the Fall, I was promoted to assistant editor, which means that now I do more technical things. I am not very involved in the journal, really. I just do what I'm told. My favorite thing about working for the Critic is doing book reviews.

If I hadn't co-founded Ghoti, I would probably have a much more negative view towards publishing. Being my own boss is much more rewarding and it allows me to search out the work of writers I admire and enjoy.

What is your secret for finding a balance and still having time to write?

I don't. Ask my fiancée. I am a workaholic about writing. I always have a lot of work lined up (book reviews, articles) because it gives me a frame work of due dates to work within, and it keeps me busy. I need that hectic environment to get anything done.

I think part of this comes from my background as a farmer. It is a myth that farming is somehow an easy or pastoral life. It is very hard and there is always more work. At three o'clock in the morning the sheriff's department might call because the cows jumped a fence and are roaming through some neighborhood. You need more rain, you need less rain. You are constantly in debt and your equipment is breaking down and there is always shoveling to be done, watering, fertilizing, something. It is physically demanding and stressful. So you find a nest within all this in which to live. But the work is there, always, and it doesn't really pay enough to be worthwhile. This is really writing in a nutshell, I think.

Maria Static or Slizknit are great names for the punk band you co-founded. Are you still performing? When did the band start? Talk about your band, music and how often you play at clubs.

Maria Static was the earlier incarnation. Shizknit disbanded a couple years ago because life got in the way. We started in high school. We played around the state a bit, got some radio play on student radio, put out a couple self-produced singles. It was a lot of fun but hard work and hard to sustain. You might drive a couple hundred miles to play a gig and they take up a collection for gas money to get you home. Or maybe you get door money. I loved doing it, loved playing. I would like to have a band again in the future and probably will.

The punk aesthetic of DIY and not taking things at face value permeates my work. It was crazy to start a band in Arkansas. Who ever came out of Arkansas? (Aside from Johnny Cash) But we were too dumb to realize it couldn't be done so we did it. It's crazy to be a poet or a writer. But I didn't know I couldn't do it, so I did it.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a semi-autobiographical novel about my childhood in Arkansas. I am also working on a nonfiction collection. Most of my time is spent either reading or writing. It's not a bad life, really.

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