Featured Writer (Issue 18)

Interview with CL Bledsoe

Editor’s Pick

Ariana: What is the first book/poem/story that made you cry?

CL: I don’t remember the first story that made me cry, but I remember an early one: “Flowers for Algernon,” by Daniel Keyes. I feel like this is a common experience, since a lot of kids read it in school. It’s a story about an experimental treatment that makes a differently abled man and a mouse super-intelligent, but then it wears off, and the story charts their deterioration. It hit me hard because, growing up, my mother had Huntington’s Disease, which is degenerative and attacks the nervous system and the brain. So the deterioration of the characters in the story mirrored what she was going through. This was something I hadn’t processed or talked about with anyone, so seeing it sort of represented in a story really taught me something about the power of stories to make us feel less alone. But it also embarrassed me, because I was ashamed of my situation. So it was a complicated reaction for me.


Ariana: What is your writing Kryptonite?

CL: Mental illness. I’m bipolar 2, and when I’m in a depressive state, I don’t do a lot of writing. Of course, when I’m manic, I don’t either. There’s a sweet spot in there somewhere where I can get things done. Also, life gets in the way. I was sick for about a year during the first part of the pandemic, which made it impossible to write. Relationship worries. Money worries. All of this can get in the way. I function best when I’m comfortable in my life, but how often does that happen?


Ariana: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

CL: I had some pretty negative experiences with the power of language, early on, but I remember one time, in high school. I had written a poem called “This Is How I Feel,” or something equally cringe-worthy. It was basically a bunch of scenes that represented feelings like loss and despair. My English teacher was also my aunt. I turned it in to her for extra credit, and she made me stay after class and convince her that this was NOT actually how I felt, because she was worried about me. It made me realize that I could make someone feel what I wanted through my writing.


Ariana: What’s your favorite under-appreciated poem?

CL: I’m a big fan of John S. Hall, who was the singer for King Missile, and a poet. A lot of his poems are funny or surreal, like “Take Stuff from Work,” or “The Cheesecake Truck,” which is about a guy getting a job delivering cheesecakes, and he just eats them all. He influenced me a lot because he showed me that a poem could be about anything–it could be funny or goofy. Another poet who doesn’t get a lot of recognition is Steven Jesse Bernstein, who came up during the Grunge scene in Seattle. His poetry is very, very dark. “No No Man,” which is in two parts, especially, is a favorite, but again, it’s very intense and dark, about heroin addiction.


Ariana: Have you ever Googled yourself? What did you find?

CL: I’ve Googled myself many times for various reasons. What I find is a bunch of writing, an Amazon author page, a Wikipedia page, etc. I’ve found my books being sold in unexpected places, like Target and Walmart. I’ve also found sites where people can illegally download my books. I’ve found reviews I wasn’t aware of. Nothing super shocking, though.


Ariana: What are your favorite literary journals?

CL: I have a soft spot for places that publish me lol Bourgeon, along with Beltway, publishes people from northern Virginia, where I live. Maryland Literary Review, also, is a favorite. JMWW is great. I have a soft spot for The Dead Mule, though, full disclosure, I’ve worked for them for a while. Thrush is great. Stirring is great. One Art is a favorite. Right Hand Pointing. Queen Mob’s Teahouse. And, of course, scissors & spackle. There are so many.


Ariana: If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

CL: Go to therapy. Get involved with other writers and get feedback. Have more confidence in my own work. I read constantly, which helped. I needed more guidance, but honestly, I learned most of what I know just by doing it, by writing and trying new things and seeing what worked and didn’t work.


Ariana: If “Spoons” or “The Middle Poems” were an emoticon, what would they be?

CL: I think both poems are about loss but also hope, which I think are bicameral feelings. I think you can’t have hope without loss, and I think loss eventually gives way to hope. So maybe a laugh/cry reaction?


Ariana: If you had to choose a favorite line from either “Spoons” or “The Middle Poems” to create a meme, what would you choose and what would the meme look like?

CL: They’re pretty dark poems, and I think memes tend to be funny. The line “I got so lonely, my olive oil wasn’t virgin anymore.” Could be a meme, because it’s silly and absurd, with maybe a picture of a guy waking up dishevelled in bed with a bottle of olive oil.


Ariana: If your poetry were an entrée on a Chinese menu, what would it be and why?

CL: I would like to say crab rangoons because everybody likes crab rangoons.