Review of My Poetry Collection, Anthem

Anthem
C.L. Bledsoe
CÈervená Barva Press
ISBN Number: 9780615257969

Reviewer: Janelle Adsit

Jaded, forthright, and grisly, C.L. Bledsoe’s debut collection transforms the sublime into the mundane. The 49 in-the-moment poems in this collection have the capacity to consider God (“An eyelash in the eye of god obscuring/ whole countries”) even as they plead, “Sell me a little something to make me whole Do you have/ a student discount on that.” In the world of the book, something as grand as a soul is consumed with picking lint.

Bledsoe’s ruminations are archived chronologically, each month marked with a poem of its own. Bledsoe would have it that even time can be made tangible — in the touchable pages of this book, in hours that can be juggled. Such is the book’s brand of surrealism: concepts become objects. Personal truths can be strung together and stored. In the poem “Something Dies in Your Eyes,” emotions that grow and die — love, for instance — can be saved up like lint.

Morphing into different forms, time is (despite the assertion that “ultimately, time is not to be thought of”) a central preoccupation of the book. Hours are described as “little red balls — / perfect, static, and ever-rotating.” In “September,” time is “a shit cricket a dung beetle,” and it is “mushing seconds into balls of minutes days.” Time drives a Kia too slowly. In “May,” time can be pocketed.

Take time
as long as no one sees you
slip it into your pocket.
Save it for later when you can savor it,
if it hasn’t spoiled in the heat.

It seems that all things — eternal concepts and parts of the human body — are things that can be put into other things. “This is what things are for,” Bledsoe assures. “Things. Shove them in bags. Our ears in bags. Tongues in bags so we speak muffled clichés, licking plastic with no lips to complain of the taste.” This Russian-doll impulse asks readers to reconsider scale and the hierarchies that would hold love as more important than lint.

Concurrent with the book’s surrealism are recognizably American customs and motifs. The poems share the same surroundings, a world crammed with SUVs, videos, cigarettes, porn, beer, fast food from Wendy’s, and westerns on TV. But Bledsoe makes these common props seem otherworldly; he denaturalizes American traditions:

Once, you’d have scooped those eyes right out,
pressed them in a bible or something clever,
like a Lemony Snicket book, taken a grainy
black and white photo, and Xeroxed it in a fanzine.

Close your eyes; seal them off like furniture in the sitting room.
When company comes, you can peel the plastic off
and show everyone how you’ve kept them…

Bledsoe draws on pop culture. Anthem depicts a world of media prominence, with mentions of Bill O’Reilly, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Arsenio Hall, and Jerry Clower. The characters of Growing Pains can reach through the screen to comfort and betray.

Simple observations placed as poems become profundities. The book is self-conscious of this tendency: “Mouths taste like what they consume. Upon examination// this seems profound.” Poems encourage examination, and Bledsoe capitalizes on that fact, in the minimalist poem “April,” for instance:

A room with a sock. Stained
yellow pillow in the closet.
Smell of life. Skin
piled on shelves. Space
to fill. Afternoon light. Hollow
as a tooth eaten by sugar.

A book is missing. I don’t recall
its title. Wash the blankets.
Put them away. Find shoes
good for walking in, not just
to stand.

As “April” evinces, the book is often subtle. Then it swings to the shocking. “The Woods,” for example, reads like a gross-out comedy:

Then for good measure, I slapped her hard, on the behind, which

was covered with blood. It got on my hand, but I didn’t notice
until I was halfway through a bag of Cheetos and realized that my
fingers were pink, instead of the usual

orange. Blood has a way of doing that.

This book embraces a variety of approaches to poetry and speaks in a range of voices. Linus from the Peanuts cartoon series, for one, contemplates his mortality in terms of his famous blanket.

Some of the assorted flavors of Anthem are less appealing than others. The long prose poem “What to Do in Case of Locked Door” stands out as a low point in the book. It attempts humor, but drags on with instructions such as, “Wait. This can often be the hardest part of all. Please refrain from tapping your foot impatiently as you are an emissary in all matters and must present an aura of taste.” At times, the book loses thrust in its loquaciousness. Other poems snap the reader awake.

Bledsoe concludes his collection with a poem that is more hackneyed than the rest. The book’s final and titular poem instructs how to “loosen hate,” how to “find a place or make it in yourself they’ll never touch,” how to protect oneself…

because life
is so much longer than anyone
told us
days so short
and they’ll kill you with traffic
before the fumes even have a chance

The message and rhetoric of this piece feel most familiar, reminiscent of a faceless world-weary soliloquy too-often heard. But perhaps it is an attempt to be raw and unedited that accounts for this final poem. “I just want to say something we all understand,” Bledsoe writes. The statement is an answer for the self-conscious comparison, “Waves flow across the dark waters of this lake like jiggling breasts,” but perhaps it also — this desire to be familiar — overarches the work.

At his best, Bledsoe is not only recognizable, he’s revelatory. Bledsoe demonstrates an ability to name what has been understood only subliminally. He draws out what is embedded in American culture. He makes the overlooked seem vast. He adds depth and expansiveness to a world that can seem one-dimensional.

Stuff My Stupid Heart Likes by CL Bledsoe (co-author of https://medium.com/@howtoeven and The Wild Word: https://medium.com/search?q=not%20another%20tv%20dad)

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