Monday, October 25, 2010

6 questions with Jillian Bledsoe

1) So, you are married to a writer/poet. I am wondering if you both attempt to write at the same time in the same house, or if you relegate yourself to separate locations to create

JB : It’s funny that you ask about how the two of us write. It’s actually writing that brought us together in the first place, but once we hit grad school our careers took two very different paths. My process is incredibly different from Cort’s. He’s obsessive about writing – he feels like he’s somehow failed at life if he doesn’t write something every day, so he’s up early and keeps the peace with a mug of tea and his laptop first thing in the morning. I really don’t start to function until about 10 am, despite the fact that I’m in the classroom long before that, but that’s okay because I write in stolen minutes and always have, even when I was dedicating years of my life to the study of writing. I like feeling like there’s some element of danger – real or imagined – to what I’m doing while I write. I remember writing a poem while I was driving down 123 in Fairfax, VA at 4 am. That was a great poem, and one I shared with Cort years later, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe I’ve got a little Dickinson in me, secreting myself away in a corner of the house while Cort’s out checking the mail, never to know that I’ve just written a poem or two. For me, it’s less about fulfilling a basic need than succumbing to a guilty pleasure. Cort’s a creature of habit, I’m a little kinky. It works.

2) Are there any topics or themes that repeat themselves in your work?

JB: I find myself writing about loss of innocence a lot. Not in the sexual sense, or even with a feeling of sadness at its passing, but it’s there, nevertheless. This “theme” in my writing happens to be incredibly tied in with a sense of place for me, especially a place that my mother’s family used to go to every summer until I was 18, when my Grandfather finally sold the house on Newfound Lake. In fact, my whole Master’s thesis is centered around the loss of that place and the subsequent loss of my own innocence. Weirdly, the memories that I have of being in that place with my mother’s siblings and parents aren’t happy, by any stretch (we’re a bit dysfunctional to say the least), but it’s the place itself that seems to call to me still. I have great memories of my own nuclear family enjoying each other tremendously, both in and out of the water, but somehow the sale of the house in New Hampshire became enmeshed in my own mind with the slow loss of sanity that my grandmother has undergone as a result of altzheimer’s, the breast cancer my own mother battled, the degredation of my father’s spirit by years of beurocratic bullshit and my own (rather late) separation from my parents as I entered adulthood and the relationship that would turn out to be my marriage. So yeah, loss of innocence on lots of levels pops up again and again in my work, especially since I am constantly surprised at the shit the world can throw at me, even after 32 years living in it.

3) When you decided to begin writing poetry, who were your influences?

JB: First, you should know that when I started college, it was with absolutely no direction, a complete lack of any sort of plan, and it was only by the grace of the GMU admissions department that I was there at all. I applied to one school, just ‘cause, after I “graduated” from high school with a 1.7 gpa and a 790 verbal SAT score (and a 400 math.) I had just stopped playing the violin after 8 years and had turned down early admission to another university, and I was sooooooooo lost. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that my advisor (having counseled me to try behavioral psych, biology, communications and journalism at one point or another, based on what I told her I liked studying) told me I could major in English. After that? Well, you know the saying. I don’t remember making the decision to write poetry, it was just always something I turned to when I needed to create something beautiful and I couldn’t bear to pick up my violin. My dad is an unbelievably beautiful writer, and I have always loved his words, so the natural extension of that love was simply to write my own. He used to say, and still does say “How do I know what I think until I write it down?” To discover that I could study words and play with them and write them and learn to make them sing AS A MAJOR . . . heaven. The first day of my creative writing workshop, I got to hear Marvin Bell read “Dorothy” to his wife, who stood with me in the back of the campus bookstore. Love at first word, that was. From there, I discovered Pablo Neruda (that was an awesome summer!), then Howard Nemerov’s “Window Pane”, Michael Ondaatje’s “Handwriting” and Margaret Atwood’s “Power Politics”, thanks to Jennifer Atkinson, my excellent teacher and mentor, and then it was on to Adrienne Rich’s “The Fact of a Doorfram”, Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder and still more.

4) I know that your husband, the poet C L Bledsoe, writes a good deal about his youth in Arkansas. Does "place" play a big role in your work?

JB: pretty much answered this with #3

5) I have witnessed a "team reading" of the Bledsoes. A little back and forth between the two of you as you alternate reading poems. Any chance of seeing some of that on November 5, 2010 when you read at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA?

JB: I would venture to guess it won’t be too hard to get my self-deprecating husband up on stage to have fun with two of the things he loves most in this world: Writing and Me (probably in that order, too!) If there’s cheese dip involved, the man might die of bliss on the spot. We may have something special to share . . . you never can tell with the Bledsoes . . .

6) What was the first book of poetry that you bought for yourself?

JB: I think the first book of poetry I bought for myself was this awesome Penguin Pocket Anthology of Contemporary American Poets that I have since made my senior English students buy in whatever edition it is currently available. The one I bought for myself has got a light green cover and really cute, swirly writing on it, and it has every poet I’ve ever loved in it, which tells me that’s probably where I first met them. I’ve gone on so many book sprees since then, it’s hard to recall, but all my heavies are in that one volume, and it lives on my desk with my dad’s thesaurus from junior high, a copy of Lewis Thomas’ “The Medussa and the Snail” borrowed from my dad, and my favorite Shakespearean play, Titus Andronicus. If I have those books, I can count myself as one among the human race. Without them? Highly suspect

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