Review: “Anthem” by CL Bledsoe


Anthem, CL Bledsoe’s debut full length poetry collection published by Cervena Barva Press is a very American book, which you might think obvious given that both the poet and the publisher are American, but it doesn’t always follow. Anthem, however, has it roots firmly planted in the domestic soil of the States, more often than not in its very backyard.

Browse through the forty nine poems collected here and you are immediately surrounded by blue collar America: parking lots, trucks and SUVs, porn videos, video stores, interstates, famed American writers, backyards and coyotes “beyond the circle/cast by the porch light”, although this is a warmed up, increasingly urbanised world in which the poet hasn’t “heard a coyote in years”. You will also find day to day Americana juxtaposed and amplified by surreal images such as Linus, from the cartoon strip Peanuts, contemplating his own mortality in terms of his security blanket.

Death features significantly in this collection: in his own right as an all American guy in “Wednesday Afternoon”, sleeping in late, missing morning cartoons and getting it on with his buddy’s wife whilst he is “getting felt up” elsewhere; in schlock horror terms via the cinematic blood and guts clichés of “The Woods”, a Tarantino-twisted Scary Movie of a poem; in the death-seeing eyes of the Edgar Allen Poe obsessive in “Awakening” and as the unavoidable conclusion to the passing of time in poems such as “Days”, where “The hours are enemies to us all”, and “September”, where time is a dung beetle “mushing seconds into balls of minutes days”. The sense of life’s clock steadily ticking away is emphasised by the twelve poems named after each month of the year scattered throughout the collection and counting down time as we progress through the book. By “December”–

“Time is driving too slowly in front of me in a silver Kia,
Dark green stripe, spoiler, Midwestern short gray hair,

–side by side with the melancholy and bitterness evoked by poems of decay and lives wasted you will also find the gloriously and startlingly surreal crashing up against day to day American life. There are “The Moles” who literally live in the poet’s backyard and who, despite their everyday complaints about life and the poet’s human domestication, adopt the time honoured approach of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and turn up at the poet’s door “wearing pants” or “The Squirrels of Absinthe” with their complicated, unionised nut delivery problems and related sociological issues.

The poems in Anthem are contemporary, succinct and direct. Their day to day language powerfully supports both the surreal and the apparently personal, allowing them to meld successfully in a book which memorably illuminates the bitterness, the joy and the absurdity of domestic America. It’s a collection that’s well worth the read, whichever side of the Atlantic you come from.

Anthem is available from Cervena Barva Press, via The Lost Bookshelf, here:

J.S.Watts lives and writes in the flatlands of East Anglia. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in a diversity of print and online magazines in Britain and abroad. You can find her on Facebook at: