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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 85, Summer 2000

In the Footsteps of Ashbless

Information from a 1999 copyrighted interview by John Berlyne.
Authors Tim Powers and James Blaylock met as students at California State University at Fullerton in the 1970s. At that time the school paper was publishing lots of student poetry — in Powers’s words, “all free-verse, unpunctuated, unrhymed hippie drivel. Very pretentious though.” So Powers and Blaylock decided to write a poem even more pretentious and portentious that would be total nonsense. They took turns writing the lines, and the one who arrived at the bottom of the page wound up the poem.

They needed a last name for their poet. Powers suggested a two-word name; one chose ash, and the other chose bless. For a first name they glanced at their friend William who was sitting nearby, and William Ashbless was born. When the editor of the school paper received William Ashbless’s poem, he called the phone number they gave, and James Blaylock answered.

“Hello. Is this William Ashbless?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“Golly, we love your poetry. Can we know some biographical details about you?”
“Umm… I don’t get out much.”

Powers and Blaylock belonged to a small, informal writers’ group that a friendly teacher led, and they started taking poems in by William
Ashbless. Other members wanted Ashbless to join the group, but they were informed that he couldn’t come because he was hideously deformed and terribly crippled. Blaylock and Powers would read the poems aloud, but couldn’t read more than about four lines without laughing hard, which made the group think they were very insensitive to laugh at the painstaking work of a tortured cripple. Some listeners claimed to find layers of meaning and deep significance in Ashbless’s poems.

Powers named a poet Ashbless in his book The Anubis Gates. While it was still in production, Blaylock submitted his book The Digging Leviathan, in which Ashbless was a character. The editor wanted to know what was going on; and when they explained, she said to go ahead but to be more consistent. Since then, when Powers and Blaylock put poets into their fantasy novels they both name them William Ashbless.

Powers says, “And so ever since then, in fact in all my books I had been referring to Ashbless and now I almost have the idea that it would be bad luck for me to leave him out. In the last few books I haven’t used the name Ashbless, I’ve used Ceniza-Bendiga, which of course is Spanish for “Ash-Bless”. But I kind of think maybe I’ll move to German or something next.”

Powers occasionally searches for William Ashbless on the Internet web and has discovered him in a serious article about how to get a PhD. The author said, “Let’s say for example you’re doing your thesis on the works of William Ashbless…” Powers and Blaylock once wrote The William Ashbless Memorial Cookbook (recipes from his letters to famous authors such as Proust) and they still intend to get it published.