The Works of William Ashbless
Of course, if you've taken the time to burrow this deeply into this web site, you'll know that Ashbless is nothing more than a fun, fictional phantasm.
Actually there is more to it than that. To Powers and Blaylock readers Ashbless is more than a hoax, or a literary urban myth – more than an institution even. Ashbless is a secret we feel we have been let in on and a joke seldom enjoyed more than when one reads one of those so-called "introductions" by Ashbless in which he sets about demolishing the reputations of his creators, often going so far as to accuse them of, suspect, immoral or even criminal behaviour. His various scathing appraisals of the writers' work, his denials of association, his physical assaults on innocent victims, all have become the stuff of legend.
Other writers seem to have picked up on the spirit of Ashbless. He is mentioned in The Pit, a 1993 Dr Who novel by Neil Penswick, and in Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull. In both of these novels, a volume by William Ashbless is mentioned in the narrative.
The origins of Ashbless date back to when Powers and Blaylock were attending Cal State Fullerton in the early 1970's. Powers relates the story in detail elsewhere on this site – here's a link to the relevant section of this site's Exclusive Author Interview.
"… the school paper would print poetry written by the students and it was still close enough to 1968 that the poems were all free-verse, unpunctuated, unrhymed hippie drivel. Very pretentious though… So Blaylock and I decided we could write stuff that would be way more pretentious and portentous but totally nonsense. And so we started and I would write a line and pass it to Blaylock. He'd write a line below mine and we'd pass it back and forth 'til we had got to the end of the page and the person who saw his line would be the last would make sure to tie it up. And then we cooked up a name for him. I said the last name should be one of those two syllable, two word things… Mitford, you know. And so one of us came up with "Ash", the other came with "Bless" and our friend William was sitting right there, so we took his first name."
Here's an example of one of those early Ashbless poems, written by Powers and Blaylock in the manner described above. In this instance Powers takes the odd lines and Blaylock the even. Of this particular poem Powers says, "God knows when we wrote it — '73 -'75, I suppose. Very typical Ashbless — a few nice lines, but not a lot of overall coherence!".
The plain text of this work can be found here. My grateful thanks to John Bierer for the original image.
In the Exclusive Author Interview elsewhere on this site, Powers describes how he and Blaylock both used Ashbless as a character in their respective novels The Anubis Gates and The Digging Leviathan. Ace Books editor Beth Meacham, who happened to be working on both novels simultaneously, noticed this striking coincidence and at her suggestion the two authors worked to define the poet's character further. There is a wonderful section early in Blaylock's The Digging Leviathan in which he describes what occurred when Ashbless attended a lecture given by one Brendan Doyle "…that idiot from the university [who] lectured us on fish imagery in Romantic literature… Ashbless went for him that night, though. Blew his top. Told him he'd tweak his nose, do you remember? Just because of some historical discrepancy. Ashbless is a peculiar one."
Indeed you'll find quotes by or references to Ashbless littering the works of both authors. Powers has got to the point where "…it would be bad luck to leave him out!" A listing of Ashbless references in the works of both Powers and Blaylock can be found on Chris Branch's Ashbless Page, although it is in need of some revision.