Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Resurrection light

This oil by Bramantino (1455-1536) portrays
an unearthly Jesus who has passed through agony
and the realm of death. He is the man who bears
the marks of suffering on body and in face,
and is also the Christ of the Trinity. Silvery,
transfigured shroud, moon-luminous skin,
and sorrowful eyes--the eyes have seen all.
Below the right hand is the abyss of death.
Behind, a  ship's mast reminds the viewer
of Golgotha's cross and also of imminent departure.
In the sky is a moon, which I fancy
looks rather like the eucharistic host,
a reminder that the resurrection of Christ
remains in the mortal world after the Ascension.
Via Wikipedia, public domain.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Angelic brother"

A bit of work from the wondrous hand
of Fra Angelico (1395-1455) for Good Friday.
Detail from a crucifixion including both fall
and redemption, the blood of Christ
beginning to stream onto the skull of Adam.
Via Wikipedia, public domain.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

RT's questions about poetry

Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Rear cover image for my collection
 The Foliate Head. UK: Stanza.
RT is a longtime teacher of literature and drama who has now fallen under the axe that chops away college adjuncts who will not fulfill unreasonable demands. He asked me three questions yesterday. (Publisher Beth Adams replied to them in comments of the prior post.) I've answered them here--rather hastily, I fear, but I hope with good sense. I won't be posting again until Easter Monday. Please feel free to add your own arguments, whimsy, and opinions in the comments.

Are there now more poets than readers?

Perhaps. Considering the efforts of Modernism to eradicate readers, I’m always surprised to find people who like poetry. In my experience, non-poets tend to like older poetry, and certainly it’s easier to find good poems in the past, where the weeds have been weeded, and the slight have been slighted.

Earlier on this blog I mentioned a conversation I had with an editor at a house that dropped its line of poetry because they had not broken the 300-mark on copies in recent years. That gives you some idea. I’ve also talked to editors with a poetry book or two that hadn’t broken the 50-mark. So it’s not an easy business, if you can indeed call it a business, this selling of poetry books. “Gift economy” was invented for such work.

By the way, I think a stranger problem is that there are many people writing poetry who are not great readers of poetry. There are many who are not conversant with the major poets of the past. I find this . . . astonishing.

I’m not sure how I became a reader of poetry at a very young age, but part of it must have been having parents who read poetry and fiction and bought me anthologies and books. I’m not so sure how one learns an early love without such parents.

A great many poets are part of the academic system, and this contributes to the sense that poets are increasing, readers decreasing. Plenty of people have talked about the multiplication of writing programs, and how they give birth to new creative writing professors and programs. Plenty of people have talked about how English literature departments have destroyed their once-healthy programs by an over-reliance on theory and “studies” concentrations. So on one hand, we increase poets and on the other, we decrease readers.

Unfortunately, this change enforces the idea that poets are “other” and do not belong to the daily world. And that idea enforces the idea that poetry is not for the daily world.

A poem can become a thing it should not be in an academic context. In the case of an academic who is a writer, each work is a potential “credit” on the yearly report that may help bring about a promotion or win merit pay (or inequity pay.) A poem becomes a kind of tick-mark in a box. It's suddenly useful in a practical way. The goal of poetry shifts. I don’t like that idea.

In addition, while it is lovely to be around young people, one’s main reading may become the unrevised work of college writers. It’s very easy to misjudge one’s own work and gifts in that context.

How do poets deal with that possible reality?

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, interior page
from my long poem Thaliad,
now on National Poetry Month sale
at Phoenicia Publishing
Most poets today live in an academic world where they are sheltered from the idea of too many poets, too few readers. They are surrounded by interested young people who want to learn and perhaps to become poets; they teach and are listened-to by others, and they frequent a library that values poetry books as part of its collection. There may be problems with that world, but you can see why poets apply for admission to that world and stay in it. Inside, everything makes sense. Everything is supportive, basically, though one still has to deal with committees and such! Sometimes one has to deal with colleagues who think writers aren’t quite legitimate as professors, I notice, but dealing with colleagues is part of the price paid for salary, security, and bennies.

However, the increasing reliance on adjuncts may alter the equation. Perhaps, though, there will always be those willing to be underpaid as the price of staying in such a world.

I do know poets who were not part of such a community (or else were fringe members) who did not manage well—who felt too keenly the lack of audience, the lack of notice for their work. And I’ve seen it ruin lives or decades of lives. No matter how fine the poet, he or she must be very strong to be a poet outside the supportive world of academia. He or she will lack the in-person connections that assist with publications and summer gigs, the aid to attend conferences, and much more. (Full disclosure: I walked away from achieved tenure and promotion and salary because I felt that the academy was the wrong place for me as a writer. And I do feel that I lost “a system,” and that has hurt my work in terms of marketing. But I do not regret the decision.)

Despite the frequency of open readings or poetry slams in cities, almost every poet alive has to at some point deal with the often-discussed idea of a diminished audience and diminished attention. Like any other form of writing, a poem is not quite complete if left unread.

And perhaps nearly every serious poet could take advice from Yeats’s address to one “whose work has come to nothing” because nearly every poet (aside from Billy Collins and Mary Oliver and a few more) is aware that readership that once was an ark is now little better than a village ferry over a stream. Worldly success will not come to most poets. A maker to “honor bred,” Yeats says, is “Bred to a harder thing than Triumph.” In the end, he advocates a turn toward passionate creation, which must be its own satisfaction: “Be secret and exult, / Because of all things known / That is most difficult.”

What are the best ways to reach new readers of poetry (if that is even possible in our 140-character Twitter world)?

Help. Start discriminating what is fine from what is dross. It’s become a non-no to say that some work is better than other work. As a result, we’re drowning in dross, while our era tells us that we need to include everybody. When it comes to high culture, full inclusion is a recipe for dismantling and destroying and losing the bright needle in the haystack.

If you can, guide others. Share what is true, beautiful, and strong.

Teach good taste to children. We stopped doing that more than a century ago, and our culture feels the effects.

Teachers and politicians should quit trying to make poetry useful.

A good many poets should stop publishing poems that are little more than broken prose—that lack force, music, and subject matter. The first free verse writers knew the sources of power in form. Poets should know formal poems, no matter what they write. (Here we are back to the idea that some poets don’t know the literary history of their own language.)

Review ‘zines. We have a huge proliferation of online ‘zines. This trend is good and bad, of course. It’s very hard to sift so much work. But I suppose it may “reach new readers.”

Sites that aggregate poetry of the past may be helpful. I don’t really know. I’ve seen an awful lot of nonsense about good poems as a result, though.

Nor do I know if clever poets active on twitter increase their audience. There are people on who write poems as twitter lines, later presenting them as whole poems. I have several in a twitter sub-group.

I’m not crazy about the way poetry is taught in schools, though I believe the situation is improving. I think we need more memorization and less analysis. Also, we really need children to encounter wonderful poems from the past that sing and are still alive. We don’t need to give them only “children’s poems.” (But if we do, I hope we give them some Charles Causley!)

Teachers need to remember that the reading of a poem is not an encounter between a cadaver and a medical student with a scalpel. Reading a first-rate poem should be an experience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Phoenicia in the spring: NPM sale

From Phoenicia Publishing:

In honor of National Poetry Month, we've put ALL our poetry titles on sale at 20% off. The sale applies only to orders placed directly through our online store (no Amazon orders, sorry); at check-out, please enter code Q6C5Z6HY and the discount will be applied. Thanks for your support of poetry, poets, and independent publishing!

Phoenicia catalogue here, including poetry by Rachel Barenblat, Dave Bonta, Dick Jones, Ren Powell, etc.

* * * 

In THALIAD, Marly Youmans has written a powerful and beautiful saga of seven children who escape a fiery apocalypse----though "written" is hardly the word to use, as this extraordinary account seems rather "channeled" or dreamed or imparted in a vision, told in heroic poetry of the highest calibre. Amazing, mesmerizing, filled with pithy wisdom, THALIAD is a work of genius which also seems particularly relevant to our own time.   --novelist Lee Smith

For more comments, review clips, etc., go here.

Feel free to answer R. T.'s questions in the comments while I go to fetch-and-ferry a child... Back later with thoughts!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Hodgepodgery, or thoughts collected and bits of articles read over the past Sunday and Monday and tossed into a post in disorderly fashion... Stew over them as you will!

"Madison," WCU, circa 1904.
Marly in Cullowhee

What hometown fun! Thanks to undergraduate Amelia Holmes for the article on me in Nomad: The Quasquicentennial Edition (Western Carolina University), written for Dr. Kinser's senior seminar course. "The students wrote about topics related to Western Carolina University, highlighting the university and its faculty over the course of 125 years." My father was professor of analytical chemistry, and my mother head of serials at Hunter Library, WCU.

Rereading. Christopher Beha on "Holy crap":

So here’s my main point: books that one doesn’t know how to read, books that challenge our ideas about what fiction is supposed to be doing, are more interesting to talk and think about. And at least when it comes to fiction, these are the books that I want professional critics weighing in on, so these are the books that I want the TBR to cover. Unfortunately, the phrase we most frequently use to describe such books is the same phrase we use to describe members in good standing of the conventional genre called “literary fiction.” This is one reason I don’t really like the phrase “literary fiction.” It is also one reason I don’t like thinking about books as members of genres at all. Instead I like to think about individual books. If I have to think about genres I suppose it could be said that the genre of fiction I find most interesting to talk and write and read about—the one I think the TBR should be reviewing—is the genre that has the genre specification “does not conform to any genre specifications.” For our purposes I would call this genre “Holy Crap fiction.” In case I haven’t made this clear, lots of Holy Crap fiction isn’t all that good. Certainly lots of it is objectively worse than the average competent genre novel. But even bad Holy Crap fiction is far more interesting to talk about and read about than a competent genre novel, because it requires making sense of. A corollary to this is that there is no such thing as a merely competent Holy Crap novel.

Launch day

Gary Dietz's book of heartfelt, real-life narratives about fathers and disabled children has its launch day today. I've updated the page on Lady Word of Mouth to include more purchasing links and the book's facebook page--please visit and like.

More thoughts on patreon 

10 p.m. Monday: At the end of 48 hours on patreon, I have three patrons... and am still pondering whether this is: a.) desirable; b.) useful; c.) all-around okay; or something I can do, since I am somewhat allergic to vigorous horn-tooting. Anyway, tonight there are three pieces up, all free. Nevertheless, I could dither over my opinion if I had time. However, I don't right now. Maybe after tonight's eclipse, if I don't crash. Should peak about 3:00 here. Yawn. However, it seems to be . . . raining.

Art for Glimmerglass by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
2nd pass galleys, Glimmerglass 

The galleys are done. I proofed and made five little tweaks. And that's THE END of that. Next time I'll see a .pdf with Clive's art in place, so that will be exciting. The design for chapter openers looked lovely. Then will come lovely new books.

Great poetry giveaway

We're about halfway through the time for the giveaway. One lucky person will receive a couple of books...

At Salon: David Foster Wallace was right: Irony is ruining our culture 

But David Foster Wallace predicted a hopeful turn. He could see a new wave of artistic rebels who “might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels… who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles… Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” Yet Wallace was tentative and self-conscious in describing these rebels of sincerity. He suspected they would be called out as “backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic.” He didn’t know if their mission would succeed, but he knew real rebels risked disapproval. As far as he could tell, the next wave of great artists would dare to cut against the prevailing tone of cynicism and irony, risking “sentimentality,” “overcredulity” and “softness.”

Wallace called for art that redeems rather than simply ridicules, but he didn’t look widely enough. Mostly, he fixed his gaze within a limited tradition of white, male novelists. Indeed, no matter how cynical and nihilistic the times, we have always had artists who make work that invokes meaning, hope and mystery. But they might not have been the heirs to Thomas Pynchon or Don Delillo. So, to be more nuanced about what’s at stake: In the present moment, where does art rise above ironic ridicule and aspire to greatness, in terms of challenging convention and elevating the human spirit? Where does art build on the best of human creation and also open possibilities for the future? What does inspired art-making look like?    --Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll

Dear Salon, 

Look harder. A lot of us out here in the wilderness have been making art out of words and paint and more, setting ourselves against the grain of the times. Plenty of us have devoted our lives to making a kind of art that can soar up above nihilism and despair and irony--making "art that redeems" in opposition to what is most lauded and supported by the system that tells people what art to see and read.  Put on your glasses. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

So touching...

I love this little article about writer Hugh Nissenson. He was no failure but seems to have often felt himself one. So I am glad to see this tribute. No doubt if he had been more sentimental and less of a truth-teller, he might have had more readers. In this age, it is his glory that he hewed to his own path.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Irresistible Sonnets" at Lady Word of Mouth

Mary Meriam's new anthology, Irresistible Sonnets, is up at Lady Word of Mouth. Please help it sell like hotcakes! (Click here to see lots of information about the book.) And she put one of my poems in the post--a big surprise for me and an extra for those of you who read my work. The poem originally appeared in Able Muse.

This is a treasure that you must allow to ravish you slowly.
--Robin Williams, Author of Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?

This stunning collection of "Irresistible Sonnets", like a handful of snowflakes, contains no two alike.
--Rayne Allinson, Author of A Monarchy of Letters: Royal Correspondence and English Diplomacy in the Reign of Elizabeth I

Click to purchase +
Click to like

The patreon experiment...

Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Thaliad (Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
On Saturday night, I started a patreon account, and I have (very small whee!) three patrons. Thanks to Robbi Nester, Paul Digby, and Sienna Latham for being my first readers!

So far all the material is free, as a good deal of it will be as I go on--now up are the first chapter of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, a group of poems from The Foliate Head, and a link to material from Thaliad. I'll probably continue putting out a lot of free material, as I don't see how people can become interested in work without seeing it! In addition, there's a post with link to the great poetry giveaway

In the near future, the patron-only material will be small short stories, which I have begun writing while proofing galleys for an upcoming book. These (or a group of these) will be posts that ask for a dollar in return, or about a half of a Starbuck's regular brewed coffee. Actually I rarely see a Starbuck's in the hinterlands, so I might be wrong about that one. Also, other work that I want to keep private, either because I'm planning on expanding it or because I want to publish it elsewhere, will be patron-only.

I'm planning on keeping the experiment for at least a month. After that, I'll see what I think and either drop the account or keep going. Writers have to be nimble in times of change, and the world of publishing is certainly in ferment. My hope is that it will be an interesting experiment in finding new readers and ways to support what I write.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dear friends and readers of The Palace at 2:00 a.m.,

my current front page
image at
I have just this instant started something new, and I hope you will follow me. I've signed up for a "creator account" at patreon. If you do sign up as a patron, know that a great deal of the work I post will be free, and that there will be some one-dollar posts of stories and groups of poems, maybe occasionally a chapter of a forthcoming book. (I will not be doing the kickstarter-style monthly support fees.) You are not required to commit to the dollar posts in order to sign on and follow the site, but I will be posting some patron-posts that are small short stories in the very near future.
I'm looking forward to the experiment and hoping that it may help to expand my readership. I will leave a notice here whenever I post something at patreon, whether free or not. Hope you will support me by your presence there!

Good cheer and watch out for dystopian futures,

P. S. First post: here.