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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Jot of glory + dewy-new interview--

from "Letter from the Editor," Books and Culture Magazine

Speaking of superb novels, let me recommend two others that will be appearing not too long after you receive this issue. In September, Knopf will publish Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which imagines the aftermath of a global pandemic of unprecedented ferocity. We follow a wandering troupe as they make their circuit in the upper Midwest, stopping at tiny settlements to perform Shakespeare and play music. In the same month, Mercer University Press will publish Marly Youmans' Glimmerglass, set in Cooper country in New York State, a book in which the fantastic and the quotidian are cunningly interlaced. These two novels have very little in common except for the quality of their imagination—but that is more than enough to make them kin.

Online interview

The industrious G. G. has an interview series called Writers Who Read, and she does indeed seem to be curious about everything in book land and describes herself as "writer of romance, reader of everything." Thank you to her for a new interview. When I reread the responses this morning, I was surprised by a few things, and that's probably to the good. Jump here.

How it starts: Who are you? 

Marly Youmans. Some people know me as the author of 13 books, counting this year’s Glimmerglass and next year’s Maze of Blood. I write poetry (mostly formal, including long narratives), short stories, novels, and the occasional essay. Other people know me by my married name, and as the mother of three children. A few village spies have figured out that I am both of those people.

And from there it rambles on to beloved books, (dis)organization, modes of reading, and more. Take a peek and know me better...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

War and words

Michael has been reading me excerpts from Ernie Pyle's Brave Men (campaigns in Sicily, Italy, and France in World War II), and as a way of remembering the Western journalists in captivity in Syria and Iraq, I'm posting a little homage to a war correspondent that I think interesting. Pyle loves to give little sketches of men faithfully doing the ordinary or extraordinary things that happen in war. There's a good deal of blood and mud and sweetness in the book.

Richard Tregaskis appears to be an unusual man in this portrait, but Pyle is just as interested in the humblest American foot soldier. Richard Tregaskis served as a correspondent in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and published thirteen books.

* * *

Ernie Pyle, Brave Men

Shortly after leaving the artillery outfit, I stopped in at an evacuation tent hospital to see Dick Tregaskis, war correspondent for International News Service. He had been badly wounded a few weeks before. A shell fragment had gone through his helmet and ripped his skull open. That he was alive at all seemed a miracle. Even after he was wounded, other shells exploded within arm's length of him; yet he escaped further injury.

He still had his battered steel helmet. It had a gash in the front two inches long and a smaller one at the left rear where the fragment came out. The blow had knocked off his glasses but not broken them. Even with such a ghastly wound Dick had walked half a mile down the mountain by himself until he found help. Late that night he arrived at the hospital, was put to sleep on morphine, and Major William Pitts performed the brain operation.

It was Major Pitt's fourth head operation that night. He took more than a dozen pieces of bone and steel out of Dick's brain, along with some of the brain itself. He and the other doctors were proud of pulling Dick through--as well they might be.

At first Dick had little use of his right arm, he couldn't read his letters, and he couldn't write. Also, he couldn't control his speech. He would try to say something like "boat" and a completely different yet related word like "water" would come out.

But he was making rapid progress. During my visits he made only a couple of small mistakes such as saying "flavor" when he meant "favorite." But he always kept trying until the word he wanted came forth. The doctors said he was a marvel. While other patients usually lay and waited for time to do the healing, Dick worked at it. He constantly moved his arm to get it back into action, and he read and talked as much as he could, making his mind practice.

While I was visiting him the second time, a corporal in the Medical Corps came in with a copy of Guadalcanal Diary, which Dick wrote [the first of his books], and asked if he would autograph it. Dick said he'd be glad to except he wasn't sure he could sign his name. He worked at it several minutes, and when he got through he said, "Why, that looks better than the way I used to sign it." And after the boy left he said, "I always like to be asked to sign a book. It makes you feel important."

Dick Tregaskis was the quiet and scholarly type of newspaperman. His personal gear was in the same room I had been living in back at the base camp, and I had noticed that his books were Shakespeare and the like. He wore tortoise-shell glasses and talked slowly and with distinctive words. He was genuine and modest. His manner belied the spirit that must have driven him, because he had by choice seen a staggering amount of war. He had been through four invasion assaults in the Pacific and the Mediterranean. His famous Guadalcanal Diary sold half a million copies in America and was made into a movie. He was a very thoughtful person and was as eager to know about my book as if it had been his own...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Glimmerglass coming near--

Glimmerglass, now in pre-order
Out in a week...
Interior vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
More comments, art, etc. here
Jot of praise

I know of no writer other than Marly Youmans who has the genius to combine the spine-tingling suspense of Gothic storytelling with the immense charm, grace, glamour, realism, and simplicity of Hawthorne. Youmans, one of the biggest secrets of contemporary American fiction, writes with freshness and beauty. Her ability to describe a person, a place, or the psychological underpinnings of a plot or individual, ranks with the great novelists, the highest literature.

--excerpt from comments by poet Jeffery Beam
About the art

Glimmerglass is strewn throughout with descriptions of the flora and fauna of an observed landscape. But like the Arabian Nights storyteller, Marly spins tales within tales that access altogether more fabulous topographies, and it’s as though the sea-serpent door-knockers and griffin-embellished wrought-iron gates of the real world, have been markers of hidden realms paralleling the everyday. Bearing in mind I’m a man who reveres the great eighteenth century wood-engraver Thomas Bewick, it was a foregone conclusion that when I came to consider decorations for the chapter headings and tailpieces of this wonderful book, I’d be moved to create a miniature naturalis historia.

The images are collages pieced together from paper worked with brushes and paint, pen and ink, crayon and frottage. They reference the interior decorations made for Thaliad, though are simpler and bolder in design and execution. 
--Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Yolanda Sharpe, new watercolors--

Peach Confections, 26" x 40"

Last week I enjoyed a visit to Yolanda Sharpe's house and SUNY to see artwork currently underway. Here's a peek at some new watercolors, not yet flattened and mounted. It is intriguing to see how her large pen and ink and encaustic works appear superficially very different from these, yet show innumerable connections through boldness of execution, color, shapes, and composition. You can take a look at her wonderfully varied work at

Big Purple II, 26" x 40"

Blue, Red, and Yellow, 26" x 40"


This is a blog about books and art and language,
but lately it occurs to me how pitiless a single letter can be.
It looks like a happy face gone wrong--a red cyclops.
So, too, a yellow star once went wrong, marked on homes.
A single letter...
Stretch, roll out of bed, find out
the world is still remarkably broken this morning.
Time to shore the fragments against ruin.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Chapter header--
interior vignette of a fat little bird
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
for Glimmerglass (Mercer)
now in pre-order, pub date September 1st

It's self-indulgent of me to link to this, but here's my favorite comment of the morning--second under the post. Who says writers don't need a bit of encouragement? Thanks to fellow poet Janice Soderling, thanks to the judgments of the formidable critic, Mr. Myers!

writer Nancy Richard on Thaliad

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Fun to see little reviews by writers on Amazon... Here's one from Louisiana writer Nancy Richard:
Thaliad: Don't miss this one. March 2, 2013
Not since Fred Chappell's Midquest have I read a book-length poem so lovingly wrought, so luminous in language and engaging in its storytelling. As the children of Marly Youmans's Thaliad make their way in a post-apocalyptic land, their struggle to survive is fraught with loss, with violence and sorrow. They establish a new social order and a new relationship with the earth so that in the end, Thalia's words resonate as prophecy: "In time you will begin to heal your heart / And all that seems a waste will bloom once more." Illustrated with magical beauty by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, this book is a keeper, to be read and savored again and again.

Clivean detail from the hc jacket / pb cover of Thaliad

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Diminishing language and culture

Clive Hicks-Jenkins vignette for Glimmerglass
No one in the English speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., James Trefil, Joseph Kett, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
Late night and early morning exchange...

Me: I would say that if you can read Shakespeare, well, then you can read anything else in the English language.

RT (who is teaching at the college level in what used to be called the Bible belt): Students, however, remain convinced that Shakespeare did not write his plays and poems in English. It is, apparently to students, a foreign language that no one speaks in the 21st century. Really.

Me: Part of the problem for current students from the deep South is that many used to grow up with the King James Bible or some early translated version (and some with the 1928 revised or the Cranmer Book of Common Prayer.) Accustomed to those, they could read anything. But we can't count on any Bible literacy any more, and we choose to reduce that gorgeous language full of rhetorical tropes to pablum. And now I hear so many complaints that many young people cannot read language that is beautiful and contains depths and long-established rhetorical figures.
    Older translations refreshed the target language (English) by bringing in the Hebrew as much as possible. The KJV enlarged not only the language but also the conceptual apparatus of English speakers, as more or less common words and concepts like table and cup and staff took on the religious aura of the psalm.
     If we were talking about poetry, it would be a tragedy to keep texts from surprising us, to tell Lear to be just one thing, to do as little as possible.... Clive James' lament returns: translation and linguistic theories emasculate Scripture, depriving it of much of its linguistic, cultural, and political potency, and perhaps even of its religious power...
     --Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis (Baylor University Press, 2009)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wordsmith, rest in peace--

James Foley, truth-teller, wordsmith
* * *
Beautiful, sensitive face photographed by Steven Senne/AP
Remembering Daniel Pearl
and all those held by ISIS and others.
"We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family." GlobalPost
Addendum: in his own words
* * *
The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates 
that there are about 20 journalists missing in Syria, 
many of them held by ISIS. -CNN

* * *
I died for beauty, but was scarce 
Adjusted in the tomb, 
When one who died for truth was lain 
In an adjoining room. 

He questioned softly why I failed? 
"For beauty," I replied. 
"And I for truth - the two are one; 
We brethren are," he said. 

And so, as kinsmen met a-night, 
We talked between the rooms, 
Until the moss had reached our lips, 
And covered up our names.

--Emily Dickinson

* * *

The third section of "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" 
recurs to me so often now--sometimes daily.

* * *

Journalist James Foley disappeared in northwest Syria on Thanksgiving Day, November 22 2012. Jim is the oldest of five children. He has reported independently and objectively from the Middle East for the past five years. Prior to his work as a journalist, Jim helped empower disadvantaged individuals as a teacher and mentor assisting them in improving their lives.

A beautiful, good, and true life is a light to us all. 

"Authentic" language--

One of the many things that I need to tuck into my day is a going-over of this May's underlinings and scribblings in Peter Leithart's Deep Exegesis because on Thursday morning I am an invited guest at a regional priests-and-pastors study group--I think that it will be fascinating. Leithart's book focuses on exegesis of scripture but continually embraces poetry as well. And writers tend to be allured by the idea of peeking inside private worlds.

Here's a bit about Milosz, Clive James, the Bible, language, and civilization from an early chapter, "The Text is a Husk":
Picking through the rubble of postwar Poland to find something worth keeping, Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz came upon the Bible. Though he could not believe the Bible was literally true, he concluded that it was the "common good" of both believers and unbelievers. For intellectuals in the West, the Bible has "provided a standard of authenticity against the pervasive falsehoods of advertising, social engineering, moral uplift, demagogic politics--all the verbal corruptions of democracy, the language of illusion." For Milosz, "the scriptures provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder."

In his brilliant collection of essays, Cultural Amnesia, Clive James reflects on Milosz' remark and wonders if the Bible's importance can only become clear when civilization is collapsing. In our more comfortable surroundings, we fool ourselves into thinking that "the eternal can become outdated, and safely forgotten." Forgetfulness, James argues, is not confined to unbelievers. He chides Christians for the ease with which we have "let the bible go." Though himself a lapsed believer, James laments the "successful reduction of once-vital language" to the "compendium of banalities" of modern English translations.
That's just a nibble from a complex, rich meal. I'd better make time to read through my notes...