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

Friday, September 09, 2005

Tainaron

I’m having a fantasy about being a child in some small, cool country—growing up with the desire to make poems and stories burning in me, finding a welcome in that place with its early winter nights and its lush hedges straining against the wind and its irregular shore with sand that sparkles when I scoop it in my fingers. It’s a vague little country. I don’t think about it long enough to make its vaporous landscape sharpen to crystal.

Once I became ill while biking the perimeter in Ireland. For three days I slept in a tent outside the Galway door of an Irish playwright, the boyfriend of a classmate. On the third day he fed me a white meal, an Irish supper of boiled parsnips and boiled potatoes and boiled something else—chicken, was it?—and I felt resurrected. That day a sculptor came to visit, bringing with him two young poets. These, who were my age, had just published in their first anthology. They were well-known to the sculptor and playwright, who regarded them as the coming age of literature in Ireland. I don’t remember their names now; perhaps they were the coming age, or perhaps they were merely young and full of the poetry that is a still-dawning youth.

I was a very young poet; I had published many poems by then. But I was utterly unknown in the great big country that is the United States… I marveled at how the playwright and the sculptor praised and encouraged the two boy poets.

While I was away, doing what I could in the long, difficult summer that is now safely in the past and does not bear thinking about, not yet, I read Leena Krohn’s Tainaron. The idea of her little kingdom of metamorphosis and insects appealed to something in me. I was interested to find that she works in many forms, as I do. And so I like to imagine that she is the little girl in my fantasy of a small country, that she grew up with its welcome and found her place in Finland. I like to think that Leena the woman grew and changed and found the freedom to remake the way she wrote when it became too constraining. When she discovered that she could not fly the way she was, she made herself the small room of a cocoon—Woolf told us that we needed a room of our own—and transformed herself. She wrote what she wanted to write. She wrote in many forms. And it was allowed and was all right, the poems and children’s stories and novels and fables and whatever flew to her hand. Because the world she lived in was small enough to see her, even when she transformed and became unrecognizable to many. She was, of course, the same woman with the same soul, however she expressed herself.

That is, of course, my private fancy about a real human being, who is somewhere else on the globe, with a very real small country under her feet. No doubt she is having quite other thoughts about her past and present...

I liked Tainaron. In its loveliness and sense of death and distance and gritty decay, the book was just right for me this summer. The only other book I liked by summer’s end was the Psalms. Both of them came to me like figures long expected, with dust and moth wings in their outstretched hands.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.