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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Roasted Phoenix / December 2006

The Very Last Phoenix of 2006
December

Here are new poetry publications and one interesting book publication. And something or other that I'm forgetting but too lazy to root around and find, just now. Just got in from the airport...

P. S. Publishing (U. K.) requested a novella for a hardcover/softcover limited edition, and so Val/Orson will be coming out in 2008.


Notes on the Bird: The Phoenix is my on-going record of this year's acceptances. At various points, I have teetered along the boundary between so-called realism and so-called irrealism. And sometimes I have danced over the invisible (non-existent?) line and frolicked with abandon.

But I'm somebody who started out as a poet and has never really grasped why the world would bother being so obsessed with categories, once past the basic division between literature and the other stuff. Yet eventually it did occur to me--poor market-ignorant fish--that I might increase my readership by publishing some of my stranger stories outside the refined literary pond where I have floated for many years, having published four times with FSG and once each with Godine and LSU's poetry series.

This publication list is a record of my response to that idea. I knew almost zero about genre publications when I started sending out. Close to zero is probably still my stance, compared to a writer who was a tadpole, lost tail, and grew up in the genre pool. But I've very much enjoyed paddling about in alien waters and meeting new editors, writers, and readers. It's a big expanse, where you can stumble on the uncorrupted floating bodies of Calvino and Borges and meet an astonishing range of living writers.

I don't think I'll bother keeping a record (I hate keeping records) next year, but this year it has been interesting to see whether I could swim elsewhere--even if I looked strange there at times.

Monthly news, mid-November:
I'm not keeping up with reviews for the great reason that genre publications review stories incessantly. I didn't know this, and I like it. There are, though, new Locus reviews of "Concealment Shoes."
Stories -
"Drunk Bay" forthcoming in Postscripts (U.K.).
"Rain Flower Pebbles" forthcoming in Postscripts (U.K.).
"The Four Directions," requested for an anthology TBA.
Poems - "The Sea of Traherne" forthcoming in Books & Culture.
3 new poems at The Hypertexts.

If I want to have another book of poems, I need to send out some of those dreadful little white envelopes, I suppose. I've relied almost entirely on requests but need to publish five or six more poems before I send in the next manuscript. Fooh!

2006 publications / acceptances


FICTION IN ANTHOLOGIES

"Power & Magic," set in the north Georgia mountains, is forthcoming in the 3rd Firebirds anthology (Firebird/Penguin), edited by Sharyn November.

"The Four Directions" commissioned for an anthology TBA.

"The Smaragdine Knot" (story) will be coming out in John Klima's anthology of stories based on the winning words from spelling bees. The book has now been titled: Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories (Bantam Books, date tba.) Once more the weird Puritan minister and poet, Edward Taylor, has crept into my writings, along with a fair-faced demonic visitor.

A story called "Concealment Shoes" has been chosen by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling for Salon Fantastique (an anthology from Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006.) It's unusual for me--I made use of a real cat and three real children and a real house, all in the service of some rather strange and otherworldly happenings. Yet somehow I end up feeling that it's quite 'realistic,' simply because I used real-life models. But nobody else will think so, I suppose. Though not quite out yet, it has a review from Rich Horton in Locus though I can't seem to find it again. He noted that several of the stories could be classified as "young adult" (mine was headed for Sharyn November's fantasy series, but Ellen Datlow nabbed it first--and that was good, because it made me write another for Sharyn), but said that the telling of "Concealment Shoes" was "very engaging." From another Locus review: "The newest original anthology from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Salon Fantastique, could well be their best so far. This may in part emanate from the absence of a central theme: the book is intended simply as a gathering of fine fantasists, a meeting of the minds like the literary salons of 17th and 18th century France, where intellectuals of all classes could confer freely, exchanging ideas and establishing standards. Liberated from any imposed agenda, the contributors have excelled themselves; but given the huge innate strength of the line-up, they might well have done so in any case.
"Three stories stand out especially. Marly Youmans’s “Concealment Shoes” is a beautifully written evocation of adventurous childhood, in which a small boy and his elder sister find moving into a big new house a marvelous experience, tempered by the discovery that hostile spirits are trying to infiltrate the abode. The parents carelessly remove the mansion’s wards; nasty apparitions issue from the chimneys; the battle against them is startlingly vivid."

And there's a second reprint for "An Incident at Agate Beach" (a novella originally published in Argosy 3.) It has been picked up by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant for the fantasy half of The Year's Best in Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's, 2006). The first reprint was in Northwest Passages (Windstorm Creative, 2005); here's a clip from Tangent Online: "My favorite story in this collection is 'An Incident at Agate Beach' by Marly Youmans. Marsha and her husband, Jim, are spending their honeymoon on Agate Beach. While Jim is off searching for agates, Marsha meets a young boy who calls himself Bramble at first—and gives himself a new name each time they meet—who tells her that his brother is in love with her. . . " From a review by Aimee Poynter. Rich Horton's Market Summaries at Speculative Literature Foundation reviewed Argosy, 2005: "The best novelette was perhaps "An Incident at Agate Beach", by Marly Youmans, in which a honeymooning bride meets an odd child on the beach." Here's a clip from a review of Year's Best at The Little Professor: "Among the other strong entries, both Marly Youmans' 'An Incident at Agate Beach' and Elizabeth Bear's 'Follow Me Light' imagine the encounter between earthly and aquatic love. Youmans' tale is the more unsettling."

FICTION IN MAGAZINES

"Rain Flower Pebbles" is forthcoming in Postscripts (U.K.).

"Drunk Bay" is forthcoming in Postscripts (U. K.) in fall/winter 2007.

"Seven Crooked Tinies" (seven rather weird little stories) is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine in Spring, 2007. That's a just-revised collection consisting of "The Dew Sweeper" (an artist of dew), "The First Death" (autobiographical, about moving from my magic Louisiana to the golden, hellish plains), "A Box of Time" (homage to my father and read at his funeral), "The Mummy's Eyes" (reading and metamorphosis), "The Seagrove Pot" (autobiography of a vessel), "The Wise Tooth" (death, loss, and renewal under the shadow of a wayward tooth), and "The Moss Herders" (the truth about moss).

"Matreshka" (short story) is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine, probably in Winter 2006. Form and content depend on the idea of "nesting dolls." (Does that sound like fun? I also have a poem called "The Nesting Doll" at McSweeney’s.) The reviewers at Tangent seem to have been a little bemused about what I was doing in this one, though they said the ending was "completely satisfying." Well, it is a bit wacky, and there are many links to the idea of matreshkas and breakage mid-way and so on.

"The Comb" (short story) is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine, Winter 2006 (or thereabouts). ". . .Whoever wanted a mystery to be unknotted and fully known was mad, and I am sane. Facing it is like stumbling on a grimy, tallow-flecked masterpiece, still alive with the spirit of the dead--the brushstrokes of a moving hand, the captured forms of mortals--evidence and riddle. Or perhaps it is like a story that will not give up its last secret but insists on strangeness."

"The Geode" (short story) is forthcoming in Electric Velocipede 11 (2006.) In which some grow up and others old, and a Monopoly token has a curious part to play.

"The Dawn Walker" (story) is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine (Summer, issue 3.) That story's dedicated to Melanie Hook Rice, a friend of mine who died entirely too young--it's about her death, though the girl is not the same girl, and everything about it is different. But it feels right and about her all the same. "Marly Youmans has a knack for writing the sea so vividly that the reader can almost taste the salt air. In 'The Dawn Walker' this is certainly the case. . . . Youmans' gorgeous imagery is a nice counterpoint to the simplicity of the underlying message." From a Tangent short fiction review by Aimee Poynter.

"The Gate House" (novella) is forthcoming in the irregular but lovely slipcased volumes of Argosy Quarterly, issue 4, one of the three magazines from the creative hand of James A. Owen, illustrator-writer-bold projector. Currently he's posting lots of illustrations at Apocatastasis. With luck, 4 will be out in 2006. Cross your toes and fingers.

BOOKS

What's up in "Books" is paperback publication of two books marketed as "young adult" but often reviewed as "crossover" books that are hard to pigeonhole. They have both gotten stellar reviews--click on the titles on the "shelf" to see some.

Ingledove (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) is forthcoming in paperback from Firebird (Penguin.) Pub date is November 6, 2006.

"In this exceptional novel Youmans skillfully mixes Celtic, Appalachian and Cherokee mythology and language to create Adantis, a fantastic world, half hidden in nature. Abandoned by their father and orphaned at their mother's death, Ingledove and her brother Lang know Adantis only as a fairy tale world from their mother's stories. Yet when Ingledove’s brother Lang is haunted by a beautiful serpent demon, the children must make the perilous journey to Adantis to free Lang from his deadly enchantment. There Ingledove discovers her mother’s legacy, the powerful beauty of Adantis, and her own inner strength. Youmans’ characters are compelling; the dialogue is unique, rich with invented vocabulary. Her prose, lush and evocative as fireflies, seems to lift from the pages. A simply beautiful novel." --novelist Midori Snyder, at The Endicott Studio

The Curse of the Raven Mocker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003) will also appear in paperback from Firebird (Penguin) on November 6, 2006.

The Top Ten Books of 2003, John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture. Best Children's Book of 2003, Books Editor Greg Langley, The Baton Rouge Advocate. (Ingledove was the Advocate's Best Young Adult Novel for 2005.)

For more information and review clips, fly over to www.marlyyoumans.com.

POETRY

I am terribly lazy about sending out poems, so all but one or two of these are requests. I am very happy to see requests, because the sending out of many little envelopes is boring and long and other miserable things.

"Childbirth or The Forest of Death," "The Kirkyard Deer," and "Hyfrydol" appeared in The Eclectic Muse (Vol. 12 2006).

The Hypertexts (see links below) picked up three more poems, two originals and one reprint (November). The editors have made me a permanently "featured" poet, as well as a November "Spotlight" poet, so this month I can be found under two kinds of features and in the anthology section as well.

"The Sea of Traherne" is forthcoming in Books & Culture.

"Dream of a Waltz with God" (poem) is forthcoming in Neovictorian / Cochlea.

Online in 2006: "In Extremis," "Southern to the Bone," "The Exile's Track," and "The Black Flower" (poems) are part of Special Feature: Six Southern Women Poets. This little anthology is selected, edited, and introduced by Tara Powell is at StorySouth.

"Prentiss Cottage" (blank verse), "Parable of Dust" (blank verse), and "A Dutch Burgher" (ballad stanza) are forthcoming in Raintown Review, 2006. Also, there's a third reprint of "Abandon," already published in: Rhino; my collection, Claire (LSU, 2003); and The Hypertexts.

Reprints of some of my current poems are at the Contemporary Poets section of The Hypertexts.

& SUNDRY

(Feb.) Makoto Fujimura asked me for an essay on the topic of 'an artist's ten commandments.' So I sat down to fool around with the idea and the thing transformed into a story called "The Pilgrim Soul" (title pilfered from a phrase of that wonderful Yeats lyric that begins, "When you are old and gray and nodding by the fire.") Now he's fantasizing about some small paintings in his Nihongan mode to accompany it, and a little hardcover book with color plates. I don't know what will become of the idea, if anything, but it's lovely for someone to imagine such a thing! If any of this happens, it will come together a year from now, in a gallery at Yale Divinity School.

Image: royalty free photograph,
"Rainbow Waters Abstract" by xymonau at www.sxc.hu

***

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Card

The Year of the Blue Christmas Tree
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

We have no snow!
Here’s Snow Day in the Writing Room.

And a childhood favorite at Christmas.

Here’s a poem for Christmas Day.


*****


Wassail the trees, that they may bear

You many a plum, and many a pear:

For more or less fruits they will bring,

As you do give them wassailing.

--Robert Herrick

Illustration: Marie and Godfather Drosselmayer from Nussknacker und Mauskonig, as reproduced in The Snow Queen and Other Stories, with illustrations by Adrienne Segur. There are lots of Segur illustrations and e-cards at www.artpassions.net.

***

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Amazon, Invisible Writers, & a Christmas Resolution

WRITERS & AMAZON MANIA

Everybody knows that a lot of writers read their reviews at Amazon. In the past, I’ve admitted to reading enough of mine to be amused that Francis McInerney, the “commercial-real-estate-development executive (currently between jobs)” made famous for his fifteen minutes via The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town, thought that the style of The Wolf Pit was a bit rich for his taste.

Sorry, Francis, not all books are for all people! This is, in fact, a blessing.

The New Yorker noted that “McInerney’s first Amazon review, in 1997, was of Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Countdown (‘Wonderful book, may you write dozens more!’), and his most recent was of The Da Vinci Code (‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as Sir Winston Spencer Churchill once wrote. . . . A fantastic ride’). He said that he reads about a hundred and fifty books a year, and his body of work suggests an omnivorous appetite: biographies, thrillers, histories of science and art, mountain-climbing yarns, and anything relating to Star Trek or Star Wars.”

AMAZON & MID-LIST

Mid-list book is defined in many ways. I define it as a book by a writer that the publisher knows and values as a good writer—perhaps values as a writer of excellence—and desires for the purpose of adding brightness to the house list; nevertheless, the publisher does not plan to provide the marketing and promotion needed for the book to attain a measure of visibility. The mid-list writer is the ultimate cheap date, who will make some money for the publisher and not be much of a bother otherwise. Most of what such a writer gets will be the sending out of review copies, with a few flourishes on the side.

If I look at Amazon (a place that does not particularly support or sell mid-list writers but does keep their in- and out-of-print books available), I see the results of such a status. I can find my name and my books mentioned in books by other writers: there are books about good books, like American Historical Fiction: An Annotated Guide to Novels for Adults and Young Adults or Best Books for Young Teen Readers: Grades 7-10 (Best Books for Young Teen Readers); there are books that dedicate to me (Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: On Writers And Writing) or acknowledge me (Ursula, Under); there are books that use my books to talk about great fiction (Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting (Write Great Fiction Series) or to talk about something else entirely (Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self by Andrea Johnston and Gloria Steinem); there are numerous anthologies with my stories.

Curiously, a book about writing, like Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction, will do better than the book of mine that it uses as an example—and it will also do better than Rozelle’s own fiction! Are more people trying to write than are actually reading books? In general, books about novels do better than the novels themselves.

RUNNING WITH AMAZONS,
& LAST YEAR’S RESOLUTION


Numbers do have an impact on writers, even if those writers are determined on paths less taken. Last year I made a resolution last year to publish more stories in visible, less “literary” places. By the end of December, I will have closed on sales of at least 15 stories that are out or forthcoming in many anthologies and magazines. That’s in addition to the other work I did this year: revising a long novella; working on a novel; and writing poetry.

And I can see that one little resolution is making a difference, as I have received lots of requests for stories, novels, and poetry this year. How much difference? Time tells, as ever.

A CHRISTMAS CHALLENGE,
A NEW NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION


Among other things, I’ve been reading Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being. This morning the new paperback of her lovely 98 Reasons stands at 890,817 on Amazon.com. It’s no surprise that more people want to read Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele than Clare Dudman, but the familiar news has inspired me to make a Christmas resolution, or perhaps my first New Year’s resolution: next month I will write something about Clare’s book, and I will try to do more all year long to help shine a little light on interesting mid-list writers who remain invisible. That is, not the writers who receive a first print run of 20,000 or more and a decent promotional budget, but the true invisibles who are known only to a coterie of followers. Many of these writers are, no doubt, utterly invisible to me now. (Feel free to offer a favorite.)

I will also pledge to write something about some of the unpublished writers who contacted me last year. Perhaps I will interview a few of them . . .

And I’d like to challenge other bloggers to make spreading the word about invisible writers one of their own resolutions for 2007. A peeper is a tiny creature, but set a chorus of them going and they can shake the spring nights.

WHERE CREDIT IS (OFTEN) DUE

The angel and the partridge-on-tree with pears that are trying to metamorphose stems into beaks and fat pear bodies into fat partridge bodies is by Laura Murphy Frankstone of Laurelines. I suspect that this display is at Fearrington Inn, but that's a mere guess. She may have a book of her Paris sketches soon, and she's thinking about further books, hurrah!

& LAST OF ALL: MERRY CHRISTMAS-TO-COME

And that’s Merry Christmas to you, whoever and whatever you are. Wish me whatever you like in return . . .

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

--from the late, the marvelous Charles Causley,
with his poem, Ballad of the Breadman

Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away. --Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

***

Friday, December 15, 2006

Angels unawares




Last night my little N. had a mad helpless meltdown during math homework. We went for a walk in the lamplit night, both of us feeling a bit upset, and ahead saw Father Christmas--or St. Nicholas, or Santa, or Kris Kringle, or whoever-you-like--and his wife, dressed up in their red-and-ermine robes.

So N. skimmed down the block on his scooter and I flitted after him, and we caught up with them. And they proceeded to counsel N. on math, school, and life in general--and talked to me about my mother's visit and my father's death. The unexpected encounter felt very strange, a little hair-raising and astonishingly holy.

The pair had just come from a party for the handicapped children and adults from Springbrook, held at the mansion close to our house, where Mrs. Claus had danced with the boys and men in attendance. We have promised to pay them a visit in the little Gothic cottage on the square after my mother arrives.

***

I thought of this:

...Angels unawares. KJV Hebrews 13:2

***

And I thought of the last three lines of this, from the great William Butler Yeats, who always wrote very well about birds and women:

The Mother of God

The threefold terror of love, a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart's blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

***
Deck the halls!

Pictures are from www.cooperstownchamber.org and www.cottageliving.com. The first shows Santa's cottage in Pioneer Park, next to the Tunnicliff Inn. The second is St. Nicholas (Paul Kuhn) outside the cottage. In the third, it is snowing on Pioneer Park. Oddly enough, all our snow has melted away, and it is in the 50's: very peculiar Cooperstown weather, but we are all glad.

***

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dog wags tail, tail wags dog

Overheard in my house:
Pythonesque

An upstairs-before-school exchange, audible from the kitchen downstairs:

B, singing lustily:
Always look on the bright side of--

R, with vigor and a soaring note of hysteria:
Shut up!

And now for something completely different...

Reckless, harebrained, madcap fool

Is there something forbidden about writing both poetry and stories? Does such a foolhardy impulse fall into the realm of impossible-to-compass?

Here is that interesting Canadian, Alex Good, on the practice: “In the entire history of literature in English, for example, I can think of fewer than five writers who have achieved a lasting reputation as both novelists and poets. Yet a quick look at the contemporary Canadian scene reveals a number of big names—Atwood, Ondaatje, Urquhart—who obviously feel they can play all positions on the literary diamond. At least some part of this has to be attributed to the cult of celebrity in today's publishing world, which sells us on the idea that anything produced by a literary genius is equally valuable. One has the sense that these authors don't even want you to read their books so much as they want shoppers to identify with a brand.”

When I think of writers who have pursued several major genres (excluding criticism) in English, I think of writers like Donne, Shakespeare, Hardy, Emily Bronte, Jim Harrison, Melville, Yeats, and Beckett. Borges talks about (somewhere--where?) not being able to tell whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail in his own writing of poetry and stories. Was the dog his stories? Or were the poems what were “important”? The dog likes his tail, but the tail must have the dog, after all.

Why might writing in multiple genres be good?

I am, you see, forced to consider this possibility first, because I like to work in a number of forms at once, and I prefer--like everyone else--to think that my choice might just be the right choice, at least for me. In the same week, I might be revising poems, starting a short story, and finishing a novel. I don't like to think that this might be somehow "against the rules" or a sure-fire road to a hell of low-burning mediocrity.

Coming to fiction changed my poetry. I threw masses of poems away after I began writing prose. Stories gave me a sudden and keen desire for my poems to be as different from prose as possible, and that drove me back to the resources of formal poetry. Form made me know freedom for the first time, for who can know freedom better than one who has tried singing in chains? Prose also made me want to write poems that were about more, and poems that were narratives, and poems that took their shape from strange and sometimes foreign rules. Poems made me want to write fiction that was entirely different from poetry, and sent me on a path from a sort of 'poet’s prose' to something more muscular. Poems made me think about what fiction has that poetry doesn’t—made me want to investigate causality and plot, for example.

Why should an insistence on writing in both areas be bad?

Perhaps it is because many people ramble from fiction to poetry or poetry to fiction without really making a difference between poetry and prose. Perhaps when poetry is only prose clipped into pieces—sometimes simply broken into lines on a page, sometimes wildly blended until the reader’s sense-making is denied—it is simply too small for many readers, too much like a dwindled version of prose.

Then it is the mere stick of a child that the fairies leave when they steal away the living girl or boy. Thought a mother may nurse and dandle such a changeling, she will never know what to make of that diminished thing.

* * * * *
Currently reading/rereading:

98 Reasons for Being
The Magic Pudding (aloud, to N)
Yeats
Map of Dreams
Kathleen Raine

* * * * * * *

A shooting chance

Can't write about poems without offering a bit of one's own for pot shots. Here's a poem from my 2001 book, Claire (LSU). It'll do for now--for a Christmas in Yankee ice and snow. I wrote it after my husband made some whimsical remark about Kateri being the only saint he could possibly claim as a relation. She is on the path to canonization in the Roman Catholic church. Not having grown up with saints, I have a certain fascination with them.

It's a narrow stream of a poem, short-lined, hemmed in by rhyme. I don't think I've written couplets in tetrameter again, as it crams the sounds very close together, though I've written lots of rhyming stanzas that alternate tetrameter/trimeter.

I somehow have the feeling that I've stuck this one up before, but I can't find it. Since I haven't posted many, the chance is not great. Yet I have three children, and so my mind is--presto!--shot.


KATERI TEKAKWITHA


A sister of the sun and trees,
She was so often on her knees

In snow that Jesuit brothers thought
Her surely mad. The God she sought

Would not ask for a lash of ice
And briars on naked skin, nor price

Her soul so high that she must plumb
The river till as blue and numb

As a March frog. She was a child
Of Akwesasne Mohawk—more wild

Than other tribes—the reason she
Was made of stuff so fearless-free.

No modesty! And weren’t her whips
Lashed on a naked spine and hips?

The linen froze upon her back
As she rose gasping from a crack

In ice—a wonder that the wave
Did not become her winter grave.

Today the cold still has its bite,
It’s just as hard to tell the right

From false. For some have seen a glow
From fires that burn in pits of snow,

And some have bent to catch the scent
Of something sweet, plucked roses, pent

In barrow earth. Such blooms are red
To look like blood when petals shed,

And there are thorns enough for all.
But records here are few and small.

A votive soul set down in ice?
A flensed and fevered bride of Christ?

Some say that she was simply plain
And odd, and liked the woods and rain

As others like a friend. Some say
Plainly simple. And some say nay,

Not dense. They say she had good sense
Who for her sins did rinse and mince.

They say, lovely as the river,
As arrows tensed, swept from quiver.

***
Photograph: Courtesy of www.sxc.hu and Philipp Kleinschmit of Barcelona: library in Wolfenbuettel, Germany.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Weird Rollicksome Hornet Amplifications


REGARDING FORAYS TO THE HORNET'S NEST

Note to self, regarding prior post: never write about sex and books on blog.

My own final flourish (at least until some other hot-spirited soul shows up) in the comments:

Let all writers follow the thread of story until they reach the heart of the labyrinth, whatever it contains.

That's where I stand on writing.

Get rid of age divisions for books created by marketers. (My little fantasy!) If a child or a teen is ready for adult fare, fine. If he or she is not ready for adult fare, fine.

That's where I stand on children, teens, and reading.

"What I’m more interested in is the teacher who is not trying to convey a message about sex or anything else but who shines with passion for books, and who can help a teenager catch a little spark of that fire."

I stand by this.

MERVYN PEAKE, TRALA

The December 5th post from my beloved e-haunt, Giornale Nuovo, contains poems, quotes, and "details from a set of sketches and completed drawings done by Mervyn Peake for a projected illustrated edition of Dickens’s Bleak House, which, however, never came to fruition." Go see! And the transforming-to-sheep picture above is, of course, from his illustrations to the great Lewis Carroll.

OTHER PEOPLE SAVING US THE TROUBLE OF THINKING

At The Reading Experience, Dan Brown* has continued and amplified--I think this is one of his gifts, to latch on and develop--my post on rereading. I find in him much that is of interest, whether I agree or disagree, plus an appealing streak of the curmudgeon!

*Penitential update: Note what a rollicksome, careless mood can do. Poor Dan Green is now Dan Brown. From here on out, I shall either expect him to be an absurdly weathy fellow or else give him a different color name whenever I meet him--Dan Pale Ecru, Dan Lavender, Dan Puce, Dan Lemon Yellow, Dan Dandelion Silver, and so merrily on.

IRRATIONAL JOYFULNESS SPRINKLED ABOUT

Despite the fact of too many things on my list today and too many events this afternoon (five at last count), despite the snow (pleasantly covered with giant crows), despite the fact that I just remembered how the incredibly well-read editor John Wilson called me The Invisible Novelist (it is delightful to have titles, though!), and despite the fact that it was a mistake to pull the gutters off the house, I am feeling absurdly happy.

It must be the Bleak House illustrations.

Or maybe it is because Cooperstown is, as always, wonderfully dressed for Advent, and has an old-fashioned, Old World feel--rather like the corner of St. Michael's churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina that Henry James declared the most English bit of America.

Perhaps it is because I am reading and liking Clare's 98 Reasons for Being.

I feel quite, quite rollicksome (a portmanteau word in honor of Carroll.)

***

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading children, children reading etc.


This post is growing and taking on legs...

METAMORPHOSIS

Despite Sven Birkerts on the coming loss of reflectiveness, I didn’t quite believe that the reading of what we call literature would be lost. But now I am beginning to wonder, although for an entirely different reason than those he offers. I knew so many passionate young readers—mostly girls—that I thought this fear just a tad silly. My feeling was that there were too many children who loved books, as I loved books when I was young. The result would be as many devoted, reflective readers as ever. The population willing to read literature has always been small. Perhaps the children I knew weren’t quite so rabid as I was, but they were addicted. (I didn’t bathe without a book, and I was one of those readers into the night that made flashlight-floggers happy.)

But I’m beginning to see a very different cause at work here. Today’s young readers have a plethora of “juvenile” and “young adult” books before them, and this leads to a curious problem. Here, I think that I must be talking about girls, for the most part. The boys I encounter tend to be readers of nonfiction, when they are readers at all.

When I was a child, I was stuck with the library and the books my parents owned. I did have a subscription to a book club—now and then I received a volume by Kipling, Swift, and so on. One of my happiest days was when I was at last allowed to have my own card to the adult library in sixth grade. I read many different authors, though Dickens was very big with me in sixth grade; Faulkner began to be big in the same way in ninth. By then, I had the freedom of the university library where my mother worked, and I spent afternoons poking around the literature section, sponging up novels and poetry.

I’ve begun to notice that many high school students fed on the nigh-infinite (often wonderful but not always terribly demanding) fare of children’s and young adult books have a tremendously difficult time confronting, say, a novel like Great Expectations. They are more at home with a children’s book (or the “cut scene” narratives of a video game, or a ‘graphic novel’). This goes for children who care about words and style, too.

Young men and women no longer need to “grow up” in their reading. There’s enough out there to hold them forever in the land of “young adult.” Perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many adults read children’s books now, and do not read adult ones. A student can, these days, be an English major without doing much "heavy lifting." One can avoid diving into any canonical deeps and stay on the surface, catching the waves near shore.

Perhaps I am wrong and simply “anecdotal” in my observations of one small village. Do you think so? I do hope you think that I am wrong, silly, benighted, even odd. Yes, I hope so.

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SALON FANTASTIQUE

Dave Roy has reviewed Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's Salon Fantastique at www.curledup.com. He singles out three stories, one being mine. Somehow his comments harmonize with what I've written above. Here they are, minus the plot summary: "Finally, there is 'Concealment Shoes' by Marly Youmans. . . . Youmans writes with an easy flow to her words, making the children intelligent but not overly adult (a mistake too many authors make when they have kids as protagonists). They're inquisitive, like to play and run around a lot, but they're also well-read and they think things through. Youmans gives the idea of a haunted house a fantastic twist, and I really enjoyed reading every word of it."

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JEROME MURAT, ALSO FANTASTIQUE
Update, 10:00 a.m. 5 December and I should be working!

Poet Jeffery Beam sent me several videos today, one the famous soccer match between Greek and German philosophers (with Karl Marx warming up on the sidelines), one a marvelous piece by mime Jerome Murat. He found it at the blog of poet Dan Vera, and now I am passing it on.

That makes a 3-poet recommendation.

If you love Cirque Ingenieux and Cirque du Soleil and wonderful "new circus" magic, this little performance is for you. If you are a dreamer, it is also yours. If you are prone to metaphysical flights of fancy and are lured by the idea of doubles and mystical resemblance, it is yours.

http://www.dailymotion.com/visited/search/jerome%20murat/video/xf9oo_jerome-murat#comment_input

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MORE ON CHILDREN & READING: TEENS, SEX, & BOOKS
After this, I really am going to stop procrastinating!

Matt Cheney of The Mumpsimus has written an article about "literature and high school and sex." "What is Appropriate" appears in The Quarterly Conversation. I didn't comment on it, because I could feel a long-winded thought approaching.

Here's that thought, with a few silly embellishments along the way:

Matt,

As a writer and a mother of three, I found your essay interesting—although I am of that weird ilk with no television reception. (We have a t.v. and watch movies, but we receive no channels.) I have never been afraid to talk about sex or violence or anything else with my children. I am not in the least afraid to let them read whatever they want to read.

But I would point out that communities are living organisms and vary wildly in how quickly their children grow up and in how quickly those children want to ask more "advanced" questions about sex—and that it’s doing no real favor to young people when you encourage them to exit the realm of childhood more quickly than they would without your help. Why are we in such a dratted hurry on this issue? (Of course, the community of an elite private school like yours is its own world, and tends to develop its own character. And yes, of course, there are teens going to it like rabbits in every corner of the world.)

Plenty of teens in the current generation simply aren’t interested in exerting their freedom to have sex—in this generation, there are many who have decided it’s not what they want now or even before marriage, and that there are other things that are important and even thrilling. This is rather a shock to some parents, particularly to those in the baby-boomer-and-after generations, who must deal with the fact that today's teens are--what a surprise!--not like yesterday's. (I also think that there are a good many young people who can see through consumer culture and political mumbo-jumbo, whether from the right or the left, so get some red chalk and color that herring!)

What I’m more interested in is the teacher who is not trying to convey a message about sex or anything else but who shines with passion for books, and who can help a teenager catch a little spark of that fire. The problem isn’t that our teens don’t get enough sex in their books and so aren’t ready to talk about it when they turn 20; it’s that too many of them don’t give a hoot about reading at all, or else can’t progress from book pablum and book candy to a more elegant and satisfying meal.

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Credit: "Bookends 2" is courtesy of www.sxc.hu and the travel-loving Benjamin Earwicker (great last name! I must remember that one.) "Carved wooden bookends from the Phillipines hold up a few old books."

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