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

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Transgress, transform, transcend--trala!

Recently I almost stopped writing fiction…

I was still fulfilling story-anthology requests, but I was overtaken a spring spate of poetry—a veritable flood in which I wrote one, two, or sometimes three poems a day. Formal poems, that is: the once-beloved kind with meter and rhyme and aspirations toward song. And I found this immensely satisfying. In the light of poetic practice of the last century, it feels positively kick-up-my-heels transgressive (transgressive--a favorite caddisfly-nymph decorative ornamentation of the academic world, which I hereby steal and pervert for my own purposes), particularly as some of these were not lyrics at all but longer narrative poems.

In addition, I entirely ceased thinking about where whatever thing I had made would be published because there was so darn many poems that I couldn’t even bother to think about such petty little distractions. This is a good, a downright delicious feeling, especially since I have realized that a writer who has seven books (counting the forthcoming U. K. book) but has never received the a “push” from her various mainstream publishers is not going to find novels easy to publish in the brave new world of publishing where Bookscan numbers, past marketing history, youth, and other silly things determine one’s lot. If my soulmate Hawthorne (so conscious of guilt that he must have been a Southerner in disguise) had had to put up with this stuff, he’d never have gotten so far as The Marble Faun. Why, who would publish so odd a thing as The Blithedale Romance? And what about that darling old crustacean, Melville? They never would have let him thrust his whaling boat past Moby Dick. Moby would have been the enormous white rock that his gifts foundered on. As it was, the powers tried manfully (demonfully, perhaps) to stop him. Luckily he managed to slip pursuit by constant transformation and by surviving neglect and general human stupidity. There’s nothing like eternal persistence, a trait (or perhaps itself a stupidity) for which the mid-list writer then and now must be grateful.

Having written an astonishing-to-me number of short-to-moderate-length poems this spring, I have ventured into long ones. Currently I’m on page 50 of a narrative poem entitled The Thaliad. As a person who has been prone to having each new book be entirely different from the last (the absolute bane of publishers) and who has frequently shifted from poetry to novel to story, I’m finding combining an expansive narrative with poetic form to be a fresh-feeling and an entirely enjoyable act. It’s a sort of culmination of many trajectories and tendencies having to do with approaches to joy, truth, and beauty.

And that is what I have been doing—along with the usual summer ferrying, the mama-work, the carrying-of-houses-and-laundry-and-so-on—while neglecting this airy little nothing called a blog.

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Illustration: scratchboard drawing by my daughter, 16.