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.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Best of the Net 2008

Congratulations to Carey Wallace ("The Century Room"), Dana Guthrie Martin ("And the Crickets Outside the Window"), and Monica Raymond ("Moth and Rat") for winning a place on the Sundress Best of the Net 2008 anthology. Carey's story and the two poems by Dana and Monica appeared in the Insecta issue of qarrtsiluni, edited with much gusto and labor by yours truly and Ivy Alvarez. Confetti and champagne!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Power and Magic in "Firebirds Soaring" (Firebird/Penguin)

Here's a little bite from "Power and Magic," a story written for Sharyn November's brand new Firebirds Soaring (Penguin, 2009). It's another experiment in the world of the Southern Rural Fantastic, a tale of insects, romance, teen lethargy and energy, a teenage boy magician, and the sultriest kind of Southern heat. The short story is set in north Georgia and was written especially for Sharyn's anthology.
This slice from the early portion of the story doesn't give anything vital away. It shows the narrator, India, with her two little-girl neighbors, Maudie and Clarisse:

Clarisse marched over in her mama’s emerald-green shoes, gouging the dirt with stiletto heels. They came to a point at the toe and were embroidered with gaudy little stuck-up flowers made out of ribbons.
The English language just about buckled under the strain of those shoes. I thought. I mulled. I drew together the considerable resources of my eyebrows and started knitting. It would take a ten-dollar word to cover those babies.
“Phenomenally ugly,” I said at last.
“What?” Maud came to look.
“Your mother’s shoes,” I said, propping myself on an elbow and addressing them: “Shoes, you are the ugliest, stupidest shoes I have ever seen in my life. You are a disgrace to cobblers everywhere.”
The shoes didn’t answer, even though they were the loudest damn things I’d ever seen. But the girls and I wrangled back and forth about whether these were the ugliest shoes or whether they might be somehow special and even a dratted work of the shoemaker’s art. I won, of course; they’re just kids of eight and nine, and besides, I’m dead smart. Afterward, I suggested that Maudie stick a mimosa blossom on the toes of the shoes. She did, but the flowers wouldn’t stay on.
“You’re just growing. That’s why you’re such a slug. That’s what our mama says.” Clarisse lifted her chin as though she had ambitions to be snooty, even though she’s nothing but trailer trash.
“Oh, she does, does she? I’ll have to have a word with your mama. This just happens when you grow. If you ever grow—which I doubt, because you’re probably doomed to be a midget forever—you’ll find out. Your blood turns to honey.” I rolled onto my back and stared at the branches.
“I thought you said somebody took out the blood and pumped in honey and molasses,” Maudie said suspiciously.
You can’t fool her.
“Yeah, well,” I said; “that, too. It was bad enough before they started in with the needles and pump.”
In the silence that followed, we could hear the cicadas throwing their rackety summer shindig in the pines behind the yard.
“I’ve got a mind to call the sheriff and get him to lock up those cicadas.”
Before I could hear what Maudie had to say to that one, I let out a yowl and erupted onto my feet.
“She got up,” Clarisse noted.
“Fire ants,” Maudie said with authority, watching me rip open my shirt.
By the time I was done tap-dancing around the yard, shaking down ants, I had five big welts already starting to itch.
“I hate this place.” I buttoned up, and then bent to inspect my legs for ticks.
“Want to go look at the crickets at the bait shop?” Maudie put her hands on her hips. “Take your mind off things.”
“What things? You sound like your mama,” I said.
“We can’t go down there alone,” Clarisse said; “but we can go with you, if you want to go.” She gave me a sly look.
“You could ask, if you really want to go.” I felt thoroughly disgusted. My arm was bruised from the fall, I’d been bitten up, and I was still stinking hot.
“Will you take us?” She looked ridiculous in those shoes, with the broke-necked doll under her arm.
“You could ask in a polite fashion,” I said; “If you know how.”
“Will you please take us?”
“No.”
After that came another silence. Clarisse looked as if she wanted to hurl the shoes at me, but she didn’t.
“Can I give you some advice, Clarisse?”
She didn’t answer.
“Don’t have sex, okay?”
Maudie was outraged. “She’s only just turned eight.”
“Yeah, I know, but the way she acts . . . She’s going nowhere fast.”
“Says who?” Maudie kicked me in the shins, and I escaped into the crotch of the mimosa tree.
“Says me. Look at those shoes. Clarisse is going to get pregnant if she doesn’t watch it. I bet she can’t even add in three columns.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Maudie thumped on the tree.
“I am not going to get that—what you say,” Clarisse shouted.
“She’ll be thirty years old, banging on a cash register at the Piggly Wiggly and giving everybody the wrong change,” I said.
“I will not give everybody wrong change!”
Just when they were going at me and I was ranting in fine style, Erl Jack Falchion shot into the yard, throwing up gravel, and jumped out of his truck. He wasn’t born Erl Jack Falchion, but that’s his name now. People hardly remember what the other one was, and I’m not going to tell them. I’ve known Erl Jack since we were babies parked nose to nose on a bed. He got his name fixed when he was twelve. My gran says he paid for the change with his own money that he earned picking in the fields. His mother signed for it. He probably had to pay her for the signature, too.

Soon I'll post some images (a scrumptious jacket from Clive Hicks-Jenkins) and blurbs for Val/Orson... There are insects and there is romance in that one, too, although in an entirely different style. I'm glad that I finally wrote a long story that is entirely in and on and of the trees.

Monday, March 16, 2009

More of the wisdom of William Plomer

A very happy
St. Patrick's Day to you--
and to my mother on her
rather large St. Patrick's Day
Birthday--

ART AND THE WORLD

from "A Writer's Faith"

"I believe in art because of its ability not only to console one when life is disheartening but for its power at any time to make life less disheartening and more exciting, to make life fuller and happier, when it already seems full and happy--when one is young, for instance, and in love, and beginning to succeed in one's chosen work."

"When we come to the question of what my belief in art has meant to me in my own life, I would say that it has meant first and foremost a battle. I do not mean a battle against any wavering or weakening of that belief held by me, but a battle against the pressure of the everyday world."

THE DEATH OF CIVLIZATION

from "Leonard Woolf"

"Leonard Woolf loved life and enjoyed many things right up to the time of his last illness. But he did feel, and had reason to feel, like most people who can recall the atmosphere in the early years of this century and who were living above the powerty-line, that the kind of hopefulness or confidence which largely imbued life in Western Europe before 1914 became, from then on, hardly tenable and eventually impossible. He felt that civilization, in his sense of the word, had largely declined and had on a large scale been destroyed..."

CAVAFY AS MIRROR

from "C. P. Cavafy"

"Cavafy is like that old mirror which 'had seen, and seen, / In the many years it had been / In existence, thousands of things and faces;' and he has that kind of serene disillusionment and spiritual urbanity that is only to be found in old, noble, and corrupt civilizations." --C. P. Cavafy

PEASANTS IN GLORY

from "R. S. Thomas"

"Round the obscure, small village spins 'on slow axis' a world 'vast and meaningful', everything matters, the transient is seen in the light of the eternal."

SWEETNESS

from "The Church Operas" (from essays on Benjamin Britten)

"It would be a mistake to suppose that the refinements of Nō make it a precious or remote or esoteric form of musical drama. 'The purpose of all art', Zeami wrote, 'is to bring sweetness to the hearts of all people and to harmonize high and low.'"

SECOND-HAND LIVES

from "Marginalia" (27 July 1952: Houghton)

"Conversation with the Queen Mother about Elizabeth I. She said she greatly wished she had had a classical education. I asked her if she had had any classics at all. Only a little Latin, she said. She rather wistfully wondered how there could be a 'new Elizabethan Age' when people were too easily satisfied with second-hand things, cinema, television, newspapers, etc."

OBLIGING LORD BYRON AND HIS MUM

(17 May 1969)

At the Poetry Dinner at the Rembrandt Hotel, over which I presided, a Nottinghamshire member told me that there is an elderly chemist stilll living in Nottingham whose grandfather, or great-grandfather, carried on the same occupation there, being spoken of in those days as an apothecary. He relates that Byron's mother once came over from Newstead, and said that if Lord Byron were to come in and ask the apothecary to make up a poisonous draught, she wished him to dilute it with distilled water. Shortly afterwards Byron came in and said, 'If Lady Byron comes in and requires you to mix a poisonous draught, you will oblige me by diluting it with saline.' The apothecary supposed that these visits were the result of a great row between the mother and son.

"THE DARK PLACES OF THOUGHT"

from "Herman Melville"

"He saw what the world was and he saw what it might be, and the difference between these two visions sent him into a kind of trance."

Not enough? http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.com/2009/01/christmas-to-epiphany.html All these quotes from Plomer are from Electric Delights, a lovely book from David R. Godine.

Photograph of a whitewashed and thatched Irish cottage with rhododendrons and a heap of dried peat: courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/ and the photographer, Mira Pavlakovic of Croatia.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Questions for Mrs. Nose

This is for my friend Robbi, who asked.

Nobody else ask! Consider yourself asked in turn if you want to be asked.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
Yes, my mother, Mary Sue Morris Youmans. She was probably not completely pleased because she never admits to "Sue." Of course, as a child in south George she was called "Mary Sue." My father named me.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
Do tears in the eyes count? In that case, I think it might have been reading Yeats.
*
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
You can find out the curious truth about my handwriting here: http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.com/2007/09/little-man-of-letters.html. Today my hand has relaxed considerably from the Palmer method and is more eccentric and more itself, but people tend to admire my handwriting all the same. Of course, good handwriting is not a virtue and helps nothing much.

4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT?
The words "lunch meat" disgust me. I refused to admit to having eaten such a vile phrase.
*
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS?
No to young goats, yes to children: three, two sons and a daughter ranging in age from 11 to 19. Children are more important than writing. I can't say that about much.
*
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
Hard to say. Yes, I think so. After all, I love being with my daughter, and we are much alike.
*
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM?
Seldom. I was too domesticated by my Southern ancestors. If I do use sarcasm, it generally refers to a child's midden or personal heap of debris, otherwise known as a bedroom.
*
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
Yes, and doctors always report that they are Guiness-record size.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
I rebound. That's close enough for me.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?
I'm on a narrow-minded diet, thanks. No cereal. Don't even mention foods not on the list to me.

11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
I haven't the slightest. Probably I'd have to say "no" because I only have one pair with ties, and they vanished into a child's midden long ago.

Usually it's "13" that is missing. WHY IS 12 MISSING?
12 has evidently been excused. It was probably WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WISH? or WHAT HARRY POTTER CHARACTER WOULD YOU BE? or WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CELEBRITY?

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM?
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Didn't I say not to mention foods not on The List?

14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE?
Whether they feel "like me" or where on the spectrum of interestingly different from me they appear.

15. RED OR PINK?
Red is no longer my color. Pink, which I like less, is. Pink: a pale pink, the inside of a shell, perhaps.
*
16. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
A deep-seated conviction that I am a fool and that the word "Fool" will someday appear in golden, beautiful letters on my forehead: perhaps that is true; perhaps it is a fiction. You pick.
*
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
My dead.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO COMPLETE THIS LIST?
That is a terrifying idea. I do not want everyone to do anything. Nothing in this world appears to be exactly right for everyone. I do not even want everyone to read my books, for pity's sake. I wouldn't mind if they all bought them and gave them to a beloved friend, though.

19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
Barefoot. Grey shorts for rebounding--just yo-yo'd up and down and about for an hour.
*
What happened to #20? First 12, now 20. It's not a bad idea. We could get rid of a few more...

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
Birds craking against the dull sky and snow. The hiss of this computer. The small crik of a branch.

22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
Verdant green. (Happily "verdant green," not as in the famous poem wherein grasshopper's "verdant green" becomes "green ice.")

23. FAVORITE SMELL?
My mother's cooking, my husband's cooking, violets in bloom, gardenias in bloom, sea salt in the air.

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
A fat man with blue hair. A lama. A storytelling liar.

25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
Yes, and I wouldn't bestir myself if I didn't! She is my longtime friend Robbi Nester, a tiny woman of 4'11" who is a poet and college teacher and mother and wife and reader and much else. She is a woman of vim and energy. She blogs at Shadow Knows.

26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
Anything that my son of 11 plays. As he was the lightest person in the entire football league last year, I watched those games on tenterhooks--uncomfortable seat, tenterhooks.

27. HAIR COLOR?
I was born blonde and slowly darkened to brown. Now I have a splot of less desirable color, hidden by the usual magic.

28. EYE COLOR?
Green. You knew that.

29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
I am quite near-sighted and have sensitive eyes, and contacts make my eyes not green but green and red. Most unattractive except during the Christmas holidays, when I might consider them festive, worn with a holly crown.

30. FAVORITE FOOD?
Utterly impossible. I grew up with a great Southern cook and married a man who became a great cook because I wouldn't eat anything that wasn't good. (That's what he claims, anyway.) I have a great weakness for all kinds of Southern things, especially okra and lady peas and black eyes. I also have a weakness for chocolate, Asian food of all sorts, fiery dishes, TexMex--I just like good food, though I'm not a huge carnivore. I could easily give up meat, were it not on the menu. Among game, I prefer antelope. Probably if I had to make a wish right now, I'd wish for a bowl of hoppin' john (fresh black eyes, though, none of your dried-our rubbish) garnished with scallions and hot peppers. Now that's comfort.

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
If it's me, I'll take the happy ending and hope there's not a thing scary about it. Yes, yes, I know what the question meant! Okay, I refuse to answer. Stupid question, really. I prefer whatever it is to be good of its kind.
*
32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?
Last re-watch: Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle."
Last first-time watch: Lotte Reiniger, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed," (1926, I believe). Utterly lovely and strange silhouette animation, very complex and detailed and surprisingly emotional: this is a movie definitely worth digging for. My penpal Clive once worked for somebody who owned Reiniger puppets: how scrumptious!

33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
A skimpy blue top for rebounding with a white shirt pulled over.
*
34. SUMMER OR WINTER?
I detest being cold (as any proper Southerner in upstate New York ought to do), but adore Yankee autumns with colored leaves and blue cobalt nights with snow falling and the northern lights pale over the frozen lake. On the other hand, there's no spring to speak of here. I'll pick spring. Yes. Spring: a long Southern spring with redbuds and flame azaleas in the mountains.

35. HUGS OR KISSES?
Yes.
*
36. FAVORITE DESSERT?
Impossible when you live with cooks. There are too many wonderful dinners. All sorts of chocolate desserts. Then there was the three months when my husband became obsessed with baking cheesecakes of all sorts, and cheesecake turned out to be something different than I had ever imagined... And when he did homemade croissants. I think those took three days and were some of the best pastries I've eaten. I like poached pears fixed in simple ways with creme, and little pear and nut tarts. I could write a little book about this topic... It would be a fan letter to my husband and would probably also explain why I'm going on a brief little diet.

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
To this?
*
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
A pebble.

39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
Just finished Jedadiah Berry's The Manual of Detection and am currently reading Derek Walcott, Selected Poems and Geoffrey Hill, Selected Poems, and a brand new book of poems, Elegies for the Water by Philip Lee Williams. I just pulled it out of the mail basket and so have only read two poems. My husband is engrossed in a book about Stalin and reading me terrifying, astonishing bits. We don't know nearly as much about those times as we ought, I think: some of the saddest stories in the world.

40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
A roof. I'd hardly call it a "pad" though: more a rural bungalow.

41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON TV LAST NIGHT?
Nothing, same as usual. I do not have t.v. connection, though I have one to watch movies.
*
42. FAVORITE SOUND(S)?
Katydids, cicadas, bells, mockingbirds (oh, I miss mockingbirds! though not at 4:00 a.m.), Southern drawls, my children singing, the words "I love you" and "I just cleaned up my room," Taverner, etc.

43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES?
Sure.

44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME?
An airplane over Iceland, maybe? Vancouver? I've missed a lot of good spouse-trips because I stayed home with children. However, this year I'm supposedly going to Thailand and some adjacent country or other as well.
*
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT?
Yes.

46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
Aiken, South Carolina. I think the hospital is now county offices.
*
47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK?
Anything from another world. Okay, I know what you meant!
*
48. HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR SPOUSE?
I was bending over a desk, wearing purple wool pants. A smallish purple bottom caught his eye.
*
49. IS THE CUP HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?
My cup runneth over, thanks. Sometimes I don't notice, though...

50. IF YOU COULD SIT DOWN TO DINNER WITH FIVE PEOPLE WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE.
Well, I shall have to ask Robbi, who inflicted this on me, but in revenge and friendship I shall make her the hostess. I'm assuming that the five people have to be alive and walking or wheeling around on the planet at this very moment. It would be interesting and amusing to have dinner with some of the people who have corresponded with me but whom I have never met or have only met once. How about: Clive Hicks-Jenkins, the painter; Howard Bahr (I have met him once and written about it on my blog, and I would like to see him again) the novelist; Ingrid Hill, novelist and short story writer, Philip Lee Williams, novelist and poet and essayist; Laura Frankstone, painter. However, that is quite a mishmash and would give the hostess quite a lot of work...
*
Probably it would end in tears and a food fight.
*
So I'd be perfectly content and happy sitting down with my family: we are five, and I would ask my mother to make me-plus-five.
The Food Fight Party:


PICTURE: Think my husband took this one; it was taken at the same time as one that is at Mezzo Cammin. I don't sit still for a snap often. I think these are two years old... Different hair, different glasses.