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

Thaliad 2012

Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
See Clive's posts on Thaliad here
Book design by Elizabeth Adams

a post-apocalyptic tale in verse, "a powerful and beautiful saga"


THALIAD: comments, excerpts, images, review clips, ordering information 

On Books and Culture's "Favorite Books of 2012" list: here

In THALIAD, Marly Youmans has written a powerful and beautiful saga of seven children who escape a fiery apocalypse----though "written" is hardly the word to use, as this extraordinary account seems rather "channeled" or dreamed or imparted in a vision, told in heroic poetry of the highest calibre. Amazing, mesmerizing, filled with pithy wisdom, THALIAD is a work of genius which also seems particularly relevant to our own time.
          --Lee Smith
Lee Smith is the award-wining author of 16 books of fiction. She is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award.
WAYS TO ORDER THALIAD

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Vignette for Thaliad by Clive Hicks-Jenkins 

. . . reminiscent of heroic epics (Homer meets Gerald Manley Hopkins), and packed with fairy tale and mythic references, Thaliad recounts the aftermath of a fiery apocalypse, and the perilous journey of a band of children led by a girl whose prophetic visions guide them to a sanctuary on the edge of a lake. Here, they confront the challenges of re-creating the world – a world illuminated by hope and love.
Youmans has given . . . a wondrous text filled with richly layered and evocative poetry. Like a bardic tale, it demands to be read aloud. The images of nature are sensual, fertile, a source of healing. Violence is hammered into fierce staccato rhythms and Thalia’s ecstatic visions soar with heat and light as the human spirit is consoled by the divine. We are not spared the hardships of the journey, but through the storyteller’s voice we have confidence in our destination—it is this commitment to the angels of our better nature in Youmans' sublime poetry that gives Thaliad its power to inspire hope out of fear and love out of hate.
     --Midori Snyder, "The Sublime Collaboration of Author Marly Youmans with Artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins: Thaliad," from In the Labyrinth

Recounted 67 years later by Emma, a teenaged librarian who roves the wastes with sword and gun in search of unrescued books, the Thaliad fuses several out-of-vogue elements--formalist verse, narrative poetry, classical epic--to a familiar science fiction trope. What grows from this grafting is a weird, fresh, magical thing: the story of a new world rooted in the ingenuity and optimism of "one who / Was ordinary as a stone or stem / Until the fire came and called her name." --Jeff Sypeck, from Quid plura?

The epic form is not an easy one, and in lesser hands this audacious project would have failed . . . but Marly makes it work. The subject matter, postapocalyptic survival, is grand enough to merit the form she's chosen--and the children's journey is told with deep sentiment but no cloying sentimentality. This is a beautiful and powerful book--worth owning, worth reading and rereading. I am so glad that it exists in the world and that I can turn to it, time and again, glorying in the language and the hope.
   --Rachel Barenblat, "Marly Youmans' Thaliad," from Velveteen Rabbi

Vignette for Thaliad by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

A while ago I was looking at a poet's website and saw that her next book was a post-apocalyptic blank verse epic, with specially commissioned illustrations. Someone's written a book just for me! I thought to myself. And Marly Youmans has, it would seem, done just that: Thaliad is a marvelous work, an exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin for a society born of a clutch of children who survive a nuclear war. (Youmans' very name suggests a post-English-language attempt to write the name of our species.)
     --Caustic Cover Critic

Daringly, Marly Youmans’ Thaliad takes the blank verse epic into post-apocalyptic territory. In its reflections on group memory and foundational myth, this is a poem that relishes the ways in which the modern teller – whether the bard Emma or Youmans herself – fashions fragile new worlds in the act of rehearsing the old. Above all, perhaps, Thaliad is a plea against violence in all its forms; a call – articulated in different voices throughout – to protect not only the wellsprings of human love, but also those of the natural world, whose ‘simple golden wedding’ we may yet experience, as long as our memory is sufficiently long, and our desire for a different future strong enough.
          --Damian Walford Davies
Co-director of the Centre for Romantic Studies at Aberystwyth University (Wales), Damian Walford Davies is the author of three collections of poetry, editor of many collections of essays, and author of a monograph and many articles about the Romantics.
Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

A remarkable and daring work of interstitial art: an epic poem of the new future than demands you read it on its own terms, and rewards you greatly for it.
More to the point, it's believable: an artifact of a dystopian future that combines the best of epic poetry with modern fiction.
By turns funny, insightful and deeply moving. I'd love to hear it read aloud.
          --Ellen Kushner
Ellen Kushner is the award-winning author of six fantasy novels and was the host of WBGH's Sound and Spirit for 14 years.
Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Marly Youmans has always had a flair for the mythological, but it is new to add the apocalyptic. Thaliad marries the end of the world to its new beginning, and does so by joining children’s literature with adult literature. The City of Ember, The Giver, The Road, The Tempest: Youmans merges genre with the symbolic truths about our lives, and comes up a long blank verse poem that speaks to suffering and hope, to cruelty and to resurrection. If we feel that the world has been lost, Youmans reminds us that “God is otherwise than what you dream / And knew your secret name before the shear / Of light, explosive kiss that birthed the stars. . . . / He calls your glowing name and bids you rise.”
          --Kim Bridgford
Author of four books of poetry, Kim Bridgford is an award-winning poet, editor of Mezzo Cammin, founder of the Women's Timeline Project, and director of the West Chester Poetry Conference.
Vignette, Clive Hicks-Jenkins

This is a brilliant and imaginative work. It's a writer stretching and doing something creative and different. And Youmans is poet enough to pull it off beautifully... Verdict: I loved this. Who the hell writes a post-apocalyptic ...novella in blank verse? Obviously, someone inspired by a non-commercial muse. Thaliad is beautiful and touching and deserves a wider audience. Highly recommended!"
     --Inverarity
Marly's writing swept me into another world with her beautiful language and her storytelling magic. Here's one of my favourite passages:

The glare threw flames of dazzle, dazzle cast
Uncanny aura, aura beckoned dream,
And dream was drowned by day and brought tide
Of gold in spilling flood, to flood the mind
Until no mind was minding anything
But lapping radiance, and radiance
Ruled Glimmerglass and flashing form, the form
Of something weird, making and unmaking,
Unmaking Thalia till Thalia Was
Empty husk, and husk was packed with sun,
And sun was sealed in trembling dark, and dark
Arose in dreams, and dreams made lucent night.
          (from Chapter XVI, page 62-3)

To me, these words seem like waves repeatedly washing ashore. That repetition and rhythm made me think of The Kalevala, a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology.
     --Marja-Leena Rathje, at on printworks and other passions 20 January 2013

Selections from Thaliad 

from XVII, The Bridal May:
If only, he repeated with a laugh.
If we, when we were children wandering, 
Had gone as far as Patagonia 
Or borrowed ships and sailed away to sea 
To China, Congo, Singapore, Japan, 
Or stopped in port at Ivory Coast or Guam 
Or India or islands no one’s seen, 
If we had come to find the world a waste 
Where nothing grew and no thing held out hope, 
If we had tilled a countryside of ash, 
If we had eyed a land of pillared ice 
And sucked on snow for all our nourishment, 
If we had stumbled onto foreign thrones 
Or else been captured, forced to toil as slaves, 
I still would be your love, and you be mine. 
And so they married in the gothic church
With Thalia presiding like a priest
To read the liturgy and hear the vows
And write their names inside the record book
With those of many who had gone before
And married in that ceremonial
And sacred space while saints and angels stared.
Maid of honor and best man played florist,
 Picking flowers from a ruined garden,
And served as guardians of wedding peace,
Their bows and shotguns left beside the door.
Words echoed, wavering in emptiness:
And in accordance with the purposes…
First miracle at Cana, Galilee…
And in accordance with God’s holy word…
To live together in the covenant…
Be faithful as long as you both shall live…
The angel with the shattered face let in
The sun and, once, a wobbling butterfly
That made a patch of white inside the room.
Beyond the doors, the end of May was gold,
Abundant living dust, persistent seed,
Such lushness as they’d never seen before
And hardly recognized for what it was—
The promise harvest years would be ahead,
For conifers and oaks, the hickories
And walnuts, spruces, pines were blossoming
And clouding air with fertile shining silt
That somersaulted in a beam of sun,
That changed the spiderwebs to something rich,
That kissed the surfaces of Glimmerglass
And turned its scalloped border into gold,
That moved across the air as if alive,
The landscape’s bright epithalamion,
The simple golden wedding of the world.

Excerpt, part IV of Thaliad in qarrtsiluni 

Passage from Thaliad (from I. Luring the Starlit Muse in Mezzo Cammin (scroll down, as it's after eight poems)

from XXI, (Samuel and Thalia, after tragic events):
Then Samuel in sorrow vowed to her
Now I will leave and find another place,
A village where my heart is not in earth,
And Thalia replied to him with truth:
There is no other village, is no place
To find where your dead heart is not in earth.
And still he moaned his lot, exclaimed with tears,
I want to go where ground is not a waste,
And where my life is not a ruined town.
And Thalia with mercy answered him:
In time you will begin to heal your heart
And all that seems a waste will bloom once more.
But he went on in anger, blaming God,
The strangers who had maundered into town,
The grave that meant a stone around his neck,
Until she spoke in haste against his words:
For you there is only this blood-drenched ground,
The murdered life that is your freight of guilt,
Also the murdered life that is your own,
The world that you create by how you act
Or see or how you dream the world to be,
Your world that’s ruined everywhere like this,
Which you yourself have caused to be a waste,
Which you yourself have scorched with inner fire.

Some clips from “Thaliad – Marly Youmans” at http://tomcatintheredroom.com/2013/01/26/thaliad-marly-youmans/. The entirety is a wonderful example of a thoughtful reviewer’s mind at work and is well worth the read.
• one of the best examples [of post-apocalyptic narrative] I’ve ever read. 
• the sheer inventiveness and lyrical exuberance of Youmans’ writing. 
• beautiful and strange and violent language 
• It’s structurally formal, but the poetry never feels rigidly metered or constrained; a feat entirely due to the beauty, flow and vitality of the writing. 
• the book has some strikingly novelistic traits: chapter divisions, direct speech, and a first person narrator, all of which should act as a helpful way-in for those readers more familiar with novels than poetry. 
• Happily, there’s a fantastic inter-textual rationale behind this book’s title and its neo-classical form. The narrator (and supposed writer) of Thaliad, Emma, is speaking 60 years after the events she describes, and learnt her trade as a poet-historian by salvaging what books she could (presumably the Classics) from the ruined world’s libraries. So Thaliad, then, fictionalises the story of its own creation; the book itself is supposedly a piece of history, written as a record of the first years following ‘The Fire’. 
• The book’s real appeal is its language, its characters and the heartbreaking decisions they find themselves making. 
• Choices made and not-made are the thematic heart of the poem 
• the poem’s voice is mimetic of its subject – it’s brilliant. 
• there’s a graspable celebration of life, literature and re-birth that belies the oftentimes dark and violent nature of its plot. 
Thaliad is an extraordinary, deeply moving and fiercely intelligent poem, and I hope I’ve given some indication of its many achievements. 
• several of the story’s twists are genuinely shocking, genuinely original. 
• Its greatest accomplishment is the way it successfully melds so many disparate literary traditions into something cohesive, without seams. 
• It plays with form in memorable and mischievous ways (the first fourteen lines of chapter 18, for example, could easily be isolated as a kind of weird blank verse bucolic sonnet), and it always works.


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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.