Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Very Divine Comedy, D. C. style

Hell & Heaven & your tax dollars at work

Inferno & Purgatorio in the Halls of Power

· Favorite line heard in a senator’s office: “I don’t really know because I’ve never had that dialogue-discussion. If the Senator were in here, he would be more than happy to answer that question.”

· Favorite waffling: “That’s not one of my issues per se.”

· Favorite earnest cliché: “He puts his best foot forward, he really does.”

· Favorite utterly confused and redundant line with a failed wind-up toy (or music box) metaphor: “There are so many different myriads that you have to wind down and listen to.”

· Favorite evasion: “I don’t recall personally . . . since I’ve been serving in this capacity."

· Favorite unintentionally funny remark: “It gets very challenging out there . . . so I moved back here.”

· Favorite irreverent notes in the margin: “I hope you’re getting all this down.” “Let’s play hangman!” “We could be at the National Gallery!” “Okay, I’ve sucked this thing DRY for its “fictional interest”—let’s g-o.” “What animal would you most like to be?” “Roadrunner. Run far, very far, very fast.”


At last we take the blessed Beatrice by the hand and enter the realm of wisdom and beauty.

· Favorite meaningful phrase from a Senator: “the Talmudic notion to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.” In fact, our 30 minutes with him were composed entirely of meaningful phrases. And that was consoling and enlivening and restorative.

· Two things of gravity and grace in the Hart Office Building:

Calder’s Mountain & Clouds. I’m afraid that I immediately thought of the wing of a stealth bomber when I saw the clouds, and the whole piece is black and threatening and fierce from below—and very playful from above. Mako Fujimura talked about how hard it was to make the Hart Building’s huge interior space “come alive aesthetically” and how few sculptors were capable of “this kind of gravitas” in order to do so. (The next day I ran into Calder’s “Six Dots Over a Mountain” at the Hirshhorn—I’d forgotten that one, gay and playful.);

Senator Lieberman (D-Connecticut).

· Most surprising person, who turned out to be very different from what I had expected: journalist Joseph Laconte, a man of contradictions and sparkling humor.

· Favorite warm, funny, heart-breaking storyteller: Roy Herron, Tennessee Senator (D-Dresden.) He promised to talk candidly and as if to friends, trusting us with what he had to say. So I won’t repeat those private conversations. But I ached to move back home, listening, and I’m going to do a book swap with him.

· Favorite lunch: I’ll pick the National Museum of the American Indian over the Thai restaurant at Union Station. Wonderful twist on the idea of the “museum café,” with native foods from different parts of the Americas. And a great view of stones and stream and trees. While I wasn’t surprised that the museum was a bit p. c. (caught between its desire to condemn the 900 conquistadors, say, and the realization that 200,000 enthusiastic Indians rose with them against the Aztecs—also between its desire to stomp on the missionary impulse and the fact that Native Americans are heavily Christian) and here and there burdened with technology (ah, the ease of those little white cards of days gone by!), I was surprised by the way materials were displayed in great currents—floods of points, gold, or Bibles. I was taken with the stream and stones with its sink-hole drop, the “cliff-dwelling” wall, the enormous prisms, and the onward-flowing and anti-linear shapes of exhibits.

· Favorite dinner: at McCormick & Schmick’s

· Most “forgotten” painting: I was taken with Fragonard’s portrait of a young girl reading. I’ve seen it many times before, and I’ve seen it reproduced so many times that I thought it had become meaningless to me. But it has a vigor and fluidity that stopped me, and I saw all over again that it possessed the gusto and spirit of life that I cherish in a picture. It’s wonderful that the genuine picture can still triumph over the numbness caused by over-saturation and reproduction.

· Favorite sight: Flying below a grand armada of clouds and seeing the beams of light reaching to earth—and at the top near the clouds, they were Elizabeth Bishop’s “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” And that’s a fish I had to let go…

· Other favorite moments: the autumn light catching the flags; the plane climbing over the Mall; the conversations with friends from Yale Divinity and others strewn across the country.


Here's a glimpse of one angle of Calder's "Mountain and Clouds," although it clips off most of the cloud mobile.

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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.