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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Self-portrait at qarrtsiluni

"Self-portrait as Dryad, no. 7" is up at qarrtsiluni: There's a podcast and a place for comments, so I'll turn them off here as I'm sure qarrtsiluni and Beth Adams and Dave Bonta (the Bontasaurus) have earned any love that comes along.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book of the Year + 2009 news

Wouldn't it be surprising if a little novel published in a foreign country and in a limited edition caught a "Book of the Year" notice anywhere in the U.S.? We don't seem to pay that much attention to books in short runs, published on the other side of the ocean. I didn't imagine such a thing--though I've been on such lists before, the idea of Val/Orson even making a "Top Ten" list never drifted anywhere near my mind.

But here it is at the end of a list by John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture:

Book of the Year:

Val/Orson. Marly Youmans. PS Publishing. I quote from Catherynne Valente's excellent introduction to this novella: "It is Shakespearean in its sensibility, with its enchanted wood, its twins, its doubling and quadrupling of couples and families, its fairy brood. It is difficult to say that it is a fantasy novel, and difficult to say it isn't." The word "magical" has been overused and misused to such an extent that it has perhaps lost its potency, but this tale, set among the redwoods of Northern California, is truly magical. I'm sorry it is not as easily obtained as the others on this list, but I can attest—having ordered it from the UK myself—that it is by no means inaccessible. And you will be amply rewarded. More than any other book I read in 2009, this one insistently came to mind.

I was very, very surprised; I am even more pleased!

(And see the post below for news about a Christmas sale on Val/Orson and other P. S. Publishing books...)

* * *

Here are a few more good bookish things that came my way in 2009:

One of them has to be publishing Val/Orson with publisher Pete Crowther and editor Nick Gevers's P. S. Publishing (U.K.). A bonus on this was getting to mull ideas with my penpal Clive Hicks-Jenkins and then see him draw out of his magical hat a most marvelous cover/jacket. In addition, I got to know Robert Freeman Wexler, writer and book designer.

On top of all that, Clive sent me the painting for the jacket...

I am very glad to have a forthcoming hardover / softcover collection of poems: The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011). Our times are not of the best for poets, particularly for ones like me who like to romp in the mind-freeing chains of formal verse... To be asked for a manuscript in these days is sweet. The title poem can be seen here (scroll down)..

At last I have written a book for my third child. I'm not quite done--still typing in changes scribbled on the manuscript--but am almost there. That makes one book for each child of mine, and so may be the end of children's books for me, but who knows?

Last, I have had some encouragement in the midst of the doomy gloom that swirls around publishing by way of a bountiful--a quite exceptional--crop of queries from publishers and editors this year. This despite the fact that I have never received what is known as “a push” in the industry… Encouragement is a lovely thing for a “mid-list writer” who clings to her own way of making poems and stories.

Monday, December 07, 2009


P. S. Publishing is having a Christmas sale: 3 books for the price of 2. Now you could use Val/Orson in multiples of three, couldn't you? And many other books as well.
Broad jump to

Friday, December 04, 2009

"It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee": the 4th FLEA

THE FLEA, broadsheet no. 4

Like the very best sort of vampire--not sparkly, not sappy, and juicy with blood--The Flea leaps onto the stage of the mortal world.

Epigraphic poem: Borrowed Tactics by Mark Allinson
Dionysus and Apollo by Thomas Zimmerman
The Memoir Artists by Marly Youmans
When Jesus Was Grown by Gail White
The Reading by Timothy Murphy
Sticking Point by Rick Mullin
The Auguries Road-Kill by David W. Landrum
Buried Lines by Rose Kelleher
Double or Quits by Clive James
Genesis by Jan Iwaszkiewicz
Practising by Midge Goldberg
There at the Frontier by Richard Epstein
On Correctness by Ann Drysdale
Valediction: Demanding Remorse by Kevin Cutrer
Twickenham Stadium by Norman Ball
Down Slope by Gene Auprey
Bell’s Theorem by Mark Allinson
What Light I Can Conjure by Mary Alexandra Agner

Friday, November 13, 2009

New books by friends, part 1: BOOKLIFE & me

Since flying from Siem Reap to Bangkok to Tokyo to D. C. to Albany, I have been roiled and clubbed and generally dragged in and out of sleep by raging jet lag. Twelve time zones appears to be too much for this body. Meanwhile the floor guys came and tore up multiple rotting floors in my 1808 house--antique larch and old-fashioned linseed-oil style linoleum going in--and computer and printer and camera and so on are lost in tottering towers in the dining room. Therefore I am putting off any notes on my adventures in Thailand and Cambodia, and I am doing something I have meant to do for months and months: put out the news about friends with new books. This and upcoming notes on books should not be regarded as reviews but as friendly introductions. Books by Howard Bahr, Philip Lee Williams, Corey Mesler, and a good many more are heaped on the corner of my desk, waiting for further attention.

Book no. 1 will be Booklife (Tachyon, 2009), for the happy reason that my still jet-lagged body must move a mere three feet to claim it. Jeff Vandermeer actually has two new books out, Finch and Booklife. I haven't ordered Finch as yet.

The world is awash in books about how to be a writer, but Booklife is a how-to of considerable interest. It pays a good deal of attention to how to live a healthy and healthy-minded life despite being a writer (there's a trick for many!), how to plan strategically as a writer, how to deal with gifts and not-gifts, how to make a living network of connections that are genuine rather than mere frantic attempts to scratch your own back with somebody else's fingernails, and how to navigate those pleasant little sloughs, rejection and envy and despair. Oh, there's lots more, right down to the nuts and bolts of the internet--twitterage, facebook-playing, blogging, and so on.

Though my next book will be my 8th, I still found much to contemplate in Booklife. I suppose the thing that prodded me the most is Jeff's emphasis on planning the future because I, like many creative souls, tend to be a tumbleweed catching the breeze and rolling until I meet a friendly or (alas!) not-so-friendly fence post. The Vandermeer mode--and it has certainly worked for Jeff as he climbed up from obscurity to the small presses to the mainstream--is to establish long-term goals. He has five-year plans, one-year plans, monthly tasks, and weekly tasks. He even has a mission statement that he revises from time to time. This is a pitch of organization that's way beyond the me of my first eight books. Yet I see much to admire in writing down what one wants to accomplish over a long period and in having a systematic way of examining accomplishments and adjusting goals. The Vandermeer method asks the writer to glance at long-term and short-term goal documents on a daily basis and also revises them quarterly. Such efforts have all the romance of a bank balance sheet, but they appear to be a way of pushing oneself forward--as in the practical, ordinary way that a dieter writes down each meal's calories in order to become aware of whether she is moving toward the desired goal and to increase motivation.

I'm going to try a little planning in the Vandermeer mode right now. I'll try and lay out some one-year goals . . .
  • PR Consider what to do in order to get ready for The Throne of Psyche when it comes out in hardcover and softcover in 2011. My last book of poetry (Claire, LSU) did not sell all that well. In this it was no different from almost all poetry books, and at that time I was constrained by a more-than-usual need to be home for my three children. I have greater freedom now. What can I plan to do and set in motion so that The Throne of Psyche can be more successful? Samuel Johnson sold by subscription; what can I do in 2010-11 to bring my book to a contemporary audience?
  • POETRY I already have an unsolicited request for a next book of poetry. That's pretty darn good, given the state of poetry publishing. Whether my third book of poems goes to that editor or not, I need to have a well-structured book of poems by next April. The poems are finished, but I need order. And the book must go out in May because I will be very busy in June and July.
  • POETRY Who knows how many new poems will come? That depends on the fount and the muse. Send them to poetry magazines that I like--particularly Mezzo Cammin and The Flea--and more general outlets. Think about the recent request for poems about the Asia trip.
  • SHORT FICTION Something to mull: I have enough short fiction to fill several wheelbarrows. What to do with these stories already published in magazines and anthologies? Given the state of the story market, what can be done? Collect or ignore?
  • SHORT FICTION Fill all reasonable anthology requests and follow the urgings of desire!
  • NOVELS I have manuscripts out at several good presses, all from surprise requests. I must say that I love being asked even more than I love being published by a prestigious mainstream publisher. This may be a less-than-stellar attitude, but it feels good to me. I need to place at least one novel in the coming year. And I ought to reread all novel manuscripts on hand.
  • NOVELS Do not write a new novel this year!
  • CHILDREN'S NOVEL I finished the draft of the novel written for my youngest child before I left for Thailand. Before Christmas I need a fairly high polish on the manuscript so that I can pass it on to my daughter for illustration--this is counter to the way things are usually done, but I'm committed to submitting this manuscript with illustrations. The novel contains a teenage girl who keeps a drawing journal, so the illustrations will be tightly bound to the text. The book needs to be submitted in 2010. It should go to FSG, where the majority of my books have been published, and to other editors who have asked to see my children's books.
  • MAJOR EVENTS Right now I'm up for three long events in the coming year--one as-yet-in-the-planning-stages week-long workshop for my own community, one visiting writer gig at the Hollins M. A. program in children's literature, and one stint at "Shared Worlds" at Wofford. Ponder what more is right for 2010, given family commitments and upcoming graduations?
  • REVIEWS Am I too busy to do reviews? Re-consider? I probably am, but perhaps it is worthwhile anyway . . .

That wasn't too painful; I'll have to look at it from time to time and see if I can make use of it. (Feel free to add some advice or corrective!) You may find some other aspect of Booklife to be fruitful; I recommend it as a handbook with more heart and wisdom than most.

Cautionary admission: Jeff quotes from me here and there, and there's a tiny essay on luck by me somewhere in the region of the appendix.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Mark this FLEA

The Flea Broadsheets
Flea No. 3 (by Paul Stevens, that imaginative editor) is up--and floating in its tight belly are these:
Hydrangeas by Mark Allinson
Sonnet by Mary Alexandra Agner
Iconography by Maryann Corbett
Said Yeats’s Bones to Hardy’s Heart... by Ann Drysdale
A Centaur in His Dragon World by Richard Epstein
The Way is Closed by Midge Goldberg
Relationships by Bill Greenwell
Herald by R. Nemo Hill
Footprint by Janet Kenny
In Defence of Hedonism by Janice D. Soderling
Approaching the Autobiographical by J.J. Steinfeld
Fly in Amber by Leo Yankevich
The Great Frost by Marly Youmans
Meteora by Thomas Zimmerman
Notice that for once I am not the last in an alphabetical list! Don't know why editors don't occasional do things backwards... And yes, that is sometimes the way a Southerner feels in Cooperstown. Round about January or February.
Next poetry forthcoming on line: "Interregnum," "Scout Ceremony," and "The Bottle Tree" in Mezzo Cammin. "Self-portrait as Dryad, no. 7" and "A Tree for Ezekiel" in qarrtsiluni.

Friday, September 25, 2009




What Is Last Drink Bird Head? That’s the catalyst editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer provided to over 80 writers in creating this unique anthology, with all proceeds going to All each writer got was an email with "Last Drink Bird Head" in the subject line and the directions "Who or what is Last Drink Bird Head? Under 500 words." The result? Last Drink Bird Head is a blues musician, a performance artist, a type of alcohol, a town in Texas, and even a song sung by Girl Scouts in Antarctica. Famed designer John Coulthart did the interior, which features bobbing bird heads in the corners of the pages, so that the antho is also a flipbook. Scott Eagle provided the distinctive cover art, and Jacob McMurray of Payseur & Schmidt contributed the cover design for the dustjacket.


In this small story, titled "The Four Directions," Last Drink Bird Head is not a person or creature but words on a scrap of paper shoved in a man's hand. Just to keep up with the disorienting surrealism of the book, I'll give you an excerpt--a scrap, if you will--from the middle of the 5-part story:

2. Last

The numberless sands went on.

Those old men had branded me infidel and sent me into the desert. My sweetheart, my mother, and my father had been slaughtered. Yet I trudged on and could not die.

In a good hour I came on the oasis of a shop, sign creaking: a solitary shoe, with LAST carved underneath.

The bandylegged owner laughed when he caught me drinking from a basin on the floor. He brought me a brimming pitcher, and I drank while he washed my feet.

Afterward, the last-maker measured them with his hands—the girth of the ball against the girth between thumb and middle finger, the instep between thumb and little finger. Søren whittled two precious spars of wood into lasts, shaping ‘feather edge’ and toe and heel.

Each day, he flung the shavings into the air, and they sailed away like feathers.

3. Drink

Once at daybreak, Søren gave me the pitcher and sent me to the spring. As always, I drank its bright sweetness and bathed in the pool until the sea sang in my ears.

I slept, cradled by water, and when I woke, saw an angel cutting diagonally away from the fountain. The battered cup was still trembling on its chain.


Ministry of Whimsy, through Wyrm Publishing, has made the Last Drink Bird Head flash fiction anthology available for preorder at a $5 discount. All proceeds go to ProLiteracy, an organization that “champions the power of literacy to improve the lives of adults and their families, communities, and societies. We envision a world in which everyone can read, write, compute, and use technology to lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.”


Daniel Abraham, Michael Arnzen, Steve Aylett, KJ Bishop, Michael Bishop, Desirina Boskovich, Keith Brooke, Jesse Bullington, Richard Butner, Catherine Cheek, Matthew Cheney, Michael Cisco, Gio Clairval, Alan M. Clark, Brendan Connell, Paul Di Filippo, Stephen R. Donaldson, Rikki Ducornet, Clare Dudman, Hal Duncan, Scott Eagle, Brian Evenson, Eliot Fintushel, Jeffrey Ford, Richard Gehr, Felix Gilman, Jon Courtney Grimwood, Rhys Hughes, Paul Jessup, Antony Johnston, John Kaiine, Henry Kaiser, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tessa Kum, Ellen Kushner, Jay Lake, Tanith Lee, Stina Leicht, Therese Littleton, Beth Adele Long, Dustin Long, Nick Mamatas, JM McDermott, Sarah Monette, Kari O’Connor, Ben Peek, Holly Phillips, Louis Phillips, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Mark Rich, Bruce Holland Rogers, Nicholas Royle, G Eric Schaller, Ekaterina Sedia, Ramsey Shehadeh, Peter Straub, Victoria Strauss, Michael Swanwick, Mark Swartz, Alan Swirsky, Rachel Swirsky, Sonya Taaffe, Justin Taylor, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Thomas, Scott Thomas, John Urbancik, Genevieve Valentine, Kim Westwood, Leslie What, Andrew Steiger White, Conrad Williams, Liz Williams, Neil Williamson, Caleb Wilson, Gene Wolfe, Jonathan Wood, Marly Youmans, and Catherine Zeidler

Direct link to order page:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Throne of Psyche

On Monday I learned that my next book--my eighth but only my second poetry book--will be The Throne of Psyche, a collection of sixty poems (Mercer University Press.) Public domain image: Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid's Garden by John William Waterhouse (1904)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New anthologies & Val/Orson special


Postscripts 19: The PS Quarterly Anthology (P. S. Publishing) contains my story, "The Red King's Sleep." The publisher says that "this Postscripts anthology is probably the best yet, containing gripping, stylish stories by some of the finest genre writers around . . . Marly Youmans enters the world of Through the Looking Glass from a terrifying angle."

Editorial - Nick Gevers
Daniel Abraham - 'Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor's Vengeance'
Andrew Hook - 'Bigger Than The Beetles'
David T. Wilbanks - 'The Cacto Skeleton'
Matthew Hughes - 'Enemy of the Good'
David N. Drake - 'A Life Cliched'
Marly Youmans - 'The Red King's Sleep'
Tim Lees - 'Meeting Mr. Tony'
Scott Edelman - 'The World Breaks'
Justin Cartaginese - 'The Portrayed Man'
Chrs Beckett - 'The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolis 9'
Ron Savage - 'Famous People'
M.K. Hobson - 'The Warlock and the Man of the Word'

In addition, P. S. Publishing is running a special on the four P. S. books reviewed recently in "Black Static," including Val/Orson. You may find that offer at the P. S. website: If you want to see a clip from my "Black Static" review, sail to and check out the Val/Orson page.

Available for pre-orders at your friendly neighborhood bookstore or elsewhere: The Beastly Bride (Viking), another marvelous anthology from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

My story is "The Salamander Fire," in which you may find a young glassblower, a lawyer who is busy turning into a demon, fire bathers in an underworld, a salamander, and much more. I like the anthologies in this series and am pleased to be in this one.

Author list: Christopher Barzak, Peter Beagle, Steve Berman, Richard Bowes, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Gregory Frost, Nan Fry, Jeanine Hall Gailey, Terra Gearheart, Hiromi Goto, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Steward Moore, Shweta Narayan, Johanna Sinisalo, Lucius Shepard, Delia Sherman, Midori Snyder, E. Catherine Tobler, Jane Yolen, and Marly Youmans.

Upcoming is Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's anthology, Last Drink Bird Head: Flash Fiction for Charity (Ministry of Whimsy). The author list is nigh-infinite: here. The tale (and the picture) behind this curious anthology can be found at

Monday, August 03, 2009

"A link in the chain of artists"

"In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true." --Van Gogh

Although I have enjoyed letters by various writers and artists, it is Van Gogh's that I love best, and I have just realized that they are online, along with many images and other materials at . . .
Credit: Exhibition poster, "Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amersterdam" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Transformation bookshops

Point no. 1: Now I may waste one of my precious wishes by wanting to go to Portugal and Brazil for the afternoon. Point no. 2: Note that the Borderlands Sphynx cat reveals a map to a labyrinth on its forehead (Photograph by massdistraction Point no. 3 Definition of disgrace: dis-grace, or turning an altar somewhere in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion (or most any other part of western Europe) into a tea shop. Additional points may be deposited in the comments box.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Clock of the Moon and Stars at "The Flea"

The Flea is a wondrous new 'zine, marked by the rare imagination and verve of Paul Stevens. What a sparkling, spanking-new idea for a literary magazine: "THE FLEA Broadsheets are a Seventeenth Century brainchild of Mr. Paul Stevens, upon whom the conviction periodically seizes that he dwelt in that era in a former life, and indeed was an associate of Jack Donne (one of whose metaphysical meditations has inspired the title), Andrew Marvell, Will. Shake-speare, Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, & diverse others." Portrait of the esteemed editor is by Mistress Patricia Jones.

And here I am with my first contribution to this cunningly-designed magazine:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I'm trying Twittering. Just signed up and already Corey Mesler has found me. How is that possible?

Movie moment
Harry Potter: We have something worth fighting for, something that Voldemort doesn't have.
N, age 12, under his breath: Girls.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

New poems at "Mezzo Cammin"








Here are some bites from four of my poems, up at the new issue of poet Kim Bridgford's "Mezzo Cammin," one of my very favorite online magazines. To see more, go here.


Until I ran along the banks of death, / Stumbling, cutting my feet, calling your name, /And there I glimpsed the shade of you, not torn / In pieces by mad terror's strike . . . To think,


They had a flair for fountain-smithery / So that the tears flew up in joy like drops / Ascending to a realm of peace, to stand / Prismatic--as if magical--on air


I didn't meet the terror's lightning-strike / Jag-necked Medusa whom the painters praise / With heads that show a severed life can prick / Its serpent hair to hissing, howl the mouth


They'll shriek the dawn awake and howl for flesh, / Heraldic frights so ignorant of evil / They could be us--so ignorant, so free. / On branches in the bleeding wood of souls,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd

Overheard in Cooperstown:
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
Time: spring at very long last
Place: the smoking corner for health care workers

Generously-proportioned nurse seated on the curb near Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, across from the Summers house: "What's with these purple flowers all over town?"

Chubsy-ubsy friend: I guess somebody planted them.

Note: The version I heard first was "purple shit." Later, I heard it again as above: cleaned-up version? Mis-remembered? Made a better story the first way.

"Ah Bartleby. Ah humanity." Or "Alas, poor Yorick." Something.

Alternative point of view on the subject from famous deceased author

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” --Iris Murdoch

Picture credit: R. B. Miller. Note the original to the Val/Orson cover/jacket directly behind my head. You can also note something editor John Wilson once said about me--that one side of my face looks like the nice woman behind you in the post office line, and the other side like a poet or a murderer. It's that wayward, bold eyebrow, I believe. The cracked look is emphasized by a little star of light on my glasses--or maybe it resides in my eye.
First week of Val/Orson

My lovely painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkns arrived from the Ystwyth Valley. We thought it had been lost, but whatever it was doing out there in Lala-Limpopo-Limboland of the International Postal Employees, it is now found. And has not even the slightest hint of bat crap, despite the batty Welsh studio in which it gestated.

And there are a number of blog posts about and reviews of the book. My old friend Robbi Nester (who I am pleased to say is four inches shorter than I am and so makes me feel like a model or a giraffe or maybe even a model giraffe or an extremely large giraffe model) wrote a piece on her blog, Shadow Knows. I can't offer it as a review because we know each other too well, but I recommend her blog, especially if you like to read about one woman's struggles with the Torah, weird-but-touching elderly parents, teaching and writing, and more. She also has been writing formal poems lately, some of which are on the blog, and likes to get comments on them.

"Somehow Youmans manages to tightrope along that margin between the real and the surreal in this book to create a tension that harkens back to classic fantasy novels like W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions and the works of Jules Verne.... As always, Youmans’ writing is something beyond mere prose. It’s near-poetry." --Greg Langley, Baton Rouge Advocate, 24 May 2009

I was not allowed comic books as a child, but in sixth grade (way back when when comics could be found at the corner drugstore) I did have a Classic Comic of Green Mansions. Back then (way back then) I liked the book as well, but I especially loved Far Away and Long Ago. I read that one several times in childhood. Perhaps I ought to read it again and see if it was as wonderful as I thought way back when. Think I liked The Purple Land, too. Childhood: such a rich and horrible time!

"From the first chapter to the last, this novella delivers on all points." --Kelly Jensen, SF Crowsnest

Hey, and she liked "Rain Flower Pebbles" as well.

"Val/Orson is ambitious and multifaceted, definitely a literary read that is both faithful to the form and groundbreaking." --Charles Tan, Bibliophile Stalker

What next?

Well, let's see: braces for my youngest and in-laws and an overnight birthday party with rampaging boys! See you after.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


15 in 15: Books that Stick

In my case: written in English, translations excluded

A certain interesting books editor challenged me to name 15 books that "stick" with me. I chose from books in English because otherwise too many are left out. However, too many are still left out. I also misunderstood his offer of one bonus book. Thought the "1" was a "12." I was always weak in math.

Some of these are books that lured me to reread when I was a child, and I am unsure whether they would be vital to me now. (Alice, always.) Some meant much to me in my 20's. A few I would choose not to read again. But all, I believe, have been visited more than once, and some I still reread in whole or part. I have chosen them without regard for era or sex of the author or whether they are "literary" or not. In one or two cases,

Update: The sheer criminality of forgetting the Brontë sisters in my fifteen minutes! Jane Eyre. Villette. Wuthering Heights. And Russell Hoban, too! And much more. Ah well. One gets only fifteen minutes, after all. Apologies to Deb for cheating on Shakespeare (and leaving out the sonnets.) Don't forget to tag 15 of your own.

Update no. 2: One isn't even safe after a book is admired, edited, and distributed! Righteous book-burning: And there are even more books I forgot in the comments...

Herbert, The Temple
H. G. Wells, Long Ago and Far Away, Green Mansions (a childhod passion)
Marvell, Collected Poems
Woolf, Orlando, Mrs. Dalloway
Burgess, Nothing Like the Sun
Yeats, Collected Poems
Shakespeare, Plays
Fielding, Tom Jones
Carroll, the Alice books (read hundreds of times in childhood)
Powys, Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance (strange, incomparable Powys)
Melville, Moby Dick
Durrell, Alexandria Quartet
White, Voss
Hawthorne, Collected Stories and The Scarlet Letter
Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon (thank you, Professor Russom!)
Austen, Pride and PrejudiceDickinson, Collected Poems
MacDonald, Stories and Phantastes (yes, a childhood love)
Toomer, Cane
Peake, Gormenghast Trilogy
Frost, Collected Poems
Dickens, Bleak House and others (a childhood love, an adult love)
Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Davies, The Deptford Trilogy
Kipling, Kim
Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom and others (a great passion in my teens)
The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer

It does seem strange that Isaac Bashevis Singer isn't rubbing elbows with the Americans, but he didn't write much in English, alas. And there are so many great writers missing. I don't think I approve of lists! I could've added Narayan, I suppose; he writes in English.

All right, I shall restrict myself to tagging 15 people. The instructions (hope you can follow them better than I did) are to make your own list of 15 books that "stick" with you, taking no more than 15 minutes and 1 bonus book (that's o-n-e, I note.) Post the list here and on your blog, facebook page, or other time-frittering vehicle. If you're not tagged, come back and read the lists... Or consider yourself tagged and join in.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Meeting Phil at last - Philip Lee Williams

Philip Lee Williams has been a penpal of mine since 2001. We were scheduled to appear on a panel about our then-new novels at the Nashville Festival of the Book, but Phil injured his back and spent the time in a horizontal position at home, alas.

Nevertheless, we struck up a correspondence that has lasted eight years. When we finally met on Sunday, I felt that I knew him, and that he was just as generous and kind as in his letters. Here we are in front of the Madison Chophouse Grill in Georgia. I regret putting on the one jacket I had with me because there's a bit of overgreening, a kind of leprechaun effect, but perhaps there was a dusting of fairy luck--we hadn't expected to meet at all, at least not this year.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on "Elegies for the Water"

Elegies for the Water (here) sold more than a thousand copies in its first month. That's doing wonderfully well for a book of poems. Confetti, Phil! Next up: pieces on the poems of Rosanne Coggeshall, on Howard Bahr, and on writing advice.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Val/Orson, coming in early May

"The spirit of the forest is alive in the beautiful writing of Marly Youmans' Val/Orson; a compelling legend of romance and mystery both ancient and modern at once." --Jeffrey Ford

"Incendiary, passionate writing propels Val/Orson, an utterly fearless story that takes chances and passes that test brilliantly. Brave, beautiful, and fey." --Jeff Vandermeer

"What a gorgeous tale! I'm always delighted to read a new work by Marly Youmans, and Val/Orson both enchants and satisfies: it is a combination of myth, Shakespeare, and modern environmentalism, with not a little magic thrown into the mixture, written in prose as lush as it is precise. A treat for anyone who loves fantasy or just a tale well told." --Theodora Goss

Editions & how to order...

Jacketed hardcover limited edition (200) A handsome cloth edition signed by Marly Youmans and the writer of the introduction, Catherynne M. Valente, with jacket image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and interior by novelist-designer Robert Wexler. Click on the image above to see the jacket in full. A larger run is the unjacketed limited edition (500) signed by Marly.

P. S. Publishing
"flap copy,"
with special thanks
to Philip Lee Williams
and Robbie Mayes:

Inspired by the French medieval tale Valentine and Orson, this moving, insightful novella from award-winning author Marly Youmans reclaims a 500-year-old epic for contemporary readers.

Through the dazzling double-story of a stolen twin and the secrets of an ancient forest, Youmans roams also among the sweet spirits of Shakespeare’s romance plays.

Val/Orson opens with Val long saddened at the loss of his stolen twin brother. He has grown up in the California forest, climbing mysterious redwoods and finding his greatest pleasure in a landscape that seems alive. And sorrow for his lost sibling—his double—haunts his walks.

From boyhood, he has worked with all his intelligence and strength to save the ancient trees. Now Val's world is increasingly populated by environmentalists, sometimes dangerously radical, sometimes merely idealistic, and further shaded in connection with the disappearance of a particularly bewitching tree-sitter--a woman who has both captivated and confused him.

“I fear seeing a luminous being crouched by the hearth, ready to swing its intense light-drenched gaze toward me. I fear that I’ll never grasp the terms of my own damnation or what happened to the woman I knew only by the name of Diamond . . .”

Did she die in her wanderings? Is she still in the deep forest with her lover, mocking Val? As he searches for his lost twin, he must find out.

The sequoia groves are the stage where a company of figures worthy of a Renaissance “winter’s tale” (Fergus, the Sherwood band of tree-sitters, grief-shaded Bella with her wild inheritance, Clere, and mysterious others who seem close by, half-hidden in trees) engage, entertain, and challenge Val. As their stories mesh and unwind, they lure Val deeper into the rich complexity of their narratives and toward revelation. And as the mystery in Marly Youmans’ magical world intensifies, Val moves from revelation to a stunning transformation as son, brother, lover, and steward of the wildwood.

P. S.

I've enjoyed working with publisher Pete Crowther and editor Nick Gevers. I find that it's sweet to be asked for a manuscript and a pleasure to work with a smaller house. I recommend it!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Elegies for the Water - Philip Lee Williams

What follows cannot be a review because Philip Lee Williams is a longtime penpal of mine; what it is, instead, is a celebration of his newest book. A much-laureled writer, Phil is known for his nine novels, including All the Western Stars, The True and Authetic History of Jenny Dorset, and A Distant Flame, for which he won The Michael Shaara Award. His three non-fiction books are notable as well, the latest being In the Morning: Reflections from First Light.

Now he has published Elegies for the Water, a book of poems with Mercer University Press. It's a lovely book that has received high praise from writers Kay Stripling Byer (a poet I knew back when I was a little high school sprat in Cullowhee, North Carolina), David Bottoms, Anthony Grooms, and Judson Mitcham. Mercer has given him space--at 105 pages, the book exceeds the usual length for a poetry book and is hence a bargain--and made a physically pretty book as well, the jacket embroidery continuing inside the book.

I'm glad to see this book, for Phil has long quietly written poems. He is also one of the kinder people on this blue and green planet of Earth, and I see much of the interior Phil captured in his words. If you have a question for him, please leave it in the comments--and he'll see any comments as well.

Here's a poem that might serve as an introduction to his physical place on the land, a swath of forest in Oconee County Georgia edged by Wildcat Creek. I pick it because it could be a beginning, though it is a later poem in the book, and because it is sharp and simple in form, a good place to start listening for his voice:


You poets of gritty urban realism,
You poets of curb sludge and Bukowski bars,
You poets of apartments & ampersands,
You poets of lower-case first-person pronouns,
You poets of irony and cigarettes,
You poets of blind alleys and fire escapes,
You poets where poetry must be slammed,
You poets of savagery and its victories:

I give you the madness of whippoorwills,
I give you the intoxication of deciduous wind,
I give you the flicker's pine-tree hutch,
I give you the smoke of mist at dawn,
I give you the blindness of moondark pastures,
I give you the bloody calf against the cow in snow,
I give you the creek and the river, cuts in earth,
I give you what the country knows.

And this one reminds me of Phil, a modest man, a sympathetic man. It also has a clear form, moving from "nots" to what is.


I am not reminded of David when I shave,
The boy with the sling to slug that thug Goliath
To death. I am not reminded of a lessser Pope
Slowly going to seed in the drunken palace
Of the Borgia kin. I am not reminded daily
Of Beat Generation larcenist or Ansel Adams
With his Yosemite eye on the black-and-white
World of the West. I am not reminded of monarchs
Or sun-stained farmers or Ralph Vaughan Williams
Orchestrating English folk songs because he thinks
The poor are more noble. I'm not even reminded
Of the poor Neanderthal man, diorama-bound
In the Museum of Natural History, always looking
A little befuddled by the simplest task, his big brain
Too much for anyone to carry around and use
With any facility. When I shave I'm reminded
Of the anonymity of mirrors, how they have no face
Of their own and must borrow whomever wanders
Past and for minutes be a face among no crowd,
Brilliant mimics who mistake left for right but gleam
With each new face they frame, even if it's mine.

And here is one where he plucks an image from the ancient, inexhaustible poet's treasure of moon. It is also an expression of family from this father of two.


The moon is inexpensive tonight,
Cracked cockle shell, a porcelain chip,
Unaddressed by lovers or ancient poets
With wars or unspeakable grievances.
When no one is looking, I take it
For myself and hold it in my cupped hands
And see the bright craters of this life.

It is not time for planting yet or harvest,
Not time for the old ones to rise into chalklight
With their regrets and unsteady galaxies.
It is not time for the gibbous for the full.
And yet I hold the creamy slice with such delight
That quiet creatures come to me, step on step,
To ask if I am savior of their long-lost daytime.

I am not. I was only shopping evening stars
For my daughter when I saw the potsherd moon
Above my neighbor's hayfield, took it down
To light my sacrificial palms. To love most
We must earn least. And so this marked-down
Moon was mine for the taking. And now it's
Back in the paste of zircon stars, free and freely

Given, taken, shaped for love on this cold night.

Here is Phil, the man who has written well of the special beauties of his own spot on the globe and is known for his nature writing. A whole life is summed up in a gesture over water, the childhood glimmering in the water, the new beginning, the dying fall:


I cast the line far out, away from reel
And hand, the configurations of delight
Apparent in musculature, the whispering
Horizon, one small splash out there.
I grieve for water. Clouds spread east
Across the surface, green and patient
For a breeze. Bream come up toward me.
I lay across the delicacies of that surface
And drift out into the lake with birds
Low and skimming small familiar ripples.
I could sink toward hydrilla and childhood.
I could spread my fins like wet sails,
Get caught by eddies, pushed on south
Toward the dam. I could exhale geese.
At the end of discovery is the fair beginning
Of another cast. I make that old motion
With its splendid spell, its dying arch.
I find that I am caught on this edge
Of sand and water, taut against the lines.
I find consolation. I rise to the bait.

And here is more of new beginning, set against winter and failings:


My sweet land is not yet growing
With honeysuckle and shadow.
Along the creek slopes, the moss clings
To winter, damp fibers ringing
To memory of wildflower and sun.
All winter I have felt the jonquils
Bursting from my skin, cats crazy
For warm rolling grass,
The silver flames of spring colors along my creek.
I know if one more season comes
A chance will rise for me
To brush these stray failings back,
To rush once more at love
As if it were seasonal,
The sound of wings, the color of light.

And here is the Phil who has been gifted to hear, more clearly and more perilously than most, the sound of time's winged chariot:


Old men know the limits of small countries.
Each nation's boundary lies from stone to stone
In the green pasture's slope. Each land has a name,
And it is an old man's last name that builds
A boundary. We travel there, dreaming they rise
From street to street in their capital towns.

I want to stop defending what I cannot own.
I want to lie, still living, among them, in their towns,
And put my ear to the soft warm earth
And hear them whisper soon enough, soon enough.
In sleeping robes, you will be a ruler soon enough.

There are other poems I could include in this tiny anthology--"Awakening," "Moving the Cemetery," "Rainy Day Ants," "Album Leaf," "Adam's Disappointment," and many more. But it would be better for you to go and search out this carefully made book and discover what else is hidden and what else is flourishing in its pages.

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?”
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


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."


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..."


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


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."


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.'"


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."


(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.


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? 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 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.

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.

Do tears in the eyes count? In that case, I think it might have been reading Yeats.
You can find out the curious truth about my handwriting here: 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.

The words "lunch meat" disgust me. I refused to admit to having eaten such a vile phrase.
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.
Hard to say. Yes, I think so. After all, I love being with my daughter, and we are much alike.
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.
Yes, and doctors always report that they are Guiness-record size.

I rebound. That's close enough for me.

I'm on a narrow-minded diet, thanks. No cereal. Don't even mention foods not on the list to me.

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?

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Didn't I say not to mention foods not on The List?

Whether they feel "like me" or where on the spectrum of interestingly different from me they appear.

Red is no longer my color. Pink, which I like less, is. Pink: a pale pink, the inside of a shell, perhaps.
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.
My dead.

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.

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...

Birds craking against the dull sky and snow. The hiss of this computer. The small crik of a branch.

Verdant green. (Happily "verdant green," not as in the famous poem wherein grasshopper's "verdant green" becomes "green ice.")

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

A fat man with blue hair. A lama. A storytelling liar.

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.

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.

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

Green. You knew that.

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.

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.

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.
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!

A skimpy blue top for rebounding with a white shirt pulled over.
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.

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.

To this?
A pebble.

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.

A roof. I'd hardly call it a "pad" though: more a rural bungalow.

Nothing, same as usual. I do not have t.v. connection, though I have one to watch movies.
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.


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.

Aiken, South Carolina. I think the hospital is now county offices.
Anything from another world. Okay, I know what you meant!
I was bending over a desk, wearing purple wool pants. A smallish purple bottom caught his eye.
My cup runneth over, thanks. Sometimes I don't notice, though...

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carolina, dreams and nightmares

Lately I have been e-prodded and nudged and generally bothered for the crime of blog hibernation: reprove no more; here is the post! For the past nine days I have been on the road or else in Cullowhee ("the valley of the lilies") with my mother and two younger children, making forays outward to visit my eldest and to frolic in the mountains, so this will be a high-elevation post. In between two driving bouts of 888 miles, I managed to visit with a few people, haul my children to the Mountain Heritage Center, see "Coraline," take in a number of shows at the Western Carolina art gallery, and go to a concert. So that is what I'm mulling because here in Cooperstown I find that I have 700+ pages to sign and manuscript proofs to read for Val/Orson, as well as many mundane things to do. And there is not a lot to say about signing one's name 700+ times except that I am not bigheaded enough to find such an act fascinating! And it is still (still! and at this very moment) snowing in Cooperstown, just as though the crocuses and primroses and daffodils (most not quite popped, but even a green swollen stem is a welcome sight) and one anemone bud of last week in Cullowhee had been just a dream.

Artwise, my favorite things turned out to be--as usually happens when I go home to the mountains--crafts taken to a point of mastery. I especially liked a massive blackware pot by Joel Queen (one of the Bigmeat family of potters, Eastern Band of Cherokee). As his website declares, "They are tradition, true traditional Cherokee pots. They were created with hand-dug clay the same as thousands of years ago, sifted by hand, kneaded by hand, hand-coiled, stamped with hand carved wooden paddles, and fired in a traditional pit fire. They are created at the same sophisticated level of quality as the ancient Mississippian pots. They are created with a consistency of thickness, depth in the incisions, and fired at a precise temperature vitrifying the clay body, rendering the pots waterproof. These are skills learned only from a knowledge and mastery of the clay." I also admired a recent Norm Schulman vessel and a 2008 Mark Hewitt salt glaze vase donated by Joel Queen. I used to see Hewitt's work often when I lived in Chapel Hill and liked it, and his translation from Stoke-on-Trent and Spode, the traditional family business, to a role as independent art potter not far from the pottery center at Seagrove is a good Carolina pottery tale.

A woman-dominated show of jacquard and entrepreneurial textiles at Western Carolina University was interesting, though I'm afraid that "smart textiles" with electronic components woven into the fabric and "performance and interactive textiles" strike me as something of an abomination, rather like using plastic in a blooming garden. I imagine that I reacted to them in about the same way as William James on reading the complex, late Henry James: impressive, marvelously accomplished work, but why do it at all?

Some of my favorite pieces were white weavings by Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, although when I look at the description of her work at her home academic institution, I think she maligns herself and her fine achievements: "Most of her weavings span several feet in both directions and comment on the nature of woven surfaces. Through structure, material, image and/or surface treatments, she demonstrates that weaving is unique in building an image." Several feet in both directions: no doubt they got that right, although the ones I saw happened to be more than several. "Comment on the nature of woven surfaces": this is the sort of thing I dislike in arts and handicrafts commentary. The thing is itself. It is satisfying as a thing, a beautiful thing that is a special kind of experience. It does not comment. It does not write monographs. It does not need footnotes. It does not strain to understand its nature. To be so beautiful as to appear effortless is quite rare enough all on its own. "Unique in building an image": why say it? It's just academic justification for beauty, and that's not needed. Academic justification for beauty is, in fact, an offense against beauty.

I also admired the clothing of Leslie Armstrong and Anke Fox (Armstrong Fox Textiles, Canada), whose designs had lovely rich colors and weaving and draped beautifully. Most pilfer-worthy for the light-handed gallery-goer, so I hope the guard chihuahuas are out! The real thing is infinitely softer and more subtle in shade, but some pictures are here.

Last, I attended a recital by composer and percussionist Mario Gaetano, particularly Ney Rosauro's "Brasiliana" for wooden idiophones ("Eldorado" for metal idiophones being slightly less magical but also good) and Gareth Farr's "Bali," "Japan," and "South India" from "Kembung Suling." And I liked Gaetano's "Music for Two Doumbeks," played with his daughter. In fact, I liked it all, even the marimba with tape piece that now seemed so dated. Perhaps my in-house percussionist, age 11, saw some reason for that annoying activity, practice...

I had a grand time in Cullowhee and the mountains, although my heart was riven for the nth time by the utter dearth of zoning and thoughtfulness about development in western North Carolina, particularly the area around Sylva (so un-sylvan these days) but extending on to Asheville. The descendants of the so-called "Ulster Irish" (many of them northern English and Scots Protestant borderers transplanted to Ireland for "planting" in the 1600's) are still just as stubborn and independent as ever, but what they never seem to grasp is that their birthright is being sold for a mess of cold porridge. Strangers (wake up! the Yankees are here!) have come in and seized the inheritance. Natives have valued the greeny pile of dollars over the mountains that their ancestors felt were God's blue walkways to the sky. Now it's lift up thine eyes to the hills and find a dratted chain hotel or chain fast-food joint, or else lift them up and find the mountain missing entirely. To bulldoze a mountain is a crime against nature and against the future, whose children will blame those who failed to zone with hard words. It is also a stupid thing to do in a region of landslides and mudslides--one sees butchered half-mountains everywhere, held up by braces of stone and wood so that a big box store or some other pernicious piece of real estate can be erected. (Walmart, of course, removed "their" mountain quite completely, and threw up a massive store and even more massive parking lot.) Moreover, those lucky souls who live in the mountains completely lack foresight even about their money interest--destroy the glory of the mountains, and what tourist will come to spend their dratted dollars? The blight of what was the most beautiful land on the east coast of North America for the sake of human greed is an ongoing tragedy. As William James nailed it in a letter to H. G. Wells a century ago, "The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease."

Photograph credit: Image of Crabtree Falls, courtesy of and photographer Greg Pinkston of Oklahoma, U.S. Crabtree is a pretty waterfall, about a .25 mile walk from Crabtree Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway (milepoint 339.5).