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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.