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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yolanda Sharpe, "Urban Fragments" + news

Life is all 21st century busy-ness at the moment: an astonishing excess of homework and major projects from the middle school, sports, and many deadlines for me. I am ready for Thanksgiving vacation already. An occasional nap would be handy.

Yesterday Yolanda Sharpe gave me a tour of her encaustics show, Urban Fragments, at Mullen Gallery at SUNY-Oneonta. I was surprised at what a large, generous show it turned out to be, and fascinated by the effects one can get with encaustics. Wax is a strange medium, and the various ways one can embed, imprint, melt, and color are curious. Being Yolanda's show, it was bold and jazzy and bright and full of poetry--literally so, as she had written poems as a kind of accompaniment to many of the paintings. Wish I had jotted down the poem to fit with this rose fenced in by yellow and sky. She's a word-twister as well as a painter, and the woman has a big flaring voice that won't quit when she sings. So many gifts in one package! We toured faculty artwork in another gallery (the artists' books! desire!) and went to lunch afterward and then dipped in the Oneonta art store and--since it was Yolanda--had to pause in a downtown shop to inspect the latest shoes. (Paintings shown: "The Rose" and "White Field.")

This weekend I'm working on my Mercer author questionaire (loonnnngggg) for The Throne of Psyche (spring, 2011) and need to do a final burnish on the extremely odd pieces that I wrote for the 60th birthday retrospective show of Clive Hicks-Jenkins. I'll have some poems in one book in his honor and these strange hybrid pieces in another. As soon as those are done I'll have to start a first-pass read on The Throne of Psyche. I'm also getting a deluge (very pleasant) of new poems that makes me happy despite the sense that there is too much work generally and that my sleepless third child is, between sports and masses of homework, stretched too far.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Souvenir: Phil and "Val/Orson"

My kind friend Philip Lee Williams, novelist and memoir writer and poet, is retiring from the little world of blogging. Now I snitch a souvenir before his blog trembles and wavers and vanishes into the aether. This is a post he wrote about Val/Orson, and I--naturally!--value his words. Tinged by friendship, they are generous and sweet.

You can tell the end is a bit dated because I have not been blogging at the pace he describes for a long time! The blog must now compete with the jollity and friends of facebook, and that is a trial for the poor thing. But there are always pieces that fit better here, and this is one of them--I fold it into the imaginary pages of my blog like a flower for safe keeping.

* * *

Marly's masterpiece

One of my best writer friends is a brilliant woman named Marly Youmans who lives with her family in Cooperstown, NY. Marly has published a number of first-rate books, including Catherwood, Little Jordan, The Curse of the Raven Mocker, and the winner of the Michael Shaara Prize, The Wolf Pit. She also wrote a ravishing collection of poetry published by LSU and has more magnificent work marinating and waiting its turn for publication. Now Marly had published, in two stunning limited editions from Britain's PS press, a simple, beautiful, even brilliant book calledVal/Orson. Here is the synopsis of this incredible story:

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 theCalifornia 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.

Critical response from fine writers has been rapturous. Writer Theodora Goss said this:

"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."

I love limited editions, and this one came in two forms and mine was the hardcover one, signed by Marly and the writer of the book's introduction Catherynne M. Valente. In an edition of 100, I got number 87. PS also published an edition of 500 in softcover signed by Marly. Check it out online at Amazon or B&

Marly and I were supposed to be on a panel together at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in 2001, and I hurt my back and couldn't go. And yet we instantly became pen pals and dear friends, and we have written each other for the past eight years--finally meeting this spring for the first time.

I can't begin to tell you what a glory
Val/Orson is. No one writes like Marly--she is one of those people who seem incapable of anything meretricious and whose every word seems born for its spot on the page.

I hope my readers will check out her
oeuvre and especially go to her website, She has a blog that puts mine to shame--with a huge and lively following. Brava, Marly. And thank you for this incandescent tale--one that will stay with me for the rest of my days.

P.S. Check out Marly's ordering advice in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

flap copy, "The Throne of Psyche"

Pub date: April, 2011

Here is that braggart thing, the flap copy of a book:

In The Throne of Psyche, Marly Youmans sweeps back and forth between what is human and what is other, binding the two together or crossing the thresholds between them. A prize-winning writer of stories and novels, she pursues tales both otherworldly and earthy with passion and formal power in this eighth book, her second collection of poetry (following Claire, from LSU).

The title poem’s narrative governs the entire collection in its yoking of Eros to Psyche. Psyche is the young girl brought in fear to a marriage chamber that transforms into forest as “The little stars” go “shrieking through the wood” and her childhood innocence is “struck asunder.” But she is more than mortal as she passes in and out of time: the child who hears a dryad prophesy, the goddess who sits on a throne or plays “in the arms of Love / As starlight steadies in his perfect flesh,” the figure of meditation and grief who walks along the broken palace walls of home, the bold adventurer who has been to hell and drunk the blood of memory in the place where all she once loved is now shadow.

Elsewhere in these poems are other potent narratives and revelations where mortal flesh slams into death and transformation: a woman dances with God, the poet speaks in the form of a dryad, a sister transforms into a fish and swims away, a doll is cast out from home and overtaken by a demon, the otherworldly infiltrates the leastmost dust, and a new mother walks with Death in his forest.

Such metamorphoses and broodings on the door ajar between human and other remind us that editor John Wilson (Books & Culture) claims Marly Youmans as “the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. She writes like an angel—an angel who has learned what it is to be human.”

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Thanks, Daphne Lee: Ingledove surfacing

A full-fledged review that comes along five years after first publication is always surprising: to get such a thing is encouraging.

It also ought to be encouraging to readers: suggesting that there are books worth reading beyond the ones that publishers decide on for us. Is it still a mystery to many readers that publishers essentially decide what books we read by giving those books "a push," launching a book with the force of money and strong promotion?

As what is called "a mid-list writer," this idea used to bother me. I'm not really sure whether it's a good thing that it no longer does, yet I am glad that it does not.

I am also glad when a book bobs along and refuses to die. And I am grateful to the people who refuse to let it vanish.

* * *

From the end of Daphne Lee's review, "Vividly magical," in Malaysia's "most widely-read" newspaper, The Star:

This is a fantasy adventure and has some (not overly) violent and disturbing scenes. But it is by and large a quiet, magical book that glows with the beauty of its vividly imagined settings.

Ingledove herself is as lovely as her name – a kind, thoughtful girl who is brave not because she’s a born heroine, yearning for adventure and itching to do battle, but because she chooses to be so she can help those she loves.