SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Friday, December 30, 2011


Sample pages grey
New Year a-coming! Get a Vicki-calendar here...
New Year’s resolutions/orders-to-self
in the kingdom of books

1-   Do more book events at conferences/meetings.
2-   Polish The Book of the Red King where needed and submit by year's end.
3-   Do final reads on some manuscripts already accepted.
4-   Don’t be so dratted lazy about sending out poems.
5-   Don’t drive yourself absolutely bats by agreeing to do more than you can for other people's novel and poetry manuscripts...
6-   Care about what matters and let the rest go.
7-   Do something about that manuscript gathering dust!
8-   Read more. Maybe you'll have time...
9-   Establish the regional arts group that you have been feebly toying with—start with a web site?
10-  Don’t bother thinking about luck… It’s way beyond your control.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The other blurb request...

Marly Youmans' new book is a vividly realized, panoramic novel of survival during The Great Depression. There is poetry in Youmans' writing, but she also knows how to tell a riveting story.

Ron Rash

March 2012. Mercer University Press.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Christmas card, 2011

Graham Ward, "Angel Entering a City"
Pilfered from Clive Hicks-Jenkins's Artlog--
thank you, Graham and Clive!

It is the last of Advent, and what a strange time it has been! Beautiful, lucky things have happened--heartfelt letters from writers I respect and homecomings and unforgettable hours.  My children are all in the nest, and we are five again.  One deeply sad thing has happened--a friend, self-slain--that reminds me of our great human hunger for love and mercy, now and always.

Today is Christmas Eve, and there is much to birth before the day is done. Greetings to you and a merry Christmas to you and wishes for that ever-desired love and mercy to follow you all the days of the coming year.

Attributions:  The painting by Graham Ward has already been shared by my friend Clive on his Artlog. I picked it in honor of the now-underway collaboration I'm doing with Graham, to be finished by June in time for an opening.  Original source for poem:  Forthcoming in The Foliate Head (UK:  Stanza Press.) Thanks to editors Dave Bonta and Beth Adams for nominating the poem for a Pushcart Prize. Thanks to issue editors Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita for their long work of editing.


In the dark, in the deeps of the night that are
Crevasses of a sea, I heard their wings.
I heard the trickling of tiny feathers
With their hairs out like milkweed parachutes
Floating idly on the summer air,
I heard the curl and splash, the thunderbolts
Of pinions, the rapids and rattle of shafts—
Heard Niagara sweep the barreled woman
And shove her under water for three days,
I heard a jar of fragrance spill its waves
As a lone figure poured out all she could,
Heard the sky’s bronze-colored raindrops scatter
On corrugated roofs and tops of wells,
I heard the water-devil whirligigs,
I heard an awesome silence when the wings
Held still, upright as flowers in a vase,
And when I turned to see why they had stilled,
Then what I saw was likenesses to star
Imprisoned in a form of marble flesh,
With a face like lightning-fires and aura
Trembling like a rainbow on the shoulders,
But all the else I saw was unlikeness
That bent me like a bow until my brow
Was pressed against the minerals of earth,
And when I gasped at air, I tasted gold.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year's Best 10

Table of contents for Year's Best Fantasy 10 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, forthcoming from

Dragon’s Deep · Cecelia Holland
The Green Bird · Kage Baker
Dulce Domum · Ellen Kushner
The Parable of the Shower · Leah Bobet
The Dragaman’s Bride · Andy Duncan
Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela · Saladin Ahmed
Images of Anna · Nancy Kress
Icarus Saved from the Skies · Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown · Holly Black
The Score · Alaya Dawn Johnson
Sleight of Hand · Peter S. Beagle
Bigfoot and the Bodhisattva · James Morrow
A Delicate Architecture · Catherynne M. Valente
Swell · Elizabeth Bear
The Bones of Giants · Yoon Ha Lee
The Minuteman’s Witch · Charles Coleman Finlay
Conquistador del la Noche · Carrie Vaughn
Winterborn · Liz Williams
Three Twilight Tales · Jo Walton
Power and Magic · Marly Youmans
The Avenger of Love · Jack Skillingstead
The Persistence of Souls · Sarah Zettel
An Invocation of Incuriosity · Neil Gaiman
Three Friends · Claude Lalumière
Shadow of the Valley · Fred Chappell
Technicolor · John Langan
Economancer · Carolyn Ives Gilman

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reeser chooses Gioia

Poet Jennifer Reeser chooses a poem by Dana Gioia at The Lydian Stones.

Ghosts of Christmas past

In the tradition of the scholarly M.R. James, who always read a marvelous new one of his own composing at Christmas, it's time for a ghost story. And here's a new review of Ghosts by Gaslight,edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers. Must say about my mention that this is the first reviewer to imply that there might be a relationship between the mode in which the story is told and the identity of the narrator...

Evidently poet, professor, and twin (very ghostly, that!) Damian Walford Davies has started a Christmas Eve (or thereabouts) reading series featuring James stories by candlelight at the University of Aberystwyth. I wonder how many places have revived the tradition of ghost stories at Christmas--a wonderful idea.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Behind the door

Every day my children, big as they are, still like to open a door on the little wooden Advent calendar and find a present inside. Here is a kind of door for you, with a present inside.

Originally published in Mezzo Cammin.
Included in the poetry collection, The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011)


Certain things were given to me:                 
Such loveliness as swords possess,
Humility as hushed as snow,
Kindness branching red in my veins,
The love of wildwood animals.

I learned early I was a fool                          
And worthless. Still, I dare to lodge
Certain protests against brokenness,
Certain protests against heart’s maiming,
Certain protests against death’s hour.

The mirror made such promises!
Was it godly, was it devilish?
A scabbard waiting to be filled,
The seven little fairy men,
A face like snow that sleeps in glass.

Not one of them came true, and now
I kneel forsaken on the ground,
In turn reproaching Christ and men,
So close to perishing that I
Dream lanterns and my mother’s face.

The Kingdom of God is next to me.     
That’s what the holy father said.
It is closer.  Death is a seed
Gripped in my hand. I never thought
To know such wildwoods of despair.

What good has all my kindness done
That stood in the hall like a red branch?
What use was beauty’s melting snow?
Must I forgive this naked life
Of thorns, the sweat kissing my brow?

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Belle réussite"

I've had several books translated into French but never seen a French review of my writing... so what fun to see this review of "Static" and other stories from Extraordinary Engines in Les Notes d'Eumene de Cardie.

If you want the somewhat amusing Google translation, it's here.

And if you haven't bumped into this anthology before, it is a steampunk anthology edited by Nick Gevers and published by Solaris. The publishers bill it as the "definitive" steampunk anthology, but I don't actually think that was what the anthology tried to do--all the stories were new, requested from specific authors, so it is an all-original-publication anthology...

"Static" feels a bit Dickensian, in part because it hews to that curious and rare phenomenon, spontaneous combustion. You may remember how important that element is in Bleak House. If you haven't read Bleak House, please do.  So complex and inventive! Every now and then I feel a deep need to travel around in Bleak House. "Static" may also remind you a slight bit of Rapunzel. There's certainly a lot of hair! And a rather unattractive old woman.

I had a lot of fun making up a world where static poses a constant danger. Living in Yankeedom no doubt had some influence--that and being a mother of three and so doomed to much shocking laundry and crackling winter static in the No'th and cold.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Publishers Weekly" on Amazonian demands

Some of my regular readers have no doubt already seen this on Facebook or elsewhere, but I think it is important for both writers and readers to be informed about such issues--particularly those of us with publishers who sell on Amazon or who buy books from Amazon. Just as it is important for Amazon to understand the issues publishers face...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Diana Wynne Jones.  Christopher Logue.  And now Russell Hoban.  Unique, special writers.  And they all are gone from us this year, leaving behind gifts.  Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci novellas. War Music and All Day Permanent Red.  Riddley Walker and The Mouse and His Child and the Frances stories. And many more.

I was left behind
as wind divided for the ghost;
as grass first opened, silent,
and then, silent, closed.
    --from Rosanne Coggeshall (1946-2009), "Dead Quail"

Requiescant in pace

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

Small private sale for Palace followers, Dec. 9-12

Signed or incribed copies for my blog readers--

If any of my readers are interested in picking up a signed or inscribed copy of The Throne of Psyche or Val/Orson, I have a few copies on hand that I am willing to sell at reduced price. If you want one, write me at camellia [at] (And if you should fall into the spam filter and not emerge and hear from me within a day, call for help here!) In addition, if you would like to reserve and then receive a signed or inscribed copy of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage in March, you may claim that as well.  If you purchase one of those three books now, you may also buy some of my other books at a greater discount. To read more about my books, you may visit my website.

U.S. postage is $3.50 for a first book, .50 for each additional book. Query if outside the U. S.

Hardcover The Throne of Psyche ($30. retail)  $24.
Paperback  The Throne of Psyche ($18. retail) $14.
Hardcover A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage ($24. retail) $19.
Hardcover Val/Orson (In pounds, varies; was around $24. plus intl. shipping when I ordered) $20.

If you buy one of the above books, you may order signed/inscribed first edition hardcovers of The Wolf Pit ($24. retail), The Curse of the Raven Mocker ($18. retail), or Ingledove ($16. retail)  for $14. for the first and the latter two for $12. each. I no longer have copies of my three other books.

All of these copies are, of course, limited in number.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Train on the way--

The pre-order period has now begun...

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage tells of a young boy's travels through the black heart of Depression America and his search for light both metaphorical and real. Writing with a controlled lyrical passion, Marly Youmans has crafted the finest, and the truest period novel I’ve read in years. 
                --Lucius Shepard

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Stephenson chooses Robertson on The Lydian Stones

Tuesday has come round again; please fly over to The Lydian Stones, where poet Hannah Stephenson chooses Robin Robertson. We have had a composer and a painter choose so far; it was time for a writer.

Monday, December 05, 2011

from "The Throne of Psyche"

Here's a little gift for all you passers-by who are still making out your Christmas lists... And I'll be doing some recommendations soon.

This poem first appeared (along with some others by me) in a feature about Southern women poets in storySouth and was collected in my newest book, The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011.)

SOUTHERN TO THE BONE                                              


To explain—as if she could!—
She says:  When I was young
And passing fair and strong
Like a girl in a fairy tale,
I ran from God and angels.
I flew to dark powers

--Though they aren’t dark but seeming-light,
With glamour on them like the fey—

And I frisked with the demons on the hills,
Then curled to sleep against their thighs,
A wing along my bow-bent spine.

I woke, dappled with dew.
And found that they had picked         
Me clean of clothes and more,
Treasures dear to me.

I was bereft.
I was:  weakness.

The rains


She says:

Rain is rain is rain.
This was no rain but light,
Or not light but arrowy
Fine peltings of a fire
Shot slantwise through the skin
Until I could not tell
What was me from rain
Or light, and river waves
Swamped me until I drowned
And washed into the sea,
To drift with sailor boys
Past luminous weeds and fish
Unto the roots of the world.


Don’t ask her any more
What Southern really means,
Or why we just can’t quit
Mulling over a tale
Of rum and slaves and gold.

She married powers of dark.
She burned in bright rivers.

That’s why.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Q-looniness abounds!

Thank you to managing editors Dave Bonta and Beth Adams for nominating "I Heard Their Wings Like the Sound of Many Waters" for a Pushcart prize. And to Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita, editors for the current issue.  I have enjoyed my contacts and new friendships with qarrtsiluni editors and readers (and my own one-time stint as editor with Ivy Alvarez) and am well pleased.

And I was interested to hear that "Two Poems from the Plant Kingdom" is one of the most-visited posts of the year, and that "Self-Portrait as Dryad, no. 5" holds the all-time record for visits--1,359 as of yesterday. Even without including those who choose to have qarrtsiluni delivered by email, it's hard to think of that level of readership from a print-only magazine.

Thank you so much, qarrtsiloonians!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Advent of: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

I just realized that a page for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage has been up at Mercer University Press... O dummy me! There's an image of the jacket (I was told that there will be a seal for The Ferrol Sams Award but that they were deciding where to put it--I guess they're still pondering!) as well as ordering information and flap copy.
The Burt & Burt design team does all the Mercer jackets and so no doubt deserve credit for this one. The camellia photograph was taken by publishing assistant Mary Beth Kosowski (I thought that was the only cover image until a few minutes ago!) I quite like the way the Camellia is a sort of luminous cloud or planet hanging overhead. 

What do you think? 

Like it?

Pub date will be March if we stay on track. Second pass notes are in, so no doubt we are on track!
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage
By author: Marly Youmans
Product Code: 
Binding Information: Hardback 
Backorder policy
Price: $24.00
Qty:   (Don't click there but click on the first link in the post if you want to support the publisher by buying the book directly from them!)

After a death at the White Camellia Orphanage, young Pip Tatnall leaves Lexsy, Georgia to become a road kid, riding the rails east, west, and north. A bright, unusual boy who is disillusioned at a young age, Pip believes that he sees guilt shining in the faces of men wherever he goes. On his picaresque journey, he sweeps through society, revealing the highest and lowest in human nature and only slowly coming to self-understanding. He searches the points of the compass for what will help, groping for a place where he can feel content, certain that he has no place where he belongs and that he rides the rails through a great darkness. His difficult path to collect enough radiance to light his way home is the road of a boy struggling to come to terms with the cruel but sometimes lovely world of Depression-era America. On Youmans’s prior forays into the past, reviewers praised her “spellbinding force” (Bob Sumner, Orlando Sentinel), “prodigious powers of description” (Philip Gambone, New York Times), “serious artistry,” “unobtrusively beautiful language,” and “considerable power” (Fred Chappell, Raleigh News & Observer), “haunting, lyrical language and fierce intelligence” (starred review, Publishers Weekly.) Howard Bahr wrote of The Wolf Pit, “Ms. Youmans is an inspiration to every writer who must compete with himself. I had thought Catherwood unsurpassable, but Ms. Youmans has done it. Her characters are real; they live and move in the stream of Time as if they had passed only yesterday. Her lyricism breaks my heart and fills me with envy and delight. No other writer I know of can bring the past to us so musically, so truly.”

I like that quote and am now dedicating the book to the inimitable Mr. Bahr!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Collaboration frolics

Fujimura with "Charis"
Wednesday is always mightily busy, but today I have an interesting extra thing to work on. I've been asked for a book proposal on the collaborative project I did several years ago with artist Makoto Fujimura.  ( Makoto Fujimura is a nihongan painter who has been on the NEA board and founded International Arts Movement--he is an active culture-builder as well as artist.) It started with a challenge from Mako to write an essay about the ten commandments (you know, those things we break.) As I am always a little whimsical about how I interpret requests, I am afraid that it rapidly became a story in nine (not ten--you though there would be ten, no doubt) parts.We did several presentations of story and art at Yale Divinity School, and the book (if it happens) will include both plus an introduction by Miroslav Volf. It should make a small, beautiful book...

Now, off to music lesson, lalala!

Monday, November 28, 2011


Yesterday:  all day singing and filming (with a little wreath-making tossed in.) Today: all day ferrying.  Tomorrow:  all day baaaack! See you then.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Haiku VIII

As you are writing
The ink grows less
The sea increases.   --George Seferis, trans. Rex Warner

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, 2011

Detail from "Still and Green Moon" by Yolanda Sharpe.  Photograph by Gilda Snowden.

Did I say that I have joined a choir?

We have been diligently working on "Lessons and Carols," and more and more I think that a choir is a fantabulous subject for a comic novel. We have the usual mad people and eccentrics and quirks and characters that one finds in a good-sized group devoted to the arts, and I do a lot of laughing along the way as the choirmaster-organist-composer attempts to rein in such varied personalities and abilities and steer them aright. Truth be told, Roberta Rowland-Raybold has a more difficult job than most! I admire her sacrificial work, giving tutorials to the needy...

My favorite piece is "There is no rose," the medieval poem that has been inspiring to various composers. We are singing the ethereal music of Hal H. Hopson, and I cannot shake it from my head.

There is no rose of such virtue
as is the rose that bare Jesu;
Alleluia, alleluia.

For in this rose contained
was heav'n and earth in little space;
Res miranda, res miranda.

By that rose we may well see
there be one God in persons three;
Pares forma, Pares forma.

Transeamus, Transeamus,
Pares forma, Pares forma,
Res miranda. Alleluia.

So today it is Thanksgiving, and I give thanks especially:
for Hal Hopson
with the hope he will write many more ravishing pieces in his time;
for the invention of children
and especially for my three, two at home, one with my mother;
for Featherstocking the turkey who stalked around Cooperstown
until he was (sadly) struck by a car in front of Stewart's last week;
for the gift of word-twisting;
for you (for I feel friendly to the world most days!);
for waterfalls and rains of inspiration;
for blessed common sense;
for collaborations with Clive and Graham and Paul and Mako;
for the help of Andrew;
for husbands who love to cook and do so
and for the safe return of my husband from Morocco and Egypt;
for my mother, weaving and gardening and scaling mountains at 82;
for all that is most wonderfully secret and most aspiring;
for cranberries;
for joy;
for all that is annealed in me.

Res miranda!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Frolics and News

Graham Ward, "King of Finisterre,"
1.  My husband is back from Morocco and Egypt, trala, where he did have many curious adventures. And he has brought home interesting loot, of course. Curly shoes and bazaar jewelry and fezes (fezi? fezzes? fezzies? fuzzies?) and paintings on papyrus and chunks of indigo and shawls and so on.  Who knew that there was such a strange, sweet-smelling thing as papyrus oil? (Well, Egyptians, for one. No doubt.)
2.  I'm about to go sing in honor of Thanksgiving, lalala, so this will be short...
3.  I am now working with UK painter Graham Ward on a collaborative project, and it is proving to be fun. I have already written one piece for him (plus I had one that was finished earlier) and plan to do some more as he produces new paintings from now through spring. Ekphrastic revels. It will result in a little book accompanying his upcoming show.
4.  I have been so busy being a single mom for the past two weeks that I have not finished my second pass proofs for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Wah.  Must get on to that this evening, rather late. Time for the night-owl oil.
5.  Somebody posted a rather rotten blog post about one of my books last week (luckily The New York Times and Washington Post etc. were hot on it) and I made the marvelous discovery that I did  not mind, not even one little tiny whit of a whit. Somehow I must have outgrown feeling bad about such things somewhere in the last decade...
6.  Had Yolanda Sharpe (a painter friend) for Sunday afternoon dinner and once again can say that she is one of the most amusing people ever! She ought to be in a comic novel. (Wouldn't it be fun to write a comic novel?)
7. It's almost Thanksgiving.  So thanks for reading--I'm giving thanks for you, whoever and wherever you are!  Don't forget The Lydian Stones will begin on Tuesday. If you want to take a look at the design and put in your two cents of criticism, feel free.

Friday, November 18, 2011

At the Mythopoeic Society

A review of The Throne of Psyche by Randy Hoyt is up at the Mythprint website (The Mythopoeic Society.) It was previously published in the September issue of the magazine (48:9, #350.) It's the first review where the title poem is compared to other uses of the Psyche story.

Here's a clip to entice:
Even though many of the creatures and characters have been gathered from various traditions, the stories Youmans tells are primarily her own. I found many of these original narratives quite powerful and compelling, with moments from them now firmly impressed in my imagination: Hephaestus limping through the market, the young girl riding on the dragon through the sky, the woman gazing at the Northern Lights, and the bard toiling and singing alone on the forgotten shore. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in both imaginative fiction and poetry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"I Heard Their Wings Like the Sound of Many Waters"

New poem up at qarrtsiluni, brainchild of Dave Bonta and Beth Adams--this issue is edited by newlyweds Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita Thompson. I suppose if editing q-looniness didn't throw them off, nothing will! If you want to leave a comment, please leave it there, as I would rather qarrtsiluni receive the attention. Having edited an issue with Ivy Alvarez, I know it's a fair bit of labor to publish.

The Lydian Stones

I have been working on The Lydian Stones this morning. The first five posts are formatted, and I am working on permissions for some of the work included... New posts will go up on a weekly basis. Take a peep!  The link is:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A little bit of Thanksgiving

Thanks to Christopher Winters for doing a public reading from The Throne of Psyche. I love that he did it--and plans to do it again, the madman! I'm very glad that he got a good response, and hope anybody else who does such an outrageous thing will drop me a line and let me know how it went.

It takes a whole tribe of people these days to go on the march and get the word out about a book of poetry. One must tell the barbarians who might yet read and the people who are already poetry readers.  Thanks for helping, Chris!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recommended: Michael A. Morrison interviews Zoran Zivkovic

Here's a link to a long and interesting interview: Zoran Zivkovic with interviewer Michael A. Morrison, the two talking about "middle-European fantastika" and other topics of interest. The first portion is "Fantastika and the Literature of Serbia." The second focuses on the shape of his life in words: "A career in transition: From scholar, translator and publisher to author of fantastika."

Via Jason Erik Lundberg on facebook.  And here's a bite from to allure you to read the whole thing:

ZZ: I am quite aware that the market is the best regulatory mechanism in many human endeavors. But not in all. If there is only the publishing industry—focused entirely, like any other industry, on profit at all costs—we eventually would end up with almost nothing but the most trivial of literature. The situation is governed by a simple equation:  triviality equals popularity equals marketability equals profit. There is definitely something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the decision makers—those who, in the final analysis, determine what we read—are my favorite villains: marketing directors and literary agents. Anna Karenina would have absolutely no chance with these guys. (The world of the publishing industry is the subject of my satirical novel The Book.)

My prime ambition is by no means to become a best-selling author, to get rich. My kind of fiction will always have a limited readership and I have no intention of changing it to make it more “marketable” or to increase the number of my readers. (Actually, even if I wanted to do that, I doubt I would be able.) Much more than quantity I am interested in quality when it comes to readers. My ideal is to have only quality readers, and they are, by definition, a rare breed.

It is no wonder then that all my attempts to find a major US or UK publisher have failed. My fiction simply does not fit the requirements of the publishing industry, at least not in the English language. Besides I am a foreign author. But I have no reason to complain. Nearly all my books have been published in the US and UK by small presses. These are mostly beautiful editions I am very proud of. My three Aio Publishing books are, as graphic products, real objets d’art. Also my seven PS Publishing books are exquisite limited editions.
I see small, independent presses as a sort of resistance movement. The enemy they are resisting is strong and merciless, but not without certain weaknesses. The more trivial books the publishing industry produces, the more small presses can publish quality literature, including translations. And small presses are very fortunate not to have marketing directors and not to need the services of literary agents. They could bring out even Anna Karenina.

Sunday, Sunday--waving--skipping--

Lovely day, ending with a concert... and then was dragooned into helping with kid-homework, but hey--music all day. Made my friend Yolanda coconut curry soup with delecata (or is it delicata?) squash since she was semi-stranded in Cooperstown. And what fun, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer asked for "Power and Magic" for their somewhat delayed Year's Best Fantasy 10 anthology. It was originally written for the anthology Firebirds Soaring, edited by Sharyn November (Penguin/Firebird.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Lydian Stones

Announcement, announcement!

I am going to be starting a little side project on the 22nd, for no better reason than that it is my birthday and I feel like giving you (yes, you) a present.

It will be in blog format, and so far it is proving to be highly enjoyable for me and, I hope, will be for you.

Many people will be involved, the living and the dead, and I hope it will add a site for poetry that is worthwhile.

So come up the garden steps with me! More news on this later on as the work progresses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Maquettes for Paul and all

Almost noon, and a snowy Saturday is well underway... The wandering husband is no longer racing on horseback to the pyramids at Giza but is back in Morocco. Meanwhile I've taken the youngest to wrestling and gone to the store and picked him up and hunted black pants and then followed the school marching band to lay wreaths in memory of our veterans while I thought about Causley's "At the British War Cemetery, Bayeux" and about my father, who at seventeen ran away from his life as a sharecropper's child and flew runs over Germany and France. Pax tecum.

* * *

Film link:

Paul Digby asked to see the little movie of maquettes by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins yesterday. I sailed it his way, and Paul afterward said that I had not posted a link here... Well, maybe I did, but it's worth another look.  And I snitched the remarks Clive made on his blog about the making of this little film--addressed to "Gerwyn." You will notice that Clive is a very kind person; probably more than one take would be better!

Oddly enough, I know exactly what you mean about the maquette film. It does have an hypnotic/trance-like quality. I noticed the first time Pete Telfer showed it to me. I think there are a number of reasons why. 

Marly Youmans, poet and author of the chapter on the ‘miraculous’ in the monograph, travelled from her home in New York State to Wales for the exhibition opening, arriving a week early so as to spend some time with us. Pete Telfer had already filmed the live-action linking footage for the film, and was waiting for me to come over to his place to record the narration, which was to be drawn from the chapter by another American contributor to the book, Kathe Koja. Kathe’s piece on maquettes was beautifully written… she’s an acclaimed novelist… but she was unable to come to Wales as she had to be in the US to complete a stage adaptation of her last book. I had supposed I would read her words myself, though intuition told me that an American accent would suit better, as would a woman’s voice. Enter Marly, who graciously agreed to stand in for Kathe. The sections of narration were recorded in Pete’s young daughter’s bedroom. (Thank you Alis!) With Pete… who is not built daintily… his recording machine and huge microphone plus Marly… who is dainty… crammed into the small toy-filled space, the only place left for me was a mattress on the floor, from where I offered occasional directions. (Marly says that I lay there in my sunglasses, which sounds very louche!) Marly is a ‘one-take’ kind of a girl, and it was her innate poet’s rhythm and dreamy, Southern-accented delivery that resulted, in part, in the hypnotic quality of the film. Pete had not initially been won over by the notion of a narration, but as soon as he heard his playback of Marly, he was enthusiastic to use the recordings.

The other aspect that lends the hypnotic quality is the soundtrack Pete recorded at Ty Isaf on the beautiful Spring day he came to film the linking sections. The sash-window of the blue bedroom where we filmed was open, and as I hung the maquettes on thin thread in the aperture, we were surrounded by the sounds of nesting birds in the rookery beyond, a perfect accompaniment to the painted card figures swaying in the breeze. The first animation sequence by contrast is completely without sound, which further emphasises a dream-like state, because it feels as though the puppet is in an other-worldly vacuum. (My head?)

Gerwyn, I’m delighted that you like Pete’s film so much. I think that it perfectly captured the spirit of the moment in the week before the exhibition opened, and it’s great that you ‘got it’. Everything about it was improvised, from the animation sequences made in a single afternoon and evening on our dining room floor and table (my partner Peter taking the stills while I animated the figures) to the last minute idea to film the maquettes on threads in the window. Pete is a guerilla-film-maker, enthusiastically throwing himself into the spirit of creativity wherever he finds it. The man is a force of nature!

* * * 
And now I really must get down to work!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mome raths outgrabe; or, how to deal with a bad review

Photo courtesy of
and Paulo Oliveira Santos
of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Every few years a writer (Franz Wright, Alice Hoffmann, etc.) spills the boiling pot of his resentments about some critic or other to the entertainment of readers. This time it was Jonathan Lethem, going on about the perceived failings of James Wood--who had, oddly enough, praised the book in question a good deal. If you like such things, and many people do, you may find the Lethemian dismay and reproach here, along with a passel of comments both barbarous and thoughtful. The essay is also included in just-out The Ecstasy of Influence (New York: Doubleday, 2011.)

No doubt I must sympathize with outrage in the tribe of inksmiths because I don't enjoy getting a negative review. I can remember several: one by an author who complained at length that a book was too short for the price. (The publisher had accepted a novella and nine stories and then decided to do them as two little books.) One who just disliked. If there are others, I have forgotten them entirely. Oh, yes, one who thought there were already enough books about the time period and that we ought to move on.

I have a friend who cried all day over her review in the old version of The New York Times Book Review. I'm not sure anybody still cries over reviews in the new incarnation.

But one should have rules for dealing with a bad review...

1.  Creep off and deal with it, either with a large shrug (followed by later consideration of whether the critic might actually have had a point) or by a bit of self-indulgence--hey, go watch "Travellers and Magicians," why don't you?

2.  Don't read reviews.  Presto. Simple. This method seems to work for writers who can control their curiosity. (I always wonder if they peek.)

3.  Or, don't read a review until three months have passed. As the words pierce your bodkin and outlying areas until you become a profane St. Sebastian, you will know that nobody anywhere will still be reading that review and jeering, chuckling, sneering, enjoying the thought of your howl of outrage, feeling pity at public evisceration, etc. And that's good. You will feel the balm of it on those nasty stings.

4.  Manners.  Courtesy.  Manners are on the decline, so everybody says.  Put them on the incline and then walk up.

5.  Remember, a writer is a person who does a foolish thing and wears heart on sleeve for anyone to mock (or "like" on facebook.) Go on, go on:  be a fool for your art and don't worry about what people say.

6.  A critic is just like anybody else, with a slightly (or maybe greatly) silly backside and the need to commit undignified bodily acts. So recall that he or she is just a person, one who (one hopes) likes books and has just spent a piece of his or her short life with yours. It's fairly likely that somebody somewhere loves them! Astonishing. So give it a week. Give it a month. Is it really going to matter in a month? A year? (Okay, so it has been eight years and Jonathan Lethem is still slapping on quantities of rhuli gel. Make it a round decade. It won't matter by then.  Something else will have come along in a decade...)

7. Go read pig-headed reviews of Melville, Hardy, James, etc. Very consoling.

8.  Be grateful? You have a reader!

9. Have courage.

10. Sing a little.