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Monday, February 28, 2011

Michael's Adventure in Vietnam

In the fall of 2009 my husband and I went to Thailand and Cambodia for a conference (his) and travel. Currently he is back in that part of the world--in Vietnam as a volunteer, doing lectures and helping with neurology patients, etc. I could not resist this anecdote from a letter written today. It is a pleasing mixture of the sad, the surprising, and the downright hilarious. I especially laughed at the red part (you'll see.) And I am glad he signed off as "Your loving husband!" (Names changed to protect the semi-innocent.)

Later thoughts: I am finding the long firecracker string of facebook comments amusing as well--particularly the ones about "red" and the bittersweet comedy-of-errors remarks. I should have titled the piece "Innocent Abroad." Twain could have done a lot with Mike and this little incident. Somehow Thailand and Cambodia didn't prepare him for the surprise of this moment! Also, I realize, reading through those comments, that it's not wholly clear that "Phuong" is a doctor, based in the U. S. Clearly Mike had just seen her for the first time, though, and I suppose she could have been something else entirely, passing herself off as a doctor--she is creative, after all--luckily she was not something else entirely!
I had a funny thing happen today. I was supposed to meet with Dr. Mai at noon and was sitting in the lobby waiting for her [but she did not show up.] A Vietnamese /American lady who was about 30-35 years old came up to me and in pretty good but accented English asked me if I was with [the medical volunteer program.] I said yes, and she introduced herself as Phuong. She was odd, pleasant, not pretty. Almost immediately she asked me if I was doing anything and if I had eaten. The answer was no to both. Then she asked if I would like to go and have lunch at her in-laws' house. I thought this was a little strange since we had only known each other about 5 minutes, but I thought the idea of going to a regular Viet house was interesting. So we got a cab and took it to a very warreny part of town. When we got out, her in-law (I'm still not sure what his exact relation was, perhaps her brother's wife's father?) came down a narrow alley on a scooter.

It seems the house is still pretty far away, but the alleys are too close for a cab to negotiate. So I get on the scooter, and he takes me down these seemingly endless alleys that are about the width of the space between ours and the M--'s garages. He finally drops me off at the house, which is a small but tidy thing, maybe two rooms down and two rooms up. It is decorated with the most extravagant Catholic imagery, statues, posters, a bust of Pope Benedict and a glass church with a neon "Ave Maria," neon halos, and a little flashing light show around the Infant of Prague. The mother-in-law and a pleasant toothless crone were there to greet me. I started to take pictures of the Catholica. [Marly: What a dratted tourist!]

Soon Phuong arrives. A table is brought out, and beer poured over ice. We have a nice if somewhat over fishy lunch. I eat mostly rice and a little dried pork and sauteed green beans. We stay about 90 minutes. I am surprised how much they make of me. Some other relatives arrive. He and his wife (who was VERY stylish) had just been to a wedding. He is a thoracic surgeon. I had hoped to ask him what his practice is like but it turns out he is too drunk from the wedding and has fallen asleep in the kitchen. Not too drunk to drive a moto in suicide traffic, but too drunk to stay awake. After a while we leave and walk back to the main road because the father-in-law got too drunk over lunch and he is taking a nap. The mother-in-law and sister-in-law are walking back with us and quite fawning over us both. We get back to the road amid extravagant hugs and get a taxi. On the way back Phuong is very quiet, but about halfway back to the hotel we have the following conversation:

Phuong: "I have a confession to make."

My husband, Michael: "Um, what?"

Phuong: "I told them you were my fiancé."

Michael: "You are spoofing me."

Phuong: "No. You see, in Vietnam a girl my age should be married. My mother is ashamed that I'm not. I couldn't stand to embarrass her in front of her relatives so when I saw you, I just thought about having you come and see them so they would think I wasn't always going to be single."

Michael: "That is really not a good enough reason. Besides, I'm like 20 years older than you."

Phuong: "That is alright. Since you are so plump and red they think you are really rich, which is more important."

Michael: "What happens when we don't get married?"

Phuong: "I hadn't thought that far ahead."

Photograph: The photo of "The Temple of Literature" courtesy of and Eva Schuster of Germany.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Final jacket,The Throne of Psyche


Click on the image to see a big fat version of the dust jacket for The Throne of Psyche, my soon-to-be book of poems from Mercer University Press.

Repeat of some ordering information:

Options include your local independent bookseller or ordering direct from the publisher, Mercer University Press, a way of buying which gives them a generous return. If you're interested in owning the book, please consider supporting your bookseller or the press itself.

Pre-order discounts

If you are a book shopper who likes to go to or Amazon or Powell's or Borders or some other site rather than shop locally, links are now up with pre-order discounts. I have not investigated all of these, but at Amazon the paperback is discounted 32% and the hardcover 34%. Mill ship date is March 25th, so I imagine discounts will end within the next month.

Research ISBN numbers, prices etc.


Friday, February 25, 2011


"The teacher is not a bad teacher, maybe even a good one, although he acts as if you can be taught to write poetry. All you can do is write it. Whether it is good or not isn't up to you." --Ebert on Lee Chang-Dong's movie, "Poetry"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I Interview My Visitors, no. 3 (part 3)

Robbi's website is here.

Interview with Robbi Nester, continued

[Robbi's fascinating parents]

Marly: You have been through a lot lately. Both of your parents, two intense and colorful figures, died recently and, like so many married people, one right after the other. Would you like to give a little thumbnail sketch of each?

Robbi: You are right to say that my parents were "intense and colorful" people! My father was born in Philadelphia, and even before his birth, he was unfortunate. His young father, less than 40 years old, died of a heart attack the week before he was born. There were already two children, and no willingness on the part of his father's family, who were rather well off, to help out. My grandmother, a difficult woman, depressed and obsessive, took in sewing until my father was old enough to wander the streets in search of food and coal, which he snatched from passing coal trains as it fell to the rails. He stole fruit from pushcarts parked in the streets. For a while, he and his siblings were put in an orphanage because his mother was unable to care for him.

Later, his Tourette's became so severe that he was hospitalized for two months because of misunderstandings about what he had. He joined the air force early on in life and flew 35 missions over Germany.

Following that war, he volunteered in Israel and flew planes for their air force and helped to start one of the nation's first kibbutzim, a collective farm for Jewish socialists from all over the world. That's where he met my mother, who was there with her sisters.

My mom had a very different early life, a life of privilege in Capetown South Africa, where her father was the postmaster. She was happy and popular, unprepared to deal with a difficult brooding person like my father.

Her life with him was hard, since he took out his rage on both of us, but she stayed with him for 60-some years.

They adored each other, and spent every minute together. He tried to care for her when she got dementia, but couldn't manage it.

I miss them both very much.

[Robbi and Judaism]

Marly: Your synagogue is a big part of your life. Can you explain why the focus and concerns of Reformed Judaism appeal to you? [Drat. I was afraid that I had the wrong “R,” and I did.]

Robbi: I am not a reformed Jew, but a Reconstructionist. Reconstruction is left of reform politically speaking. Practically speaking, this means that we do not feel comfortable speaking of Jews as "the chosen people" or other practices that exclude people who are married to or are part of the extended families of those who belong to the shul. The matzor, or prayer book, for Reconstructionism is non-sexist and refers to God without any gendered pronoun. But that is all just window dressing. For me, being a Reconstructionist is different from belonging to any other synagogue, and I have belonged or tried to belong to other kinds, because it encourages life-long learning. It is not just children who take classes, learn Hebrew, ask questions, and are expected to investigate basic questions about Judaism and Jews, but adults, throughout their whole lives.

[Bat Mitzvah]

I never had a bat mitzvah when I was young, even though most other people in my neighborhood did have bar and bat mitzvahs. My parents were aggressively anti-religious, and my extended family was Orthodox, which means they didn't hold with girls having such ceremonies. I felt at once attracted and alienated from Judaism, partly because I was not welcomed, as a girl, to be a real part of things. But also because my parents disapproved. And what kid of 10-13 wants to go to school for extra times two times or even more per week?

But I had a bat mitzvah, along with several other women, ranging from late 20s to 70s in age. I was right in the middle. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life! [And more]I sing in the choir, and this is also a central part of my life. Until recently, I belonged to a Torah group, studying the first five books of the Hebrew bible or Tanakh in English. I can't be in it now because I teach on Tues. and Thurs. afternoon.

There are so many things. It's too bad my family (my husband, who isn't Jewish, and my son, who is) isn't interested, but it's important to me.

[A poem about Richard Nester's Virginia grandfather from Floyd Country Moonshine]

Will’s Ridge

Your grandfather’s a mountain.

Although he passed some time ago,

his name endures, enshrined

on maps and part of local lore.

In contrast, Greeks and Romans

once made gods of sea and storm,

each willow housed a dryad,

all the earth alive, divine.

Egyptian pharaohs, who fancied

themselves gods, charted their

immortal course from pyramids

built up by human hands, while

moderns mark their graves

with chunks of polished granite,

piles of sea-smooth stones,

marble mausoleums, built

to last, if what’s within is not.

Your grandfather outdoes them all,

a modest farmer, his mountain

stands unchanged, and will

as long as there are maps, and even

beyond that, for named

or nameless, the mountain

shapes the world around it,

makes this a place, marked by

its jagged silhouette against the sky.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Interview My Visitors, no. 3 (part 2)

Robbi's website is here.
Photograph: Robbi reading at Red Rock Canyon, taken by her friend Lou

Interview with Robbi Nester, continued

You're a Philly girl. Tell us about your life in California-- where you teach, where you live, and how you finally at long last learned to drive.


Robbi: There are a lot of stories in this question. I grew up in Philadelphia, but I spent most of my time running away from the bullies who desired only to toss me, always the shortest and smallest person in sight with only my wits to protect me, into the nearest trash can. That, and the hostility of Philadelphia generally, hayfever, and the godawful weather drove me out.

[The Road to California]

I never thought I'd go to California, but when I started applying for MFA programs, I decided to go to Irvine, CA, to UCI's MFA program, where I studied with Chuck Wright (most recently at UVA, I believe) and Jim McMichael. I had been accepted at all the programs I applied to, which included Missoula MT, Tucson AZ, and Carnegie Mellon, PA. All of them wanted me badly enough to offer scholarships and teaching. When Richard Hugo, then dying of the cancer that would eventually kill him, called me to offer me a scholarship, I nearly fell over!

I was fortunate, but I thought that I might as well go to Southern California, and I fell in love with the place and have been here ever since. It has been 30 years now.

[More grad school and teaching]

I stayed on at the University, where I taught every writing class they had to offer, and got a PhD in Comparative Literature, writing a dissertation on play in the work of Vladimir Nabokov. I never did rework and publish that dissertation. The whole process of writing the dissertation and jumping through various hoops was pretty oppressive.

Instead, I took a job at a community college teaching composition, and have been there, at Irvine Valley College, a small, friendly place (mostly), with high standards. I develop my own curricula, which often combine film, literature, and interdisciplinary materials. This semester, my theme is "Crime and Time," with topics taken from the film by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange. After writing a paper on that, they go on to consider Foucault's Discipline and Punish and then choose a topic to research related to punishment and crime, writing three researched arguments.

I change my theme every year. Next year I am on to The Uses of Narrative, considering the dangers and blessings of stories, considering Bettleheim's work on fairy tales, new research on placebos, etc.

[How Robbi Finally Learned to Drive]

Learning to drive is a whole other thing. I had 20 permits before I finally took the test. My misadventures with driving began when I was 16, in Philadelphia. My dad, who was bipolar and had Tourette's and rage, among other things, was the person who first tried to teach me, and he pretty effectively put me off of it completely by pulling my hair, stomping on my feet, yelling in my ears while I was trying to drive.

The kind of car I was trying to drive was completely unsuited for a small, slight person like me. It didn't have power steering, and I couldn't see over the windshield, even sitting on a phone book. Now that I have a little Corolla, and sit on two pillows, I am much better off, but at first, I smashed up a few dumpsters and hit a few parked cars.

It was finally thanks to determined (female) driving teachers and friends that I learned to drive. Thank you to them.

Marly: And tell us about a favorite recent California restaurant meal!

Robbi: This part of Southern California is full of wonderful ethnic restaurants. It is an extremely diverse place, home to more southeast Asians, for example, than Southeast Asia itself. I love Vietnamese food, so probably my favorite restaurants are Vietnamese. One I particularly love, and haven't visited for a while, is called "8 Courses of Fish." They keep on bringing out one course after another, raw fish, soup, a huge roasted catfish bronzed with sauce, etc., until you couldn't touch another bite, but it's a fascinating and fun meal, great for parties. I also like a new vegan restaurant I've discovered, "The Loving Hut," run by a religious group, where I discovered the joys of vegan Pho. Pho, in case you don't know, is the famous Vietnamese national dish of soup and noodles, generally spiced with star anise and, in its regular configuration, with hunks of beef tendon and other things floating in it. One sprinkles in Thai basil, bean sprouts, and sracha hot sauce (sp?), and it is an amazing treat.


The Quabbin rises as if bound to speak:
the four lost towns, Dana, Enfield,
Greenwich, and Prescott murmuring
of all that was, before the emptied
graves and cellar holes took on
the impersonal and public face of history.
Where now the bass patrol and deer
nose out the fattest berries, old rumors
and a persistent watching from behind.

Were the windows open when water
swept those barns and fields? Perhaps
a table set for tea and cake spun slowly
to the ceiling, flowers spilling
from their vase, family photographs
undeveloping to slicks of sepia
within the darkening, generic pool.

I can still see the steeple
dimpling the surface. Whole towns
caught, like a breath, beneath its
phantom shadow, as in a small
glass dome where no snow falls.

June 29, 2008, qarrtsiluni

Tomorrow, part three...

I Interview My Visitors, no. 3 (part 1)

This "I Interview My Visitors" post is the first one made about a person I have met somewhere other than the e-aether--I knew Robbi Kellman when she was a mere sprat, a 4'11' package of spark. She is still in the shorty club, but she married tall poet Richard Nester and changed her name, her side of the continent, and much else. As she turns out to be wonderfully forthcoming, the current exploration will probably have to be a triptych . . .

Today everything (and I mean by that a great many Robbi-things) will relate somehow to the curious matter of yoga. I'm not quite sure why I'm starting with the yoga, but on a day when my laptop died and was resurrected with many pains as a sort of zombie laptop (moves slowly, misbehaves, eats my brain), I think it will be relaxing.

(The illustration above is by Robbi Nester's cousin, Nina Canal.)

Marly: Tell us about your interest in yoga and how it led to a series of poems.

Robbi: I have done yoga for a long time in an informal, occasional way, and much of it has been Iyengar yoga, developed by the yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar, in Pune, India, and his daughter, Geeta Iyengar.

[Yoga and neurology]

However, until I decided for a number of reasons to get serious about yoga, doing it at least 5 times a week for at least an hour a day, I didn't really get the benefits or begin to understand what it had to offer me.

I inherited a neurological surprise package from my Eastern European Jewish forebears, who lived for centuries sequestered in shtetls, where there was much intermarriage within the tiny Jewish communities of local villages. This meant that the disorders as well as the gifts of these people were handed down.

I got my maternal great-uncle Isaac Rosenberg's ability to write poems, but I also got a bit of my paternal great-grandfather's bum wiring, manifested by a fairly severe case of G.A.D., generalized anxiety disorder. In order to live a healthy life, unimpeded by this disorder, I need to do yoga regularly. Anyone who has known me before and after yoga can attest to how much difference yoga has made for me.

[Yoga and poetry]

On one particular occasion last year, I attended my teacher Denise Thibault's yoga workshop on Iyengar's Emotional Stability Sequence of yoga asanas (postures). I was immediately suffused with a sense of well-being and relaxation, body and mind, and was so grateful for this that I began writing the series of poems, with the thought that I might give them to Mr. Iyengar for his 91st birthday.

I finished the poems themselves in time for this occasion, though the illustrations meant to go with them have not been completed as of this moment. My cousin Nina Canal, who lives in Marsailles, France, has been working on those in her spare time, between gigs as a musician (she has recorded 7 albums) and a designer (she has a boutique in Paris).

It has been impossible for me to send the poems to their intended recipient, since getting to Mr. Iyengar is not easy. He has an enormous following, and is surrounded by a huge and very possessive hierarchy of people who protect his time and energy. I just don't have enough pull to get my poems sent to him. It is possible that poetry is not something he or those around him have that much interest in, or perhaps the people around him don't recognize a poem when they see it. I guess it is a small, specialized sort of thing, and perhaps not all that compelling to some.

Salamba Sirsasana 1 — Headstand

The moon swells like a seedpod.
Inside the quiet studio, I take
my aching head into my hands,
fingers web to web. A breath,
and then this awkward frame
ascends, becomes an aspen
flexing in a nonexistent breeze.
Grounded in air, movement merges
with stillness, my ear a vehicle
for surging tides, the galaxies’
faint hum. Everywhere
and nowhere, the worlds
fall away, balanced
on these two arms.

Prior online publication: qarrtsiluni, March 26, 2010

Part two
Part three

Robbi's website

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moomintroll Midwinter

This week has had and continues to have entirely too much long-distance ferrying during snowstorms. I have seen great armies of snow devils, whirling snow spouts, too many gusty white-outs, snow wreaths, a snow rainbow near the sun, a wiggly set of back-and-forth tracks (up a small mountain or large hill--it felt like a mountain) that I made myself with my little Toyota, snowfalls, and other delightful machinations of the tiny cold stars of snow.

Illustration from Tove Jansson's Moomintroll Midwinter.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Red King Red King Red King

The Red King and the Fool are popular fellows. They seem to be liked everywhere they go, thus far. I haven’t sent many out as yet, but here’s where online poems stand.

Up today in The Flea are “The Red King’s Sword,”
“What the Fool Whispered to the Wentletrap,”
and “Jeux de Pages.

Here are the also out-and-about and the forthcoming:

“About the Red Book” in Mezzo Cammin

“The King and the Fool” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Birthday Cap” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Starry Fool” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Two Tables” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Moon of Precious Wentletrap” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Turret Stairs” in Mezzo Cammin

“Directions for a Birthday Hat” in Mezzo Cammin

“The Birthday Roses” at qarrtsiluni, with a podcast and more than fifty comments (very pleasing!):

You may also find “Wielding the Tree Finder” there!

“The Fool’s Confession” forthcoming in June, Mezzo Cammin.

“The Red King’s Blossom-Tide” forthcoming in June, Mezzo Cammin

“The Rose of Laughter, Laughter of the Rose” in June, Mezzo Cammin

“The Grail,” in June, Mezzo Cammin

“Scholastic Interlude,” forthcoming in June, Mezzo Cammin

“’My Poor Fool is Hang’d,’” forthcoming in December, Mezzo Cammin

“The Fool and the Sublime,” forthcoming in December, Mezzo Cammin

“The Desire for the Red King,” forthcoming in December, Mezzo Cammin

“All Hallowed Angels Say,” forthcoming in December, Mezzo Cammin

“The Peacock’s Tail,” forthcoming in December, Mezzo Cammin

Can you tell that I like Mezzo Cammin and its bright editor, poet Kim Bridgford? Lots of my other poems from forthcoming books are there. And I look forward to meeting her in June.

And a reminder: pre-order discounts are still on for The Throne of Psyche.
Photograph courtesy of Vangelis Thomaidis of Athens and

Friday, February 18, 2011

In Which I Misspell "Heidegger," etc.

Today I am stealing comments from the middle third of my own Facebook thread. I thought this one particularly interesting because the responses began in some degree of general appreciation and even frivolity (as is the tendency of Facebook--whimsy and teasing abound) before finally coming to the question that I thought would pop up in the first comment. But not until the 31st comment! After these exchanges, the thread unraveled into frivolity once more.

There are two subjects of interest to writers and readers here: one, the question of Heidegger; the other, lesser topic, the use of accident and error. I have cut the names down to initials to protect the semi-innocent.

The status line was this: Heidigger answers Holderlin: "To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world's night utters the holy."

AJ O Tempus, O Mores....It doesn't look like we'll be out of a job very soon. I always liked Heidegger.

Marly Youmans Nope. Plenty of The Dark around.

VJ Hmmm. What Heidigger said here is so very true...but, he turned in a very dear woman I had the honor of knowing and her husband so I cannot see his name without the painful reminder of how he helped spread darkness and evil.

Marly Youmans I don't think anybody who knows anything about him can look at that quote without considering that as well. Which makes it strange and ambiguous, yes.

A J No one can look at Heidegger without some sense of ambiguity. As great a philosopher as he was, he was still the darling of the Nazi Party.

Marly Youmans
I was just reading this: "...Celan found it possible to maintain an intense intellectual relationship with Heidegger despite the philosopher's notorious record of public support for the Hitler regime, and Heidegger's adamant refusal, right ...up to his death, to take back one word he had spoken or written in praise of the regime. Celan's poem ["Todtnauberg"] enacts his hope that Heidegger might, after all, speak the word that would acknowledge the survivor's wound--an act of atonement, if not of healing, since Celan's wound could not be healed." There are so many reasons that is astonishing, not the least of them the death of Celan's parents and his time spent in labor camps. Despite all, Celan found Heidegger fruitful and meaningful.

V J Dr. Newman, by the time I knew her, did not waste time talking about him...other than to say that's why she and her husband had to flee. Personally, I cannot separate his intellectual contributions from his support of evil. Just can't. And don't admire those who can. It's that type of "objectivity" that helped that evil regime become what it was...and is.

Marly Youmans
Practicing a little Keatsian negative capability here... Okay, in one hand is Ezra Pound's little poem, "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter." In the other is knowledge of how and why Pound ended up in St. Elizabeth's. Do I have to resolve ...this issue, or can I read the poem and know what Pound did and one remains in one hand and one in the other? Or must I throw that poem away and not think it lovely? Can use not be made of all things that rise and flower above the muck and decay from which they came, or must those flowers be tossed and burned? I hold them, and I do not resolve an answer. Must I? Or can they both be held and known? I do not say, but I wonder what you say.

Marly Youmans By the way, I think it interesting that it took 31 comments for this issue to come up. I thought it would be the first comment!

M B I misread this to say "to attend . . . to the trace of the furtive gods"--maybe if the gods weren't so dern furtive, they wouldn't have to be so fugitive?

C M Thanks for this.

Yes, I do believe it is a good thing to "make use" of--I would say most things-- "that rise and flower above the muck and decay from which they came." We have to. There would be so little to embrace if we didn't. I'm saying that in my heart... and mind there is a line. I can't define it for you or even myself. I'm usually very generous. But there are cases when it is very clear for me. The support of genocide to one's dying day is clearly on the other side of that line in my head and heart...consequently, nothing with his name attached to it brings light to me. There are, for me, a few cases where a person's actions do outweigh any good they did. Especially when they were part of something like genocide.

Marly Youmans
M B: fugitive is an interesting choice there. Is it that "the gods" are only of passing interest? Is it that kind of fugitive? Is it that, in the current state of affairs, "the gods" are like like a fugitive... slave, hiding out and moving from house to house in order to survive? Is that the only way they can survive, by moving in secret toward some goal we do not see? Are they running away? Are they elusive? Did they only have, as Freneau said, "the frail duration of a flower"?

Marly Youmans
V: I can sympathize with that entirely. At the same time, I think of Auden's poem about the death of Yeats: "He became his admirers." The work was no longer "his" at all. Of course, with Heidegger, that idea of becoming one's admirers is a fierce, two-edged blade. Because he had many Nazi admirers. I also think of Celan, inspired by Heidegger despite the murder of his mother, shot in the neck, and his father's death from typhus at the same camp in Transnistria. Then I think of Celan longing for Heidegger to redeem what he had done, longing for him to confess the wound. I find that all this is a lot to think about, and I find that Celan's opinion is more important than my opinion. But I still feel that things are hanging and not resolved.

M B I suspect that they were originally meant, in Heidigger's phrasing, to be "Fugitive" in the same sense that magenta and some green pigments are "fugitive"--i.e.--fleeting, ephemeral, but I am not a speaker of German. Bet he'd like the ambiguities. Am furtively moving off to my studio now--let I be still here chatting with you come sunset, and nothing to show but silliness.

Marly Youmans Yes, I was thinking of pigments, too. Frail durations.

Marly Youmans Yes, go! I have been reading Celan's poetry and writing and peeking here from time to time... But you must gather your non-fugitive colors!

M B ps I misspelled Heidegger "Heidigger" because I copied & pasted it from your text. I'm a big fan of certain typos and this is a deserving one.

Marly Youmans Rats! I'm full of typos this morning. But they are often enlightening or an improvement on the original. Wasn't it Stephen Crane's typesetter who accidentally changed "black wing of eternity" to "black wink of eternity"?

M B Frail, frail durations. Hie thee to thy studio and flee this damnable (and interminable) and frivolous intercourse!

Marly Youmans Hah, I have already written two poems this morning! I feel scot-free!

M B Dunno. Richard Dillard said that in Moby Dick, "soiled fish" was a printer's typo for "coiled fish"--as some damnable English professor at UVA pointed out & thereby destroyed a perfectly good young prof's career (or life?--did he commit suicide?) by pointing this out after the poor guy had just delivered a brilliant paper on the paradox of Melville's dirty whale bathed in boiling oceans--

"Ink drops" photograph courtesy of Tyler Morrison of Edinburgh, UK and

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blogs, Social Media, Hot Water, & Getting Fired, part 2

12 Suggestions for thought, continued

7. DISCUSSING PROBLEMS. Teachers and professors: when discussing the people in your life who give you trouble (particularly students and colleagues), be measured and thoughtful and always remember the principal or the dread Dean of Students, floating over your head in a little black dirigible. If you would like a skimpily-paid vacation from the U. S. government known as welfare, disregard this advice. Same goes for other workers. Yes, there is a little judgmental cloud floating over your noggin. Really. They haven’t found you yet? They will. Wasn’t “The Tard Blog” writer always doomed to firing? This morning teacher Natalie Munroe is in the news, suspended from work because of her blog. She seems to have leveled a lot of fair criticisms. But as she admits, some posts were written “out of frustration.” She was an English teacher; perhaps she could have used her writing skills to appear a little more judicious and less rash. Rash can be funny, and funny—if not well-considered—can get you fired. Every chortling thought does not deserve print.

8. COMMENTS AND TIME SPENT. This is about that little matter of time and not wasting it. If you want a lot of comments, you will have to work at it. My observation is that just as many or more people come to your blog when you cease working at it as before—they just don’t leave so many comments. I love getting comments and replying to them, but I no longer have the time to work at acquiring them. I hardly have any time to visit other blogs, for example. But it doesn’t make any difference to your stats.

9. LANGUAGE. A lot of profanity is used as humor, and I like humor. But there is a trade-off. I might’ve used profanity as a teen blogger, had there been such a thing, way back when. But it’s another element that alienates and strikes out at a portion of your readers, the ones who just don’t like it and think there’s too much trash-talk in the world. Some people speak one way on Facebook, another way while blogging: clearly, they’ve thought about the difference between social circle and public forum. Good idea. Do that too!

10. SOURCES OF HUMOR. Related issue: there’s a strand of thought that thinks toying with ideas of sexism and racism is funny or especially effective and barbed. Back to Rosen’s tweets again! (Lately I have been distressed to find that it appears that the more liberal a writer is, the more likely he is to attack a woman or a person of color who does not agree with his point of view: that is, the more likely he is to attack a conservative woman or a conservative black. This does nothing good for the liberal cause and is quite successful at alienating people. Rosen did not like Logan’s stance on the war in Iraq, so he felt free to mock a 20-30 minute assault on her. Or see, for example, the recent “black garbage pail kids” and “minstrelsy” and “monkey in the window” comments about Herman Cain.) Funny? It’s not.

11. LOVELESSNESS. My most general advice is always to write from a stance of love and to enjoy other people, no matter what their politics or religion or lack thereof. I see a lot of people writing from a stance of lovelessness, a point of view where they can only like people like themselves. Why bother to write and reach out, then?

12. WISDOM AND LOVE. In his famous Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin included among his goals, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” Many people have taken this straight; others have thought that little item tongue-in-cheek for its impossibility. Disregarding the fact that both Jesus and Socrates experienced a rather unpleasant death, we might say that it’s not a bad idea to exert wisdom. Nor is it a bad idea to consort with many, even "tax collectors and prostitutes," and yet hew close to your own beliefs and speak out of love for the world, bad as it may be. One by one, if we do so, we might just see the resurrection of civility on the web.

Photograph courtesy of Mustafa Kilic of Istanbul and

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blogs, Social Media, Hot Water, & Getting Fired, part 1 of 2

This little post was inspired by several friends who have come to me in some degree of unrest caused by what they had posted on a blog. It covers a number of issues that have occurred to me over a few years of blogging. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

12 Suggestions for thought

1. CHILDREN. Your blog is a sort of adjunct chamber to your house where people who do not know can visit. In the riot of your imagination, just ponder who might possibly stumble into your door: mad clowns, local predators, carnivorous aliens from another star system, and other potential undesirables. No matter how interesting they may be, they’re not people you want ogling your children. I never posted pictures of my three young children; when my first two children graduated from high school, I did post a picture of my son and of my daughter with friends on my blog. For me, when considering under-18 children, initials are good enough on a public blog.

2. FRANKNESS. In addition, don’t get too naked, metaphorically speaking, in that room. Reticence is a lost virtue, but you can bring it back and yet still reveal much that is interesting.

3. POLITICS. Unless your purpose is to write a political blog, what reason do I have to want to know your political stance? I tend to like people, and I’m interested in people—a writer ought to care about people—but I notice that many people blog as if wholly unaware that other people do not believe as they do. That mode leads people like Nir Rosen to think that they can make abusive, sexist, unclean tweets about an American woman’s rape and beating in a public square with complete impunity. Wrong. (In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I am a registered Democrat who is not particularly happy with either party or with the way of the world as presently constituted. Hey, it’s a fallen world. But at the moment it strikes me as still falling.)

4. PURPOSE. And what is your purpose, anyway—do you have any coherent idea? Figure it out and stick to your goals.

5. INTEREST. We all have different interests. I’m going to talk about my upcoming books. But I probably have plenty of people who only choose to read the Midget Palace post or the I Interview my Visitors series. Don’t try to reach everybody in every post. A blog is a whole with many parts. That said, don’t examine navel lint than can only be of concern to you and your significant other—well, I think even navel-lint-level topics can be funny or curious, but one has to exert a little artifice. Do that. Don’t be lazy, don’t be boring.

6. MODESTY. You know, even Michelangelo and the Tang emperors and Shakespeare had to die. No matter what we believe, we can agree that our very birth is a miracle against long odds (so many sperm headed for our special egg, so many ancestors who might have died too soon); likewise, we all have a variety of gifts that we did absolutely nothing to earn, that were freely given to us at birth. The only thing we can take credit for is whether we use those gifts or not. And even then, we’re just lucky if we weren’t born to be featured on “The Tard Blog” or to be a slave in the cocoa fields or to find some other role that feels like doom. So how about a little humility?

To be continued...

Photograph courtesy of Michael Faes of Switzerland and

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vampire-drudges & The Throne of Psyche, etc.


I shall have to start the I Interview My Visitors series and the one about publishing and luck and so on in a day or two. I still need to ferment and write some more, and I also need to format the I Interview piece, as it is long (poet and professor Robbi ought to be called Gabby!) and still higgledy-piggledy.

Unfortunately I also need to dive into the wreck and scour it because my daughter wants to bring friends home from college... And I want to work on The Book of the Red King! Sad, isn't it? Elsewhere in the family, the youngest son is reading a rather dreckish trilogy about vampires and drudges. By some miracle of maturing brain, he is clearly aware of the dreckishness, even though he likes the blood, gore, and excitement. Meanwhile, it occurs to me that if I were a vampire, I would have drudges who would be beavering away, quarrying out the midden that is a certain child's bedroom, hurling unwanted items and trash into the Dempsey dumpster that they so kindly had dragged to the front curb. And they would even be enjoying these Augean-Stables labors! Because they're drudges! It's their thing, their bag, their sweet meaning in life! I need a drudge!


For The Throne of Psyche, it's pre-order and discount season at your local independent bookstore, your chain, your online flogger... And so I have obeyed a suggestion in the Comments and put up an Amazon author page, so if you want to take a look at the book, you may then click on my name and find me there.


Here is my Mercer catalog copy for The Throne of Psyche. It looks quite attractive--that pale and peachy background color might have been picked just for my book... You'll have to imagine all the tasteful fonts and layout and so on. Also, the margins won't paste as they should, so you'll have to put up with a bit of waywardness on that front.

The blurby bit:

Marly Youmans is a native Carolinian
who currently lives in Cooperstown,
New York, with her husband and three
children. Her books include collections
of poetry, novels—her 2001 novel,
The Wolf Pit (Farrar, Straus & Giroux),
won The Michael Shaara Award—and
fantasies for young adults.

(That was before the Ferrol Sams Award, so it's not listed.)

The Throne of Psyche
Marly Youmans

Marly Youmans is “the best-kept secret among contemporary
—John Wilson, Books & Culture

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.

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 transformsinto 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 Marly Youmans is “the best-kept secret among contemporary
American writers. She writes like an angel—an angel who has learned what it is to be
human” (John Wilson, Books & Culture).

April 2011 poetry
6 x 9 100 pp. Cloth, $30.00t 978-0-88146-246-3 H826
6 x 9 100 pp. Paper, $18.00t 978-0-88146-232-6 P422

Monday, February 14, 2011

Woodrat Podcasts 34

Happy Valentine's Day

In celebration of the day, I've participated in Dave Bonta's round-up podcast of poems about close friendship.

Woodrat Podcast 34:
Platonic love
Posted on February 14, 2011 by Dave Bonta
A poetic celebration of non-romantic love and close friendship. Contributors include: Augustine, Brenda Clews, Jason Crane, Risa Denenberg, Ann Drysdale, Kate Fitzpatrick, Stephanie Goehring, Howie Good, Uma Gowrishankar, Joanne Hudson, Pat Jones, Sid Kemp, Maria Koliopoulou, W.F. Lantry, Ami Mattison, Carolee Sherwood, Paul Stevens, and Marly Youmans. “The Starry Fool” by Marly Youmans originally appeared in Mezzo Cammin, “Epic” by Stephanie Goehring in 42opus, and “L’Hirondelle” by W.F. Lantry in Damazine. The music in “Veils to Clothe Venus” by Brenda Clews is by Buz Hendricks, used by permission. The podcast theme music is “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo.
Image: the wonderful Adrienne Segur, "Queen of Hearts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Upcoming + Red King + Hometown press


I INTERVIEW MY VISITORS returns with a 2-part interview. For some reason, the first one of these I ever did is extremely popular and still gets daily hits, all this time later. I can't figure it out (other than the fact that Susanna is a charming woman!) I can understand people still keeping qarrtsiluni-related posts alive, but some of the others are more surprising to me. What's going on with the Midget Palace post, say? Shorties of all kinds, I love you!

THE THRONE OF PSYCHE news will continue.

I will be writing and posting a 6-part series that I might just call WHY I AM NOT A GRUMPY OLD BOOKWOMAN: OR, WRITERS IN WONDERLAND. You may remember the Grumpy Old Bookman and his advice to writers. I duly read and got a lot out of it, some years ago. But I have a somewhat different point of view. I intend this series to answer some of the questions that writers of various ages ask me. Topics covered will be somethng like this: Print Publishing: Persisting and Giving Up; Randomness, Luck, and Being Lucky; Doing What You Want to Do; Home Life and Being a Writer; The Calling of Publishers vs. the Internet; A Salad of Advice, or What Nobody Wants.


“Mezzo Cammin” has picked up four more The Book of the Red King poems: “The Rose of Laughter, Laughter of the Rose” and “The Grail” for the June issue; “All Hallowed Angels Say” and “The Peacock’s Tail” for the December issue. And I'll be reading at the "Mezzo Cammin" reading at the West Chester Poetry Conference in June. More about that later on.


Hometown interviewers tend to ask you different sorts of questions from other journalists. Here’s Maggie Tobias at The Sylva Herald, published seven miles from where I went to high school in Cullowhee.

Photograph credit goes to and Robert Linder of Springfield, Missouri.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Fire in the Labyrinth" in CLIVE HICKS-jENKINS


My gallimaufry of pieces, "Fire in the Labyrinth" (excerpts below), is forthcoming in a marvelous anthology titled Clive Hicks-Jenkins, available from Ashgate/Lund Humphries in conjunction with Grey Mare Press and Clive's 60th-birthday retrospective exhibit of paintings at the National Library of Wales. My contribution tells the story of Clive's withdrawal from the world (after a life in the theatre) at Tretower Castle and dives into paintings for wild Clive-ish new--an examination of the buttons of angels, a playground beyond the world, tea in the garden with Cocteau and manifestation of saints and much more.


Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest
The Tea Party
Holy the Negative Space
The Congregation of Birds
The Count of Three
The Book of the Phoenix, 1: 1-40
Tender Blackbird
Blue and Red
Labyrinth of the World

from "Tretower"

Some days the landscape is so harsh and cold and empty that he imagines himself the last human being in the world, and his tongue cleaves to his mouth. Some days the strange energies of the place possess him, and he could weep for the loveliness that cracks him in two. The very stones of Tretower seem to prophesy that he will not be as he has been, that the man who braves seven years in the wilderness may yet wrench a blessing from the place. When tourists appear from nowhere, he hardly remembers how to form syllables—then speaks all in a rush. But abruptly they are gone, and the bigness of the place and the silence that is no silence (insects, birds, the slamming of the wind) seizes him once more.

When he flings himself on the earth, Tretower looms over him. The birds come and cover him with leaves. The wild winds flatten and tear at the grasses. The frost giants tug at the stones.

“That was all long ago,” people say; “long ago he came out of the wilderness with his staring eyes that had the look of one who has wrestled with some fearsome angel.”

from "The Tea Party"

When did the saints appear in the garden? Half-hidden by trees, they are watching the two artists. The sunshine brightens on stone and leaf. The Virgin Mary steps into the clearing and looks wonderingly at the two men and the teapot and cups and the cut slabs of bara brith. Cocteau gets up immediately, but the painter does not move.

“The clarity of a dream,” he says.

The light increases enormously, and the paths and trees burn, every pebble and twig distinctly present. The painter’s hands tremble as he drinks in the brilliance and crisp edges of the garden, the glimpses of saints, and the young Virgin, her crimped hair veering from her head like a cockeyed halo.

This is what I wanted, he thinks, more light and every intent so clear. Color that says anything is possible. Nothing hidden.

Cocteau is looking at the pale lime green of his hands and laughing as shafts of young trees slide upward in unexpected blue twilight. Sunflowers break from the earth, shoving six feet into the air. God in the form of an angel plummets from the clouds and seizes the Virgin by the wrist.


The information below is from the Ashgate website, with a few small changes.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Imprint: Lund Humphries
Illustrations: Includes c.150 colour illustrations
Published: April 2011
Extent: 200 pages
Binding: Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-84822-082-9
Price : $70.00 » Website price: $63.00

Contributors: Simon Callow, Damian Walford Davies, Andrew Green, Rex Harley, Kathe Koja, Anita Mills, Montserrat Prat, Jacqueline Thalmann, Peter Wakelin and Marly Youmans.

Critic Nicholas Usherwood has described the painting of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (b.1951) as 'reflective, expressive painting of the highest order'. From a background as a choreographer and theatre director, Hicks-Jenkins has since the 1990s become increasingly well-known as a painter, producing exploratory sequences of works that embrace diverse subject-matter with a consistent and distinctive vision. His paintings are now held in all the principal public collections in Wales and his artists' books are in libraries worldwide; he is a Royal Cambrian Academician and an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

Available here.

More information on a second book with a contribution from me and timed for the retrospective will be posted soon.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Gioia on Bishop

Dana Gioia has an interesting assessment of Elizabeth Bishop in The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few bites:


Elizabeth Bishop's future reputation will surely fluctuate slightly according to the currents of taste, but she has indisputably won a permanent place in the American literary canon. An independent and honest writer who never chased fashion, joined groups or struck public poses, she labored at the art's perennial task—to communicate the joy, sorrow and wonder of being human. She took her time about it, and it shows.


There is a special irony that Bishop has come to be the signature poet of late 20th-century American literature, a period stereotyped by free verse and experimental forms. Bishop admired Modernism, but she resisted being drawn into its endless arguments about stylistic innovation and the radical transformation of human consciousness. She was, in the highest sense of the word, a prosaic poet, who like the supreme prose masters—Flaubert, James, Na bok ov —could create a verbal fabric so fine that nothing was lost to it. Never trying to be merely modern, she succeeded in becoming perpetually immediate and contemporary.


To see a few good images of Bishop's homes in Brazil and read a little about how she was and is seen there, fly here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Philip Lee Williams & The Throne of Psyche

Surprises are tricksy.

Sometimes you hold a thing as a surprise-to-come, and then you have to give it unexpectedly after a different, unforeseen surprise comes to pass.

On the 5th, writer Philip Lee Williams (come fall, we will have corresponded for a decade) posted a lovely piece about me and the upcoming book, The Throne of Psyche.
So I had to tell him that I had dedicated the book to him.

When you give a little gift, and then the gift turns out to mean a lot to the person, it is thrilling.

At left: "Crown of Laurel" by Sulamith Wulfing. I picked it because when somebody says such good things about one's writing, it is like being crowned with laurel, as poets were once crowned in the old days when poetry still ran in people's veins.

* * *
P. S. If you go to Phil's link, you'll find out some good things about his upcoming books!

P. P. S. Picture: Hmm, not sure where I originally took it from. Probably, a great illustration site worth visiting. Public domain image.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

the 100th "The Book of the Red King" poem

Painting: Graham Ward, "King in Finisterre."
Today I wrote the 100th poem of The Book of the Red King. In the fall, Graham Ward's paintings reminded me of a Red King story I had written a year or so before; Graham also likes fools, and I had fooled with fools before as well.

And somehow on October 17th of last year, I started writing madly about the Fool and the Red King and Precious Wentletrap and the blossom Queen and many another character. Some days I wrote three poems. One day I wrote five. It has been a delicious insanity.

100 is round. Perhaps I am done. Perhaps not. Only the Fool can know, and he can only know when he knows. And when he doesn't know, there might be more.

Some of the poems have appeared at Mezzo Cammin and qarrtsiluni (January 24), and some are forthcoming at The Flea, but I haven't sent many out yet. They are still new. So it will be a while before The Book of the Red King appears in the world.

But in the meantime, you can always slide down to the next post and take a gander at The Throne of Psyche. That book of poetry will be out soon.

And maybe it's appropriate here to remember once again (trala!) the immortal words of Kenneth Rexroth: "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches!" Long ago, back in the mythical time of youth, that line was typed on a little strip of paper on end of the poetry section at the Bull's Head Bookshop at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It must have been effective because it stayed up for years! XD

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Throne of Psyche: pre-order discounts

If you are an Amazon buyer rather than a local shopper, links are now up with pre-order discounts. The paperback is discounted 32% and the hardcover 34%. Can we say, dirt cheap?



Other options are your local independent bookseller or ordering direct from the publisher, Mercer University Press, a way of buying which gives them a generous return. I just ordered R. H. W. Dillard's new book, What Is Owed the Dead, that way from Factory Hollow Press. And reminded his facebook fans of Kenneth Rexroth's immortal words, "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches!"

Amusing and wonderful Paul Digby (composer, photographer, curator, bespoke framemaker--and I don't know what else!) is progressing on a video featuring "The Exile's Track" from The Throne of Psyche. That's a darkish sort of poem, and there will be cellos! More on that effort anon.

Illustrations: Jacket/cover of The Throne of Psyche along with an image of the original painting from which the image is drawn, "Touched" by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Boot Scoot Snow Charm

The secret to nabbing a snow day when the weather turns out to be not nearly as history-making as the weather mavens declare: wear your pajamas inside-out in the accepted snow-day-wish fashion and do the boot scootin' boogie for your snow dance. Now you know.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Anatomy of a Snow Day

  • Youngest child wore his bright red plaid pajamas inside-out, surefire guarantee of the snow day.
  • Mama and said boy did the Wild Happy Snow Dance just to make sure, with appropriate whooping and wheeling about... It looked rather native American this time. Must've been the 1/16th Mohawk popping out (his, not mine, but evidently contagious.) I would think the snow would obey even a bit of fierce Akewesasne Mohawk, and it certainly did.
  • Visibility: dratted poor, especially when shivering and wet at the bus stop.
  • Snow: deep and falling fast, at the moment fine flakes but filling the air with an artistic southward slant.
  • Plows: excessively busy, buzzing and jingling and getting stuck on our corner with a great racket. Cheerful.
  • Schools: all closed it seems, from more than an hour below us in Binghamton to Delhi to Elmira to Cherry Valley and Adirondack points north.
  • Except: our neighbor Milford (getting out early) and us (nobody's saying.)

Now I go off to write and make podcasts...

* * *

Photograph credit: snow lion courtesy of Nikola Hartmann and