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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Maggie's interview and more

N & Dad coming home from the track meet while I unload the car of my gear for Wales and North Carolina, along with sundry rocks and gifts and plants from my mother's garden.

N, age 13: Squints eyes, looks at a license on the car ahead.
N: "A mind is like a parakeet."
Dad, age 50: "No, it says a mind is like a parachute."
N: "No, parakeet."
Dad: "No, parachute. They both work best when open."
N: "I'll prove it to you."
Dad: "How?"
N: "Does parachute have a Q in it?"
Dad: "No, but neither does parakeet."
N: "Oh, yeah."

WITH THANKS (written May 14)

I'm nearing the end of my long trip from upstate New York to western North Carolina to Wales to North Carolina to New York. When I get home, I'll post some pictures and stories from the astonishing and grand parade of events in honor of the 60th birthday retrospective show for artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, held at the the lovely (and large--what a grand collection of paintings!) Gregynog Gallery of The National Library of Wales.

As Carroll says, I had a perfectly frabjous time, callooh, callay! 60th birthday retrospectives only come around once and are a great honor. Likewise, invitations to be a part of such things only come once. I owe my husband many thanks for holding the family fort and letting me be free to wander the world, and I owe Peter Wakelin and Clive many thanks for inviting me to stay and play the country house visitor with a houseful of artists and writers. And thanks to you, the Dear Reader, for returning to me here!

Reprinted with permission of "The Sylva Herald"

The bright and lovely Maggie Tobias has written two articles about me in the past weeks, and I post something from them here, before they vanish into archives. She did endow me with more books than I have written (The Throne of Psyche is number eight, unless one counts editions, and five are forthcoming. However, I shall take the extras as a challenge!) I answered her interview questions at 2:00 a.m. at the kitchen table of Ty Isaf, in the Istwyth valley of Wales.

Youmans discusses writing, family, new poetry book
By Maggie Tobias  May 12, 2011


Tonight (Thursday) at City Lights Bookstore, author Marly Youmans will read from her new collection of poetry – “The Throne of Psyche” – at 7 p.m. Her new poems examine the boundaries between what is human and what is not, between the earthly world and the otherwordly.

The title poem “The Throne of Psyche” tells the story of the union of Eros, the Greek god of love, and Psyche, a mortal girl.

Stories of transformations and metamorphoses are a constant in the collection, and Youmans’ delicate language gives her poems a certain seriousness.

Youmans, who grew up in Cullowhee, is the daughter of Mary Youmans of Cullowhee and the late Hubert Youmans. She now lives in Cooperstown, N.Y., with her husband and three children.

She’s written several dozen other books, which include novellas and short stories, including “Claire,” “The Wolf Pit,” “Catherwood,” “Ingledove,” “Little Jordan,” and “Curse of the Raven Mocker.”

The Herald caught up with Youmans before tonight’s reading to get her views on poetry, writing and family – and how she balances all three.

Herald: Why did you choose the title poem? Is the story of Psyche special to you?

Youmans: The story of Psyche is wonderful to work with because it takes place in a highly colored, physical world, and yet it also is the story of the progress of a soul. The tale is dramatic and moves from Earth to hell to paradise. It is a great adventure that is always ready for transformation.

Herald: Are you looking forward to reading your work in Sylva?

Youmans: I’m always pleased to read in Sylva, though this time I have hardly had a chance to think about it because I am in Wales and for the next three days will be participating in some very big events. I’ll get to Cullowhee and have a day to get over being jet-lagged, so I may be a bit wired.

Herald: What’s your favorite part about visiting the mountains?

Youmans: My mother is a fascinating though overly modest woman who is always up to something interesting in her gardening or weaving. And my eldest son is at Mars Hill College, so I get to bring him to Cullowhee. I love eating Southern food and seeing shadbush or sourwood, pink shell or flame azalea in bloom. I always feel glad driving South when the land begins to rise.

Herald: Can you describe your style of poetry?

Youmans: My poems are formal – by that I mean that I take advantage of all the tools of poetry. I write metrical poetry, and I am not adverse to rhyme. I like a singing quality and “swing” in poetry. Since I also write short stories and novels, I am keen for my poetry to be as unlike fiction as possible; that’s one reason that I am drawn to form. Another reason is that I feel comfortable and happy pushing words around into formal, muscular shapes. I don’t ask other poets to do likewise, but it is my way.

Herald: Was there ever a time when you wrote for recognition or fame?

Youmans: I’m afraid that “recognition and fame” are qualities that sit uneasily with English-language poetry in the 21st century. I never think about such things because humility toward the art and toward the written work of the past is the proper stance for a writer, as I see it.

My concern is never for what praise it may find, though I am always happy when people like my work and it receives the tribute of some honor. But real honor lies in being true to the work.

Herald: Does poetry satisfy something that fiction doesn’t? Do you have different audiences for your different types of writing?

Youmans: My feeling about fiction versus poetry is that all my writing comes from the same fount but flows into different shapes. That said, the lyric gush of short poetry is a lovely sensation.

Herald: What does poetry do for the reader?

Youmans: It is not useful; it is not a tool to better oneself. At its best, a poem is a portal to what Chaucer called “larger life” and is a means to joy. It is possible to become lost in a poem, to be transformed, if only momentarily. It is a kind of fruitful self-forgetfulness, good for the soul.

Herald: How early did you begin writing?

Youmans: My mother says that she knew I would be a writer when I was in second grade; that is, the year I turned 6.

Herald: Do you keep a tight work schedule?

Youmans: No, I do not keep a regular, rigid schedule. I doubt that any writer who is the mother of three can do so. I write whenever I can. I have several useful qualities that help me get work done: I have an ability to get back into a piece very quickly, and I have an unusually good capacity for concentration.

Herald: Where do you do your writing?

Youmans: I write wherever and whenever I can. Because my life is complicated, I cannot afford to be fussy about such things, or to insist on having special comforts around me when I write. Again, I can’t be a mother of three and be particular about my when and where.

Herald: Do you ever go back and reread your books and short stories?

Youmans: I do not reread my fiction once it is published unless I am revising for inclusion in an anthology. Occasionally I reread a poem, but one rereads so much while revising; when it is out in the world, it is gone – given away to the people who read it.

Herald: How about your husband. Is he supportive? What is the secret to the longevity of your relationship?

Youmans: My husband cooks dinner most nights, and that is a huge gift to a woman who is a writer. He is also a father who helps with children, who goes on Scout trips and teaches Sunday School. We have many common tastes and see the world in similar ways.

Herald: How are you able to write so much?

Youmans: Writing is a great joy to me. The act of bringing something new into the world brings pleasure.

Herald: Do you write for an ideal reader or a particular audience?

Youmans: I’ve never quite understood questions about the reader one writes for – when something new pours out, I am not considering my reader. I am caught up and lost in the stream of words. If I lose myself in them, what I write will find its proper readers.


On May 5th, The Sylva Herald printed another of Maggie's articles about me, publicizing the upcoming reading. One remark she made reminded me of my mother-in-law, long ago asking why I didn't write a nice little bestseller! Luckily I am not roiled and tormented by such an idea...  

Here is a clip:

Youmans has written in every genre, and does it all with joy and lyricism. With her open approach to all writing styles and lack of concern for the politics of publishing and bestseller lists, Youmans may never run out of material.


  1. This has to be one of the nicest interviews I've read for a long time, Marly.
    Travel is good for you. Very good for you.
    But now, back to the grindstone that is daily life - but that also offers writing time and fun family time too!
    Welcome home!

  2. Hi Paul--

    And thanks for that! And for the home wishes, too...

    Remember your travel prediction? I got lots of invitations during my travels... I only wish I could take them all!

  3. You always have an invitation to come here too, Marly, but I'm afraid that now that I've lost my job, I can't get you any readings.

  4. Oh, dear, I haven't even unpacked, and already there is such news! Robbi, I am so sorry. Shall catch up with the how it happened. May you have more and better very soon.

  5. Thanks Marly. I think they have finally decided that I am just too hard for those poor community college students. Or maybe it was that other political stuff of a few months back. Or maybe a combination of things, plus the budget.

  6. In this case, there is just too much in the way of possibilities. But sometimes change improves things. I hope this is one of those times.

  7. Marly, I love that picture of you!

  8. Aw, thanks! It should be credited to Jim Kevlin of the Freeman's Journal, but it wasn't mentioned online... It's actually cropped from a larger picture--shall have to post that one--that includes a Hanoi water puppet dragon.

  9. Glad you had such a marvelous time, and now you are home again with your family of three and your most supportive hsuband. Great interviews, lovely photo. I admire and envy your energy!

  10. marja-leena,

    Energy? It's just sleight-of-hand! I woke up after a day of planting my plants dug from my mother's garden to a feeling that I was born under a rock and kept there for many years.

    And I still have little trees to plant, but it is pouring rain, alas...

    But we were five by midnight, and that was sweet, very sweet.

  11. Oh, is that how you feel after a day of gardening, or just because of the trip? I love gardening but my aging body does not. It's hard not to overdo it when there's so much to do on those rare sunny days this time of year. But sweet it is to be with loved ones, aren't we blessed.

  12. marja-leena,

    Well, I did plant dozens of plants, mostly from my mother's treasure-house and infant nursery of wildflowers... She took horticulture classes after she retired and is such a nut that she drives quite a ways to volunteer at the North Carolina Arboretum every week.

    baby Jacks grown from seed
    some trillium ditto
    cardinal flowers
    Russian sage
    runnng phlox
    sweet potato vines
    dwarf irises, white and purple
    Thai hot peppers
    coleus "Sibilia" and several others
    stonecrop "Angelina"
    stonecrop "tricolor"
    "May Night" purple salvia
    two kinds of uvularia
    white violets
    seersucker sedge
    some fine native grasses
    Jacob's ladder
    sweet Cecily
    a ginger with arrow-shaped leaves

    But I think that I was just tired from 900 miles of highway. And not having quite enough sleep.

    Yes, it is very jolly to have them all at home. Tonight three of us went out for a choir sing. The youngest and the dad went to a track meet.

  13. Oh, and four dogwood trees (they'll probably get killed, though some do okay in zone 4) and an understory buckeye with red flowers.

  14. Marly, I love to hear your voice wheresoever, in poems, fiction or indeed interviews!

    I enjoyed the references to Cullowhee especially here (and its plants), as the poem 'At Cullowhee' in 'The Throne of Psyche' is one I keep coming back to just now - so beautiful.

  15. Lucy,

    I am honored, as your blog just keeps getting better and better! I love those little tours of places in Brittany.

    That poem was one of the ones that people requested at my reading near Cullowhee... I do remember writing that one, seated next to a gigantic pink shell azalea beside my mother's house.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.