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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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

XD Department

Photograph courtesy of Mira Pavlakovic of Ozali, Croatia and
My husband raced on horseback (lost one race, won the other) to the pyramids at Giza today. Me? I cleaned house and ferried child no. 3.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Two anecdotes

Sunday evening
I laugh, reading an anecdote by the highly productive Professor William Ian Miller in his essay, "Losing It."

January 13, 2010: I am defending to a colleague the wisdom of the police rounding up the usual suspects.

Me: Claude Rains was being more than a mere cynic, which of course he was also being, when he said "round up the usual suspects" because the usual suspects were not innocent but the known criminals of whatever the city was, Tangiers, Marrakesh, I forget which.

Colleague: Casablanca.

Me: I am going to go shoot myself.

N, 14, looking up from doing his DBQ essay:  What?

Me: Just an anecdote about someone who is worrying about forgetting things as you get older... And oddly enough, it's about Casablanca, where your dad is right at this moment.

N: Casablanca? I thought he was in Morocco.

Me: Casablanca is in Morocco. Remember the African map you made for history a few weeks ago?

N: Oh. Yeah.

* * *

Dear Professor Miller,

You see, N. Miller, age 14 (no relation--you're not forgetting us) is just as forgetful as W. Miller, so don't worry. And you're so cheerful about the doom of decline. I like that. (And anyway, such a multi-pronged intellect who is tossing off a few books at 65 does not have too much to worry about when it comes to shrunken brains.) Good cheer above all--well, above much.

Yrs, with laughter all around--

Sunday, November 06, 2011


Evidently tomorrow UPS will bring the "second pass" for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer University Press, March 2012) to my doorstep. And that means I will need to start reading it again (again).  So this afternoon I shall be holing up to finish looking back over the manuscript of The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, tba), as I need to get the absolutely final version turned in... except when I am feeding child no. 3 (weedily growing and hungry) or admonishing cats and dog for waking me at six when I told the wisp-brained things so very clearly about the concept of Daylight Savings Time and how they should not wake me with their absurd bio-rhythms.

Good news: the slightly-missing husband surfaced in Casablanca. Trala, I am content. Happy, even. He'd better not have as many adventures as he had when volunteering in Vietnam!  Humming an ethereal Hopson tune that goes with a medieval poem, "There is no rose of such virtue." Resmiranda!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

"Never attained by most"

Photograph of ink courtesy of  Ben Joosen of Brasschaat, Antwerp, Belgium and

Here is Helen Vendler being penetrating and quotable in "Are These the Poems to Remember," a review of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited and with an introduction by Rita Dove  in The New York Review of Books.  I imagine that the author found this review a bit uncomfortable, as it faults her for a number of things. Yet it sheds light on what an anthology ought to be.  It illuminates the fact that there is something more important in the world of poetry than poetic schools or racial makeup or gender.


Printing something in short lines doesn’t make the writer a poet; it only makes him a person with a book of short lines.

Why should the precious and ever-rare concern for words and for their imaginative alignment be abused as “the old Euro-American literary standards”?

We’re back to that “poetry establishment” again. The members (whoever they are) of this so-called “establishment” “entrench” themselves (as in a war) and, implicitly racist, appear “whitewashed” like the “whited sepulchres” denounced by Jesus.

Manifest Destiny as poetic conquest. This narrative of luster lost and echoes fading is simply not true of artistic succession; one might as well say that Shakespeare has faded to an echo and Faulkner has lost his luster.

Just because one describes a “hardscrabble Appalachia” doesn’t make one a hardscrabble Appalachian.

And there is nothing intrinsically poetic about being “West of the Hudson,” any more than it is intrinsically poetic to be East of the Hudson, then or now. Dove’s implication that rough diamonds in the West took over from effete Anglophiles in the East neglects the basic truth that all gifted poets are engaged in the very same task—making words come to the call of their vision.

Yeats, in “The Fisherman,” thought a poem should be “cold/And passionate as the dawn”—that it should embody, along with the rising passion of inception, the cold inquisition of detached self-critique. It is not a goal easily attained, and it is never attained by most of the poets of any century, in any country, of any race.

* * *

In this piece, Vendler has proper distance, proper common sense, and proper disregard for everything (class, race, gender, etc.) except the poem--she reminds me a little of the late Tom Disch in the first quote.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Into the Light

I would dearly love to see this show at Anderson Creative, and send hearty congratulations to Paul Digby, who acted as curator, composed music for each of the three gallery rooms, and even contributed a pair of paintings. Paul, as you may know, has made videos for five of my poems, all on youtube, and he has a fascinating history in the arts--he is fearless and has tried many modes.  Lynn Digby is also in this show with nine paintings, as are five other area artists. Since all the works were commissioned to go with the the themes and movements of the music, this one is a special and unusual show. If you're anywhere near Canton, Ohio, go see it! And come back and tell me about it afterward.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


As I am rather busy today and have a husband leaving for Morocco tomorrow, I am glad that Dale Favier has done all the work of posting for me. Again today he has written a poem in response to The Throne of Psyche. How marvelous...

The illustration is the under drawing by Clive Hicks-Jenkins of "Touched," the image on the jacket of the hardcover of "The Throne of Psyche" and on the cover of the paperback. And I am touched! "Some poems insist that you write poems back," he says. I say that there is nothing more wonderful as a response to a collection than the engendering of new poems. Thank you, Dale!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sweet blame

I am tickled to find that The Throne of Psyche has progeny.  Dale Favier is blaming me for his four new poems. The mythic Psyche gave birth to Hedone, Pleasure...