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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Gold Addy for The Throne of Psyche

A Gold Addy for The Throne of Psyche
Design team Burt and Burt (Mary-Francis Burt and Jim Burt) won an Addy Gold Award for the design of The Throne of Psyche.  The Georgia Addies were engraved lava lamps! (They won another Gold and a Judge's Choice Award for The Divine Comics by my friend Philip Lee Williams, also from Mercer University Press, 2011, as well as several other Addies.)  To see the entirety of the original painting, "Touched," from which the jacket image is drawn, go pay a social e-call on Clive Hicks-Jenkins at his ever-fascinating Artlog.

Update from the Mercer website: The Throne of Psyche: Poems by Marly Youmans was awarded a GOLD ADDY® for Book Cover Design in recognition of the highest level of creative excellence and was judged to be superior to all other entries in the competition.  Mary–Frances Burt commented that “it is an honor to work for Mercer University Press and author Marly Youmans!”

How to be a helpful book brownie--

P. S. Publishing, 2009
Books and Culture
Book of the Year
Mercer, 2011
"beautiful and brilliant"
Greg Langley, TBRA
In pre-order
The Ferrol Sams Award
Mercer University Press
Here's a list of 36 things you can do to help writers you like in ways that are not difficult and do make a difference--ranging from buying a copy at your favorite indie to yacking or blogging about the book, from making a review video to creating a mini-tribe in support of a book. The author is one of the fat cats of the world of marketing, and there are some great, effective things to do on the list.

I try and do some of these for other people, and I hope in turn that passers-by and friends and readers will do some of them for my books, particularly the ones that are new and hoping to find readership.

Afterthought for poet Jennifer Reeser, who liked no. 10:  I'm sure a tree would be glad to help my The Foliate Head collection when it comes out. However, most trees probably feel that they have done enough to help books already--unless, of course, we're talking about ebooks!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Frolic with Gala

Makoto Fujimura linked to Gala Bent yesterday on twitter, and last night I couldn't resist writing a poem inhabiting one of her vast landscapes. Today I'm saving a smidge of time to read in her blog. I would offer an enticing image but haven't asked permission--just go look!

Marly Youmans's novel now in pre-order is A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageHer 2011 book of poems is The Throne of Psyche.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Throne Sampler

Here are links to some of the poems from The Throne of Psyche that are on this site--probably I have posted some others, but these popped up easily. So here they are in one place, so you wander through them and have a sense of the book. At 109 pages, the book is rather long for a volume of poetry, so there's plenty left to discover.

Cover image: Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Designed by Burt and Burt

As for ordering a book that has now been out some months, you probably will have to order it through your favorite indie or else order from an online site. Books don't stay in stock at brick-and-mortar stores for very long these days, especially poetry books.  For comments, reviews, an interview, and more, go here.

About the Digby videos, with links

The Marriage Bed, from the title poem
and how to find more of the title poem

A Fire in Ice (riposte to Billy Collins)
Southern to the Bone
Here We Go Round

At Cullowhee
When Demons Ruled
Snow White in Wildwood

Three little poems for my three children:
Tears of a Boy, Age Six
A Child at the Tropic Pavilions
In Extremis

* * *
Next book: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage 
(Mercer University Press, 2012)
Inaugural winner
of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sampling Dale Favier's "Opening the World"

The cover features an oil-on-panel by Robin Weiss.
In our sometimes prosaic world, poetry needs all the favors and luck it can get. I have been reading Dale Favier's Opening the World from Jo Hemmant's Pindrop Press. Mid-way, I announce: I like it; I recommend it. The other side of the coin says you might like it; you could buy it and find out.

Unlike many people he looks at the world from a particular angle; he has a stance and point of view. It's not mine, so I enjoy peering through his eyes--as, here:


Full moon tonight,
pouring through seaglass.
Distance, some say,
is the garden of illusion;
but philosophers of sight
used to fret about why, if you press
an object to your eye,
you cannot see it. Some distance,
they concluded, is required.

Oh, don't cry, don't cry, dear.
The blundering stops
and so do we.
When the rattle of the world
fades away, and the stars
vanish into light, we will be
droplets on a high webstrand
spun between two branches.

And here I especially like the dream muddle of rain with snow, snow and blossom, rain and tears, sky and eyes--and the music of the thing:


the rain you sent was mixed with snow.
I could not tell which between
the snowflakes and the apple blossom
on the black sidewalk; I woke and you were

weeping on my chest. Your hair
and the snow and the apple blossom,
I could not tell which between
the sky and your eyes;
I dreamed that you were here.
I could not tell which between
the dream and the sky, the tears and your hair,
the sidewalk and the waking.
the rain you sent was mixed with snow.

Now I think we need a poem to go with that snazzy-looking cover with birds. Here's Dale grabbing Crow as a subject. Watch out, Ted Hughes! I especially like the demented pigeon, the crow-motion, Crow's philosophy, and the cowlick feathers. As in children's books about talking animals, we feel quite sure that we know these creatures as people, too.


Crow cocks his head for a swift, assessing look.
A quick grab and a prancing gallop
(skip to my Lou, skip to my Lou)
out of the traffic:
safe enough. He holds the captive burger bag
down with one foot and tears
with a strong black beak. Nothing.
Tears again, and again, till the bag is in tatters.
Nothing inside.

He's philosophical about it.
Some bags have stuff and some don't;
there's no way to know without ripping them up.
It's all in a crow's day's work. With a toss of his head
and a flirt of wings, he throws it aside, and the wind
takes it into the street again.

He takes time out to jeer at a pigeon
on general principles. His chest
swells up; he squints and bobs and he rasps
out the insults; it hurts your throat
just to look at it. Whatever you may think
of crows, they're willing to work. Anything
worth doing, says crows, is worth doing

Pigeon blinks and totters and starts and endless mutter
of excuses and extenuations. Crow's having none of it.
He takes to the air and pulls, wing-grip by wing-grip,
up to the telephone wires. Takes two deep breaths
and calls the pigeon some more choice names,
and then ignores it, majestically, while the pigeon
is still explaining that the thing is, it's not so,
I didn't mean, you can't just say, it's only, you know?

--whatever pigeon's say. Crow's on the lines,
swaying in the wind, above it all; the strong free air
ruffling his cowlicked feathers. It's good
to be alive.

Like these poems and want to help get the word out to readers? What can one do to help?
1. Tweet this post.
2. Do a tweet about the book.
3. Share via facebook--this post or your own--Google+, and such places.
4. Do a blog post. Or you may steal this post and re-post: be my guest.
5. Collar your friends and practice word of mouth.
6. Does your local library have a suggestion box? Drop one in!
7. Share the book on goodreads or similar sites.

And now I need to go read another of Dale's poems... You may find more of them at his blog, mole.

Marly Youmans's novel now in pre-order is A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageHer 2011 book of poems is The Throne of Psyche.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Beauty, Outlaw of the Arts"

I, Ferrywoman, battled snow devils and bursts of snow to rescue child no. 3 from camp near Greenwich; when I arrived, my incredibly skinny boy of 14 was perched on the very heights of the ridiculous, sporting a plush bathrobe over his jeans and large pink and white rabbit ears worn over an orange Cooperstown High School knit cap. Evidently there had been an Easter egg hunt in the snow, and he had worn the ears ever since.

On the way, I whipped into Old Saratoga Books in Schuylerville and grabbed a few--one for the boy, and three for me--Reynolds Price's The Collected Poems (you know you're gone when they collect you), a marvelous-looking book  called Leaves in Myth, Magic, and Medicine (the first book by Beaufort's  Alice Thoms Vitale, then 86), and a quirky choice of something called The Poetry Circus, a 1967 attack on modernist poetry that aroused my curiosity. How could I resist chapters called "The Plodding Muse," "Beauty, Outlaw of the Arts," "The Music of the Buzz Saw," "How to Write a Modernist Poem," "Strutters, Swaggerers, and Gesticulators," etc.?  As he was born in 1896 but was opposed to almost everything Modernism stood for, I am intrigued to see what such a man had to say--while I've read plenty of Modernist work of all sorts, I don't think I've ever read anything substantial from an opponent.

The author, Stanton A. Coblentz, had an active career. By 1967 he was around 70 and had published twelve science fiction novels, eighteen volumes of poetry, five poetry anthologies, and "several" other books (the back copy goes on to mention eight others as a portion of these.) He also published Wings, a quarterly poetry journal, for almost thirty years, which shows a stalwart spirit in those days of typewriters, submissions in envelopes, and painstaking layout! He wrote for The New York Times, the Sun, and The San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner.

And here I had never heard of him, a pretty big fish in the great sea of words:  a man clearly active in the culture wars and productive in three genres. It gives one pause.

* * *
Stanton Coblentz, from the introduction to The Poetry Circus:

All through my life, poetry has been for me a joy and a wonder, a pilot and an inspiration. Ever since the days of lonely adolescence, when it provided consolations and companionship, it has enriched my world with treasures beyond reckoning. But the poetry that has called to me has been a poetry of singing and ringing lines, of skylarks and a wild west wind, of lovers and midnight trysts, of mountains and stars and the towers of Camelot. It has been a poetry of all the dreams, the hopes and aspirations that make up life, all life's delights and sorrows, its searches and achievements and despairs, and its passionate reaching toward other worlds. Most of all, it has been a poetry of nobility and music, which has made life seem more meaningful and has given glimpses of universes beyond the senses and of truths beyond logic.

* * *
It would be very interesting to compare the Coblentz book of 1967 with Tom Disch's The Castle of Indolence of 1994. They have a related stance, and each writer can be quite amusing--then, too, they have so much in common, each writing poetry and science fiction and nonfiction. I notice that they use some of the same tactics--for example, turning poems into blocks of texts and examining them for any qualities in the prose that might differentiate it from prose. However, the examples Coblentz uses are drawn from the major Modernists, so that Pound, Moore, Cummings, Eliot, etc. are examined.

* * *
Marly Youmans's novel now in pre-order is A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageHer 2011 book of poems is The Throne of Psyche.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Feeling a little weary after a kid-ferrying day, to be done again soon, and realizing that I simply must take some days off for disgusting things like taxes (not only like taxes but taxes--also other related things.) I like paperwork of a very particular kind, I fear.

Meanwhile, I am pondering weaving something new into my blog. I have meant to transcribe my father's WWII journal about his European flight runs as a teenage tail-gunner... And perhaps I will do that some time soon.

Also thinking about some sort of fragmentary story, written in little bits (epistolary, perhaps?) to weave in and out the regular posts. Woman goes mad gathering taxes and flees to the circus?

I was reading an article (dutifully, in my I-must-learn-marketing-why?-because-it-is-the-way-of-the-world-of-books mode) about how one must be able to pitch one's book in approximately twitter-length in order to sell it. I'm not very fond of things like that, mainly because if I had wanted to tell a story in twitter-length, I would have made it that length in the first place!

Here's A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage: "A boy on a Depression-era sharecropper's farm, stripped of his last remaining connections to a secure past where he was loved, launches himself into the world of steam trains and migrants in a restless search for light." Hmm. Better as a novel than as a tweet! More summations here. 

For The Throne of Psyche, I'd probably just steal something from the flap copy: "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." I mean, poetry is impossible to sum up!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't miss James Appleton's photographs of Icelandic volcano Fimmvörðuháls erupting against the Northern Lights--grand slide show.

Writing the past


Writer Robert Freeman Wexler asked me for any tips on research, as he is planning a novel set in the past.  Though I imagine he has quite as much common sense as I do, nevertheless I sent him a few thoughts and now post them here for any other interested parties:

Research/writing tips for stories with historical settings:
 1. Think of time as a place you can enter. Don't notice any more of it that you would of: a. any new place your observer might see, if seeing for the first time; or, rather differently, b. any usual place your observer might see.
2. Keeping 1 in mind, don't overdo the research, or you may feel compelled to use it.
3. Use primary sources when possible.
4. Use secondary sources when you need to know a general tendency--as, what the typical house structure was for a particular time and place and class, naming ways through generations in a certain region, etc.
5. When moving from research to writing, resist like mad any "namedropping" tendency. That is, do not attempt to prove that you are in a particular place and time by stuffing in references to Mae West or how to make yak butter or the seeds commonly found in the belly of a bog body or any other fascinating tidbits unless they make sense to mention in the context.

Update:  I completely forgot this! Park any P. C. sensibility at the door. Don't pay any attention to -isms, or you will write a novel that has modern people running about in supposedly past times. Many a big literary seller has done just that, even books beloved of many critics. I once caught some flak from a sf/f reviewer about a children's novel, The Curse of the Raven Mocker, because the people of Adantis aren't so keen on girls wearing dresses. But the culture ways of the Adantans are specifically drawn from a mixture of nineteenth-century Scots-Irish settler and Cherokee culture ways. Time has not treated them quite the same way as the rest of us, and so many elements are unchanged or changed in a different way from the way ours have changed. So stick to your time and don't pay a whit of attention to fashionable contemporary sensibilities.


My steaming-into-the-station book, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, is set in a time not all that far away and so rather different from Catherwood and The Wolf Pit. It's about the same kind of distance that Thackeray had to stretch in writing Vanity Fair, I suppose. While I did not live in the Depression, my elder relatives certainly did, and I grew up hearing stories that often involved hardship. I spent part of my summers in a house that was etched with deprivation, and which I used in great detail in the book. But there were a lot of other details to look up--bits about trains and signals, hobo signs, eucalyptus trees, con men, and more.


Of course, after twenty minutes staring at Pinterest, I have a cheap revelation that everyone does now have 15 minutes of fame, that reading is dead, that Melvillean "deep diving" is absurd, that time is frittered and wisdom extinct, etcetera! An hour afterward I recover and think that perhaps I had better put on my diving gear and go write a poem.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Timothy Barrett, papermaker

Lighted Leaf 1
Mulberry leaf courtesy of Sarah Williams
of Brisbane, Australia and
I love to meet people who follow a bright thread into the labyrinth of larger life and so transform themselves and their world.

"Look,” he said, fingering the lushly textured paper, which dates to the year of Copernicus’s birth, “you can see fine lines from the way the threads were sewn down on the mold. And here, if you hold it up in raking light, you can see where someone in the mill picked up the edge of the sheet. I love these little touches of the hand.” He glanced down at a librarian’s notes detailing the efforts that had been made to conserve the book, and read with a mix of surprise and delight, “Mended in the spine with paper from Barrett’s shop.”  
from "Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization?" by Mark Levine, NYT 2.19.2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fairfax, sail away in peace--

Mid-ocean, thought lost, and talking ardently to the planet Venus: so much to astonish! What a creature is man... Go here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The news of poetry--

I just sent off my response to Makoto Fujimura's request for a poem honoring the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of cherry trees for the Tidal Basin in Washington, D. C.  Good commissions are inspiring, and so I wrote a poem in six parts, mingling modes and including dryad and kodama, grafting and planting, journeys and deep-growing, war and peaceful ease.

Thanks to Dale Favier for taking a look beforehand--very helpful to have a California Buddhist read one's cross-cultural poem! I am enjoying his poetry book, Opening the World, which you may inspect at the Pindrop Press site.
Dear Mole,
Mea culpa! 
Oregon! Oregon! Oregon! 

Fascinating or terribly depressing or both, sales for poetry books are so slim compared to fiction that one can figure out exactly what is happening a good deal of the time. For example, according to Bookscan (which counts a large number of reporting bookstores but not all), I have just sold seven copies of The Throne of Psyche in New York and in unnameable rural places--part of that's obvious, as The Anesthesia Book Club in Fly Creek has invited me to visit their group in March--and one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If I knew somebody in Albuquerque, I might have a chance of guessing who had bought that copy! Lesson: be sure and buy yourself a copy and be counted? Get seven copies and be of staggering importance? Nab eight and rule the world? XD!

My friend Yolanda Sharpe and I put our heads together and submitted to the collaborative journal, Yew, and so now will have three poems entwined with three paintings there some time soon. Fun!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview by a college senior

Interview by Benjamin Francis Miller
16 February 2012

When did you first know you wanted to write for a living?

My mother says she knew I would be a writer when I was in second grade. I don’t remember ever wanting to be much else, though I was also a professor for a while and enjoyed looking at poetry and fiction with my students.

What kind of writing do you usually do? Academic, business, literature etc.?

Novels – I tend to not do the same thing twice, so my novels are quite varied.
Short stories – Most of these I do as a response to requests from anthologists.
Poetry – formal poems of various sorts—lyric, monologue, narrative. One epic!

How long have you been writing?

I was a passionate reader before I was a passionate writer, but words have always been a vocation for me. As a child, reading was my vocation and far ahead of school in importance. I read under my desk, in the tub, in the bed by flashlight…

Has any of your work been published?

Little Jordan – novella – David R. Godine, Publisher, 1995
Catherwood – novel – Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996
The Wolf Pit – novel – Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001 The Michael Shaara Award
Claire – poetry – Louisiana State University Press, 2003
The Curse of the Raven Mocker – Southern fantasy novel for children, FSG, 2003
Ingledove – Southern fantasy novel for young adults, FSG, 2005
Val/Orson – novel – UK: P. S. Publishing, 2009
The Throne of Psyche – poetry – Mercer University Press, 2011
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage – novel – Mercer University Press,
March 2012  The Ferrol Sams Award in Fiction

Thaliad – epic poem – Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal
The Foliate Head – poetry – UK: Stanza Press
Maze of Blood – novel – Mercer University Press
Glimmerglass – novel – Mercer University Press

And I have oodles of poetry and fiction in magazines and anthologies…
You can find out more about me at my blog/website,

What are some of your stronger points as a writer?

My manuscripts are said to be very “clean” and so not much trouble for an editor.
I never have writer’s block and am productive.
I have joy in spilling words on the page.

I also have been lucky enough to collaborate in special projects with some important visual artists like Makoto Fujimura and Clive Hicks-Jenkins and currently am collaborating with composer Paul Digby and painter Lynn Diby in one project and on others with English painter Graham Ward and Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales.

How long does it usually take to complete your work?

I am quite fast with a rough draft. However, I would add that length of time is meaningless. The muse’s gifts are unfair—some take forever to do what others accomplish with careless ease.

What are some of the things which get in your way when writing?

House drudgery. Mountains of laundry. Children’s needs. Bills. Taxes. Appointments. Volunteering. The person from Porlock. Life! But life and people always come first—without life, there is no writing, no love, no sap in paper veins, no source material.

Do you have any quirks or problems you find in your writing which annoy you?

I wish to be tidier in my writing room!

When writing about places you haven't been, how much work do you put into researching them? What are some of your tactics while researching?

I never over-research places, particularly places in the past. You should be careful not to burden your prose with research—the same amount of the world should be visible as if you were writing about your own sphere.

What one needs seems to magically appear when you’re working on a book—things that would pass unnoticed normally are all lit up and shiny with importance. When I wrote The Wolf Pit, I managed to please historians of the Civil War by using only primary materials—therefore it was impossible for me to do what, say, Kaye Gibbons did in her Civil War book and have people jaunting around on railroads when the tracks had already been destroyed.

What have been some of the most significant influences on your writing?

A deep, passionate engagement with books and poetry while a child and teen is essential to the writer I am. Lewis Carroll, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Yeats, Keats, Anglo-Saxon, the Bronte sisters, the Gawain poet, Herbert, Marvell, Donne, Fielding, Austen, Stevens, Blake, Dickinson, Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Faulkner, etc. in English, plus much modern and contemporary writing and work in translation.

What was your most challenging written work? Why?

Novels are all a challenge, each in its own way, because with a novel one is always beginning again with no clear path through an invisible labyrinth. And novels are long.

As for poetry, I once typed my then-long hair around the patten of a typewriter—so retrieving my hair after drafting a poem called “Snow House Stories” was a bit arduous… 

My main difficulty with poetry was coming to the understanding that I was bored with free verse and simple lyric and needed muscular, demanding form and an infusion of story and voices. I was too influenced by other writers around me for a long time, and I threw away most of my poetry. Writing fiction showed me what I desired in many ways, and it also taught me that I wanted poetry to be as unlike fiction as it could be.

Do you have any insight for young aspiring authors?

Read books old and new. Buy books. Scribble in the margins! Soak up the word. Spend time with great masters of the word, not feeble or trendy writers. The company you keep in books will mark you, so be careful what company you choose.

Write a manifesto for yourself now and then!

Don’t let anyone pronounce your fate for good or ill as a young writer.
If you have the requisite tools and skills, dive in and practice the art. Nobody can say what the vagaries of life—the intense grief and joy of youth, the losses that come to all—and the exercise of the heart and mind and soul will do to you by the age of 30. They may just make a writer of you.

On the other hand, don’t set your longings on some outside validation because “success” is often fool’s gold and a fool’s goal and can break your precious heart. Write because you love words and stories or aspire to the song-like heights of poetry.  Write because moving words on the page is a thrill and a kick and makes you glad.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Art: on being asked

Curator Magazine


This morning I wrote a five-part sequence of poems in answer to a request for a poem on a very particular subject (also from this morning) from Makoto Fujimura for The Curator, a magazine of International Arts Movement. And I'm thinking about the power of asking--the power of a commission, whether paid or unpaid. Right now my friend Clive is going hammer-and-tongs in answer to a request to illustrate Stravinsky's The Soldiers Tale for a live performance, and you can page through the vigorous, bold results at his Artlog. He just finished fountaining-up images for my upcoming book, The Foliate Head. Why are requests so inspiring? I never use "prompts," although they appear to be quite popular if one can judge by the web. (I don't have anything against them; it just smacks of school and assignments to me, and I refused to let either have much to do with poems.) But a request is definitely a kind of effective prompt--a grand sort of prompt.

Is it because most art types (not musicians and singers, not dancers) are by necessity so solitary in our work, and in our dour, crazy moments fabulate that we are abysmally alone in the writing room or studio and nobody cares about our work (not that such an idea should matter a whit) or bothers to purchase and peruse it and so on? So that a sign of affection from the outside world has the ability to make one toss the "to do" list (however interesting, however pressing) straight over one's shoulder? I don't really think that's the answer... Not sure what is! Newness? Sparking a thought? Whimsical and rather irresponsible behavior? Whatever it is, I like it. Probably that's partly why I like The Lydian Stones. It's fun to ask.

Update: Clive's answer in the comments is more solid than my rather frivolous post!

* * *


While I was looking at The Curator--or maybe at the IAM site--I stumbled across a link to the most common five regrets of those in hospice or palliative care, as collected by a nurse. And I'm thinking about what my regrets would be, were I to tumble down the basement stairs (always a danger, as the dog bolts into me fairly frequently, and she is big, and I am not especially so) and land on my noggin this afternoon. If you feel like telling me yours, I might well tell you mine... if I figure them out. Still meditating the question. Update: Beth Adams responds.


Why is this post so very parenthetical in mode? Tell me that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Folded poems

A cheerful display of the books from

One likeable thing about the web is the way it gives rise to new forms--my pen-friend Corey Mesler has just been published in an origami book, and you may have a copy at the price of a sheet of paper and a little ink. Here is the book, with a cover by Corey's teenage daughter Chloe. And here you may follow visual and verbal instructions on how to fold your sheet of paper, making a single cut and ending up with a small workable book. Afterward, you may read about the industrious and much-published author and bookstore owner here. A complete index of poets and places where the origami books are displayed is also available.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nester chooses Blake on "The Lydian Stones"

Valentine's Day pub date!
Victorian Violet Press

Illustrations by Nina Canal of France
Today is pub date for Robbi Nester's chapbook from Karen Kelsay Davies' Victorian Violet Press, and Robbi is the featured chooser on The Lydian Stones.  Please drop by and leave her a congratulatory valentine. Enjoy!

And here is a cruel winter Valentine for you if you have had enough of candy hearts and small animals dressed in ruffly pink.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More author comments... and camellias

Camellia courtesy of and Melodi T.
of Waiuku, Auckland, New Zealand.
In A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Marly Youmans gives us a beautifully written and exceptionally satisfying novel.  The book reads as if Youmans took the best parts of The Grapes of Wrath, On the Road, The Reivers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and crafted from them a tale both magical and fine. Her rich language and lovely turns of phrase invite the reader to linger. Ironically, there is at the same time a subtle pressure throughout the novel to turn the page, because Youmans has achieved that rarest of all accomplishments: she has created a flawed hero about which we care. A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is one of the best books I have read.  --Raymond L. Atkins

Perhaps I should say that I have not read two of those books. Memory says that I picked up On the Road but laid it down, never to go beyond the start. And I have not read The Curious Incident, probably because I was born into a neurologically odd family and have had the fantods over other people's neurological issues quite often enough. However, I have read the other three, two of them once, one of them many times.

To read comments by Lucius Shepard and Ron Rash and read further, go here.

The camellia that hangs like a cloud over the head of the wanderer on the cover was taken by Mary Beth Kosowski near the Mercer University Press office. For any Mercerians passing by, the flower was spotted in front of Woodruff House on Coleman Hill, next to the Mercer law school.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Forthcoming Books

One of the many foliate heads painted by Clive Hicks-Jenkins...
Choosing a cover will be hard!

For various reasons--the global economy and far-off pub dates that hampered me from arranging North American reprints--I have made a number of changes in my publishing schedule, both the when and the who.  

The Foliate Head - Stanza Press (UK)
Thaliad - Phoenicia Publishing (Montreal, CA)

Glimmerglass - Mercer University Press
Maze of Blood - Mercer University Press

Catherwood - Mercer University Press

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Birthday card for Mr. Dickens--

In celebration of Charles Dickens and his 200th birthday--and I am very thankful that he was born, and have been so since I was very quite young--here's a poem.  As he is rather intangible these days, at least to my earthly sight, I wish to give him something likewise intangible. And he already has today's Google Doodle... so I think a poem in order.

This poem originally appeared in Electric Velocipede and is reprinted in my 2011 poetry book, The Throne of Psyche, and it's a tad strange. It may have originally been inspired by the Great Planetary Weight Gain, or about a trifle of old fogeyish distaste for some other changes, less fleshly! Dickens had a good many distastes for the ills of his world, which he turned into wonderful backdrops and catalysts for stories of comedy and drama, so it seems right enough: happy birthday, Charles Dickens.

(And if you click on the little envelope below the post, you may send a Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens card to a friend who likes Dickens or poetry or both!)


This world became impossibly complex.
The people fattened but were small as toys
Inside--lazy and sour, as though a hex

Had taken hold. A woman's outer poise
Disguised an inner cowering of nerve,
And often sons remained forever boys.

I watched my daughters flower, only to swerve
Toward superstition, lies, and games of chance--
In other days our kind had vied to serve.

The demon brood condemned me for a glance.
A devil locked me in their fortressed towers,
But when they saw me try to sing and dance,

Tower changed to thimble, and life to hours,
Song to shriek in the Ministry of Powers.

Now you get an academic star if you recognize the elements combined to make the form of the poem. I will supply a ladder, but you will have to climb up and rescue the star from the Star Academy yourself.

Cover of: Our Mutual Friend (BBC) by Charles Dickens

I suppose this may be why Dickens is such a marvelous depicter of both shallow-but-lively and round characters:  he said:

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."

Monday, February 06, 2012

Precarious beauties

Over the years I have been friends with many visual artists and often found that what they said had a curious resonance for me--that it meant more about my own work in words that one might have assumed, and sometimes more than what other writers had to say.  I like what Andy Goldsworthy writes in Time (Henry N. Abrams, 2000) about moving along the edge of collapse, about beauty balanced above the ice:

The beauty of the red is its connection to life--underwritten by fragility, pain, and violence--words that I would have to use in describing beauty itself. This sense of life draws me to nature, but with it also comes an equally strong sense of death. I cannot walk far before seeing something dead and decaying. Uprooted trees, fallen rocks, landslides, flood damage... A grip on beauty is necessary for me to feel and make sense of its underlying precariousness. So many of my sculptures are within a hair's breadth of failure. I often see works--a balanced column of rocks, stacked icicles--looking stronger with each piece that is added, but also know that each addition takes it closer to the edge of collapse. Some of my most memorable works have been made in this way, and some of my worst failures could have produced some great pieces. Beauty does not avoid difficulty but hovers dangerously above it--like walking on thin ice.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Art magic & "Requiem"

Tomb stone
"Angel in the Graveyard," courtesy of and Lesley Mackin
of Bournemouth, Dorset, UK.

One of the strange aspects to art is how it draws all things to its net--or so it feels to the maker.  All large works seem to have some sort of magnetic power to draw what is needed, but I suppose it is just simply that the world is full of many things, and when turning to a new pursuit, some suddenly stand out as if lit from below.  As I work on the text to Requiem, the collaborative piece to be done with composer Paul Digby and painter Lynn Digby, the world seems to offer the particular jog I need--a photograph of 11th century graves cut in stone and gilded by the sun, a certain poem by Cavafy, the frost on the windowpane... Too, this long sequence with its traditional structure reaches out to embrace the closing of two lives in the past two months--a suicide, a death from cancer--two events that meant so much not just to me but to the entire community where I now live. Small as a fleck or word or as large as a generous life:  each thing leaps into place. Perhaps it is as close to magic as I can come through words.

Friday, February 03, 2012


Yolanda SharpePear and Apple, 2007
pen and ink, colored pencil and acrylic painted paper, 15 by 15 by 15 inches

Some time ago I agreed to join a choir, my arm having been twisted into strange configurations by an otherwise quite gentle and pleasant choirmistress. I had friends in the choir—my painter friend Yolanda Sharpe, who has appeared on this blog and The Lydian Stones, and who has a marvelous voice and does recitals, and many others. But right away I discovered that a choir is such a mixture of many parts--apples and oranges and pears and pomellos jumbled together.  We have such an unusual number of pronounced eccentrics (a conventionally polite word for lunatics) in our choir that I have threatened to write a revelatory comic novel called CHOIR.  Each member must be made to blend into a whole: into a kind of family, if you will.

I didn’t particularly want to plunge into the choir, as participation demanded a lesson once a week, practices twice a week, and performance once and occasionally twice a week. Then there are unexpected things called choir festivals and sundry other stray performances. That’s a lot to add onto the heaped plate of a mother of three who has many village activities and also just happens to be an obsessed writer. I did not know how to read music, though I was perfectly capable of bumping along if given the first note. Luckily I was a soprano, which struck me as far easier than being in any of the other sections.

Since then I have discovered something that lots of people know who are not obsessed artists of some sort, bound to a vocation.  I have found out that it is a pleasure to add some focus and discipline to one’s natural feeling for an art that one is no expert in. Likewise, it is enjoyable to learn something new; at the moment, I am grasping intervals and doing much better with duration of notes and rests.  These things remind me of poetry, and I certainly aspire to song there.

Each of the arts is a fertile sea in which strange, beautiful beings may be found—some immensely great, others quite invisible to the naked eye. Without the sea of culture and its innumerable small creatures, no great one could survive. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Leaves of the Head

Clive Hicks-Jenkins has moved on from the eight final images for the cover of The Foliate Head, though you may still vote  on your favorite one (or two) if you like.  Now he has bent his own leafy mind to interior green men, or "green men in black and white."

And we have now been given absolute freedom in almost every way to frolic with the book design. Pete Crowther, publisher of Stanza Press (UK), has given us his blessing to do whatever we like save change the dimensions of the book! So this means much pleasure for author, artist, and designer...

Andrew Wakelin designed the two books in Clive's honor which came out at the time of the retrospective show last year, and they are both beautiful--the gorgeous art book from Lund Humphries that accompanied the exhibition, Clive Hicks-Jenkins; and The Book of Ystwyth: Six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins from Gray Mare and Carolina Wren. Andrew will also be in charge here. Andrew, Clive, and I are the conspirators who will have our say, and that will be great fun.