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Saturday, June 30, 2012

A refusal to post--

My head is a vessel full of grumbles today, and therefore I refuse to post! Because who wants to hear grumbles rather than frolic and joy? If you want to hear from me, go read A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (which contains my heart, beating sometimes erratically but always strongly) or go to The Twittering Machine and find me there ( or go plague yourself with facebookery ( or if too lazy for clicking elsewhere, go muck about in the compost of old posts. Good cheer and farewell, and "give you good morrow."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Send chocolate

Update: from Phoenicia Publishing, here.
Another update: peek at the version of Thaliad made for three pre-pub venues.

This morning I am working on arranging future book events and also reading books for the NBA-YPL award, and I have a feeling that most of my future 2012 summer days could be described as a mix of reading like mad, working on marketing for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage and the two books coming soon, and scrambling to get through the final stages of upcoming books. Then there's maidlessness: the fact that a house with five inhabitants must be cleaned by somebody, and that the somebody is me. Perhaps I should just stop blogging because almost all my days will be the same! Of course, there are kid-ferrying days, when I drive a long way to drop off or pick up progeny. And yesterday I started teaching my daughter to drive. That was "curiouser and curiouser."

However, I have a grand idea for a novel... It would be bad of me to start one now, when there are so many deadlines and events ahead, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thanks to poet Charlotte Innes--

Here's a vignette for my forthcoming long poem Thaliad
(Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 11/2012.)  Artwork by
Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Book design by Beth Adams,
with many surprises to come.

Thanks to poet Charlotte Innes for writing about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage on Eratosphere, facebook, and Amazon. And what is more surprising is that each passage is a little different to fit the audience. Trust a writer! Here's one:

5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolute Classic!June 26, 2012
By Charlotte Innes 
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading Marly Youmans' most recent novel, "A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage," and I encourage all lovers of good fiction to pick this up for a really special reading treat. As someone who has long written reviews professionally (many newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and other periodicals), and who now begins most novels with a touch of skepticism, I was bowled over from the start by Marly Youmans' book. Her pacing, character sketching, and most of all her language is absolutely remarkable. Youmans' other life as a poet is really on show here. But the story is also moving, and the pacing good. The main character, a boy called Pip, is utterly convincing; in fact, he reminds me of many students I have taught over the years. And all the detail about Pip's travels (and travails!) as a hobo in depression-era America feels completely authentic. A gripping and moving story.

Read a sample at Scribd 
Read reviews at Amazon

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Picked by the ghostwriter!

Tuesday "Twos" pick from Roxie, writer and ghostwriter:  Multi-talented Youmans has penned novels, poetry, and young adult works but never before drew on her family history. The Depression-era novel traces the life of a young orphan jostled about by life’s unyielding pressure, refining his spirit as he struggles into adulthood. Heard it before? Not like this. Youmans gift is her prose... More here.

Thaliad & The Foliate Head

One of many new vignettes for Thaliad by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Read about it at Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal: forthcoming 11/2012

If you would like to see some images of the book in progress, hop to Clive's blog, where the title page and some other pages are on display. (You may scroll down and see lots and lots of the work for this book, and if you go back far enough, you'll bump into images for The Foliate Head as well) This is the second collaboration I've ever done where I knew every participant in real life (as oppose to e-life.) I spent ten days with Clive in Wales during the celebration for his 60th birthday retrospective at The National Library of Wales, and I met Beth Adams here in Cooperstown last year and hope to see her again soon. It's a very different way of making a book, and I like it.

For The Foliate Head, I knew Clive--again!--and Andrew Wakelin, the designer; I met him at Ty Isaf while staying with Clive. And I should say that Peter Wakelin also had an oar in as well! It's great fun to know every person working on a project, particularly when they are all so talented in their own fields. I have had great good luck of having brilliant people working on The Foliate Head and Thaliad, both out this fall--The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press)  in early fall, Thaliad (CA: Phoenicia Publishing) in November.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ferry Day

I have updated my A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage page, including links to and quotes from new reviews. Hop here for more like this: It is a stunning book; both cruel and tender, dark and light, but always shot through and stitched with a powerful beauty.

Yesterday was a ferry-the-youngest-to-one-of-many-of-his-summer-camps days, and I am grateful that I did not plant my husband's big black shiny Tundra in a ditch. Only two bookish things happened all day: I stopped at Old Saratoga Books (which is not in Saratoga) and bought a book about Arthurian history and mystery, one about American folklore from colonial times onward, a collection of African praise-poems, a Winterson novel (never tried her), and another translation of the Metamorphoses of Ovid.

All of which was ridiculous because the NBA-YPL books in their little towers are shrilling, shrilling my name! I ended the day with frivolity (Mike came home from a weekend in Boston and brought very un-Cooperstonian presents) and duty (a couple hundred pages of one of the young adult novels.)

I am sure poet Ted Hughes would have liked a copy of (or perhaps owned) Leaf and Bone: Africa Praise poems, an anthology with commentary by Judith Gleason. Here's a sample:

BABOON (Sotho animal praise)

Handsome fellow of the precipice
My foot soles shine on the mountain.
Ox of a baboon, dies in the milkwood tree
Not of its favorite fruit, but of something rotten.
Son of liquid urine
Greatest medicine for children.
Baboon who huddles up when it rains
So that not a drop touches eyes or stomach.
Son of the black hands
What is the secret of your penis?
Handsome fellow, shiner on the mountain,
"So long as I'm here in the milkwood tree
And the lions come down from the mountain
And strangle me, let me tumble
So I fall on a bed of my favorite fruits
Me, handsome fellow of the sheer precipice."

According to the notes, gorilla pee is thought to be good for children, and the gorilla penis is the source of mighty man meds, for guys only. I'm looking forward to reading more in this little book.

The doorbell... Hang on.

A frighteningly large box of books just landed on my porch bench. Surprised the thing didn't collapse under the weight. I certainly did.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Un-post. Really.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, for Thaliad
I am ignoring posts in favor of reading NBA-Young People's Lit books. The mountain to be read and judged is beginning to make me feel just a tad guilty. And alas, I may not talk about what I am reading. Although I can say that the heap of books is starting to be a bit daunting!  So: back tomorrow. 

Here's a Clive Hicks-Jenkins vignette (for what will be the rear of the jacket/cover of the upcoming Thaliad (Montreal, CA: Phoenicia Publishing) to keep you until then.) I like those strangely lit windows... It looks an awful lot like Christ Church Cooperstown, which was in my head when I wrote one the scenes in the poem. Epics need supernatural presences, and mine has them, so I am glad to see that uncanny glass. (Scroll down the page to see more jacket/cover images.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shelf Awareness and more

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage at Shelf Awareness: 
"Powerfully moving"

I'm grateful to Shannon McKenna Schmidt for a wonderful article, "Handselling Favorite: Nancy Olson's Novel Choice," about how Nancy Olson of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh has championed A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. (And yes, I am infinitely grateful to Nancy and her exuberant love for good books.) The article "to the trade" is here. An article in Shelf Awareness can help with sub-rights interest and queries--and, indeed, already has. Thank you, Shannon and Nancy...

Recommending an illuminating post: "The Tyranny of Suspense"

Go here for a wonderful blog post about why spoilers are not an issue, why literature is not about suspense, and how literature has been derailed from its ancient purposes. And since D. G. Myers says that spoilers don't spoil, here's the wonderful closure: Fear and pity are compliments to human freedom, to the possibility of change and variation in human stories; suspense and anxiety are the taxes paid by an impoverished culture of reading to the literary tyrant that occupies the throne once held by tragedy. I found this post especially interesting because one of my upcoming novels uses a very well-known life as a template. Everybody who knows anything about that life knows that it ended with a bullet in the brain. There's a spoiler for you!

More on artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Thaliad

Still following the progress of Clive's wondrous work on Thaliad (forthcoming epic poem in blank verse, Phoenicia Publishing)? Here's a back jacket and back cover image for you! I like those uncanny green windows; every epic needs some glow from the supernatural world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finishing touch & book news--

For more about Clive Hicks-Jenkins, leap here.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Thalia

Here is the Clive Hicks-Jenkins front jacket of Thaliad, a long poem forthcoming from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal some time after The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press) appears in the fall. The last bit was my name, and I was not expecting that zingy, fresh-spring-juice-and-wild-celery! I am glad that Clive chose Thalia for the cover image, and that the collaged figure could serve as child or woman--growing, flourishing, flowering, and fruiting despite the ravaged, dark world in which she finds herself at the start of the narrative.

Updates on A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

Events for the new book will have to slow down and be more regional for summer--I'll have all three children in or in-and-ut this summer, my husband will be off on a major trip to Africa in August, and I am already doing a lot of reading for the NBA-YPL award. Evidently the deluge is July and August... Meanwhile I have updated the book page with new review clips and other information, so please take a look and share with friends who read. As Mercer has been "making do" without a marketing director for some time, I am counting on the kindness of strangers and the generosity of friends to help Lady Word of Mouth share the news about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.

Publishing and choices made

For those interested in the health of the publishing industry in all its precincts--large- and mid-sized houses, university presses, and small presses, I'm recommending this peep about the closing of the important University of Missouri Press.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Quilted Girl

Thalia shows her face

Here is the face of Thalia (for my post-apocalyptic poem in blank verse, Thaliad, forthcoming from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal) as conceived by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Clearly this is a foliate girl to go with the leafy man of The Foliate Head (a collection of poems forthcoming from Stanza Press in the UK.) Go here for Clive's account of his sources. It's afternoon, and an updated image can be found: exactly here.

American quilts, family quilts

Or we might well call her The Quilted Girl.  I find it interesting that one of the sources Clive looked to was an American quilt; we have a great many books about traditional quilts, and my husband used to make (and occasionally still works on) hand-stitched quilts as a way to relax during his professional training. On arriving home, often in the middle of the night, he would stitch for fifteen minutes. Like Trollope, his quilts are proof to me that the labor of a few minutes followed steadily on a daily basis will result in a body of work. That idea, I expect, should encourage us all.

This image also reminds me of a now-framed circa 1850 quilt block my maternal grandmother (Lila Eugenia Arnold Morris) gave me when I was a child... Alas, I've forgotten the name of the pattern, but it's a complex whirl of leaves, stems, and berries.

Mike inherited several quilts, and I was lucky enough to receive some from both sides of my family. My sharecropper grandmother's quilts were much-used and often featured sacks. I wish that I had more of these... My maternal grandmother and her mother made a great variety of quilts (patchwork, crazy quilts, quilts of wool or dress cloth or velvet); I can't say that either side had much leisure, so probably the quilts are more proof that a thing done faithfully will have good results.

My mother is a grand needlewoman, and at 83 sews less but is weaving away on her 4-harness loom. I once knew how to sew and embroider, but I'm afraid that I haven't done either since I was a teen. But I've made a good many characters who know how to thread a needle along the way... In the new book, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Lil Tattnal Tattnal is a fine seamstress, and there are others who must sew, particularly in my books set in the past.

Why Clive's Thalia fits the poem well

This Thalia is an interesting solution to the difficulty of making a cover/jacket image for a long blank verse poem that travels widely in time and space, portrays some ferocious events, and clings to the shape of the epic while moving toward the character and scenic development of the novel. Clive settles on the child and matriarch-to-be, Thalia, and he gives us an image that is startling, almost shocking (that eye!) That she is foliate reflects the intense natural world of the poem. That she is "quilted" suggests the return to knowing how to do things by hand that occurs in the narrative.  That Thalia is flowering and fruiting is also an essential property of the protagonist...

Monday, June 18, 2012

New review and more--

Thank you to The Hollins Critic (Vol. XLIX, No. 3 Hollins University, Virginia  June 2012) and novelist Amanda Cockrell for a lovely, thoughtful review of my new novel. Here's the conclusion:

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is a historical novel, a mystery novel, a coming of age tale, a picaresque adventure, a character study of what we might now call Asperger's Syndrome, all woven into a lyrical text that tells of both love and horror with a quiet, insistent beauty. Youmans gives us a hero in Pip who is as mysterious to others at first as they are to him, and gradually layers back his oddities like onionskin until he connects with, tentatively at first, and badly often, first one person and then another, and comes at the end to a place he fits, where the people fit him.

A beautiful novel, one to read more than once.

Beth Adams has a post about Thaliad 
and the Clive Hicks-Jenkins cover here.

Update, later in the day: Now a third page! Here.
Clive has put up a second page of preparatory work for the cover of Thaliad here. I am pleased that he likes it; I suppose "work of staggering beauty and imagination" hardly counts as an unbiased review, coming from  a friend and collaborator, but it's sweet all the same.


I need to hie me to my guest room and read for the NBA-YPL award. We already have around fifty books, though the big sluice is July and August. Despite having been away doing book events in North Carolina and then a conference in Pennsylvania, I'm not too far behind the others on the panel. However, I am feeling tired. Just now I posted "Send substance. Worn thin" on facebook and immediately received many poems, e-chocolate (not nearly as good as the genuine article but friendly), a striated e-rock, and new moon songs. I think those things all good advice and shall read a poem or two and eat some chocolate before I toss myself into the fray.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thaliad dreaming...

Yesterday I received a batch of drawings in the mail from Clive Hicks-Jenkins, cover dreams for the upcoming Thaliad, an epic poem from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal that will follow the publication of The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press) this fall. I feel quite lucky to have gotten to play with such interesting artists, and especially with Clive, who is a regular art-partner of mine. We each understand great precincts of the other rather well, and that is satisfying.

When an artist contributes pieces to a book of poetry, the poet is especially grateful because, as is well known in our time, poetry no longer "pays" except in a token way (except when poets are famous in another realm) and so requires the artist make a gift that is mainly one of love. Clive is especially drawn to books and words and served in the theatre for many years as dancer, choreographer, set designer, director, and more. Last night he posted another Thaliad sketch and a scattering of cut-out leaves and birds on his Artlog...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Makoto Fujimura on the core of existence

My friend Mako is a great leader in the arts and the church, and I often find that he has a wisdom that strikes to the heart of things. Here's a clip from his address at Biola:

Art and love are fundamentally the same act, operating on the same sphere of our lives. You see, art is not a frivolous, peripheral activity, but it has to do with the deepest core of existence; it is to love yourself, and your neighbors.  Art defines what makes us human; and fully human, we will be making things.

We either create toward that love or away from that love; if we sit Idle to this reality, we abdicate our responsibility to steward culture: to say that we do not create, while consuming culture all the time, is to let the commercial forces determine our identity as a nation. 

So instead of consuming, go and create.  Be an entrepreneur, a nurse, a teacher, a missionary, an engineer, a politician, a scientist or a chef.  Are you called to the arts?  Do not forget to learn to ask yourself "what do you want to make today?"  I find that artists are guilty of not asking this question today.  Art has become a kind of game you play in an elitist circle, divorced from everyday concerns.  Artists are more concerned with "being in the right circles" to be recognized, rather focusing on creating art that only they can do. By the way, if anyone, institution, ideology or an art school crit tells you that you cannot use the word "creative," transgress.  But if you must transgress to make a point, do transgress in love.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Y at top

If you are an X, Y, or Z, there's nothing quite like being at the top of a list! Thank you, Nancy Olson, Quail Ridge Books and Music (Raleigh), and North Carolina's Our State Arts and Culture for supporting A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marly-links, Mezzo Cammin

It seems that I am the most-published-in-Mezzo-Cammin poet--that's good, since I am fond of the magazine and have respect for Kim Bridgford as editor and poet. Since she directs The West Chester Poetry Conference, I managed to talk to her a few times last week, as well as hear a reading from her poems. I've been in ten issues since first discovering the magazine; here are some links, should you like to ramble around in Kim's picks from my poems: 

2012.12011.22011.12010.22010.12009.22009.12008.22008.1, & 2007.1.

Deep reading

The Alphabet Primer by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
showing part of the Griffin, John Barleycorn, and the Knight.
GS: This line of argument was put best, at least by my lights, in Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies. Though the book is now twenty years old, developments since then have only confirmed that changes in the physical form of reading gradually, on a molecular level and scale and pace, do indeed alter our psychic metabolism. One of the great virtues of Birkerts' book is its evocation of the spiritual and imaginative possibilities of deep reading. The book is a phenomenology of deep reading, of the way that immersion in a great and demanding text, piece of music, or piece of visual art can activate deep and previously untouched capacities and allow connections to be made among our cultural neurons, which can only happen in relative stillness and isolation.
PG: In solitude.
GS: In solitude. That's his argument; and I'm persuaded. The second part of the argument is that stillness and solitude are just what life online makes increasingly difficult. Since The Gutenberg Elegies was published, Nicholas Carr has written The Shallows, which makes something of the same case, without Birkerts' literary flair but with a certain amount of reporting on recent developments in cognitive science.
            The book in its physical form probably can't last forever. It's not part of my or Birkerts' hope or brief that it should. But deep reading, imaginative immersion: those things do need to last forever. The printed book can be lost and left behind, but the spiritual habitus Birkerts is describing can't, or mustn't, be left behind - it's the royal road to the very best that any individual can achieve. And it's at risk in our current mental ecology. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


Thanks to Goodreads readers for their reviews of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, which I had not noticed before I left; now I am back from West Chester Poetry Conference (yay, good attendance on our panel and everybody dealt with the time issue well--I am a fierce chair, perhaps? or more likely just lucky in having Ned Balbo, Jill Bialosky, and Jane Satterfield as panelists) but have jumped from the the poetry frying pan into the Cooperstown fire and will post more shortly. Right now my head is light with sleeplessness... floating away to the Land of Nod.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On the road again--

Need to be chopping off the hair, packing, and running off to West Chester Poetry Conference, so I'll just say that I'll be chairing a panel on poets who write in other genres on Friday afternoon. New: I just picked up an interview about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage with Bill Jaker of "Off the Page" at WSKG, Binghamton for July 24th.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Poetry Monday

Here I am at Empire Toyota in Oneonta, looking at the final .pdf version of The Foliate Head, a beautiful thing with illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins--the loveliest testament to this friendship so far--and immaculately designed by Andrew Wakelin.  Clive and I cannot thank Andrew enough for the time lavished on this project, forthcoming from Stanza Press in the U.K.

And after that I must write my talk for Friday, when I'm chairing a panel on poets who write in other genres for the West Chester Poetry Conference. The introduction and poet-introductions are done, and I know what I want to say--just hoping life gives me a little space today!

Last night was a grand break, a lovely party with artists and writers and doctors and reverend doctors...

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Palace Cat

Just call me a sort of secretarial Puss 'n Boots. The blog-ruling woman (known to me as the Countess of Carabas) is too tired to post today, having just returned from the grand high astonishing ordination of the (beauteous and kind) Emily Hylden at The Cathedral of All Saints. She also went to the Asian market, but to my great disgust did not buy me any duck intestines with soft eggs or tripe or pork uteri. Poo! What do I care for longan and saffron and persimmons and funny little mangoes and other unappetizing items? Then she went out to eat at a Pakistani restaurant but came home with a "doggie" bag. Pfft! She will return tomorrow afternoon. Right now she needs a "cat" nap.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Imagination and feeling

We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character's pain, we might also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.  --David Foster Wallace

I read these lines today and was struck by them because I disagree so simply and utterly. Yes, we suffer alone. But no, empathy is not impossible. Utter identification is impossible; we would have to become the Other in order to do so. But empathy is an act that used to be commonly taught in all classes of society; it began often in a young child's observation and instinctual feelings and proceeded to grow through the learning of manners and courtesy. It is still so in many places.

What startled me most in these lines was this: "we might also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own." That had never crossed my mind as a writer's motive for creating fiction until I read those words. In fact, a great deal of my life has been devoted to a role--mother--which one would be mad to undertake if hoping that "others" would "identify" with "our own" feelings. That's not why one becomes a parent. I don't believe that I've ever thought much about others identifying with my feelings; i never thought that there was some special need in me for them to do so, though I appreciate sympathetic feelings as much as anyone. And when I write fiction, I desire my readers to identify not with my feelings but with those of a created character, a being independent from me. My sensation as a writer is one of out-pouring; the sense of a single self or "me" is lost in the deluge.

I have spent many hours as a writer, a worker, a mother, a child, a relative, a friend, and as a simple passer-by on the world's road in identifying with the feelings of others. And I do indeed find the act to be "nourishing" and "redemptive."  Not only am I "less alone," but I am changed and charged with feeling by becoming, for a little while, linked to another person. The inside of me is a little bigger and a little more multitudinous than it was before.

So right now I am thinking hard about what it must have been to be David Foster Wallace, needing the knowledge that others could imagine feeling the way he felt in order for him to feel less alone. While I am most joyous when I turn outward in life or in creation, he needed the nourishment of others turning toward his inwardness and knowing his pain. And now it is empathy and imagination that will tell me what that means, and exactly how sorrowful it is...