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Friday, November 30, 2012

O happy day! THALIAD is born.

Thalia, as conceived by the masterful
Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales.

Today is the launch day for Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing), with a post-apocalyptic epic narrative in blank verse (what a mouthful!) poem by me, profuse art by major artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and lovely, immaculate design by Elizabeth Adams of Phoenicia. For excerpts, clips of the first reviews, comments by poets and novelists, and a peep at some of the art, you may go to my Thaliad page. And there's a wealth of information on the Phoenicia site.

PUB DATE CELEBRATION. Receive a small, original work of art, an incredibly generous offer from Clive Hicks-Jenkins: SPECIAL BOOKPLATE OFFER: The first 50 orders (any edition) received before Dec 25, 2012 will also receive an original, hand-pulled, relief-print bookplate, specially designed and printed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins forThaliad. To receive your bookplate, you must forward your order confirmation from the online store, or from Amazon, with your name and address, to phoeniciapublishing(at)gmail(dot) com. It will be sent to you separately by mail.

To see Clive's posts about the art for Thaliad, go here.

While this book is so beautiful that I'd love to be able to strew them about the world the way nature tosses out her abundant flowers, I cannot; much labor and cost went into it. Please find below (along with a lovely horse) how to obtain one for yourself, to hold, to read, to revel in the gorgeous art and immaculate design work.

Want to support the independent press movement? If you wish to benefit Phoenicia Publishing the most, you may order directly from them. And if you buy from a non-Phoenicia site, you may wish to send Elizabeth Adams an email note so that you land on her highly desirable email list! Or just let her know how you like the book... You may write her at phoeniciapublishing [at] gmail [dot] com.

For the hardcover:
available directly from Phoenicia via PayPal or credit card.

For the paperback: $13.95 US, CANADA
£9.00 UK; €11.40 EUROPE (price may vary slightly by country)
ORDER FROM Phoenicia Publishing ONLINE STORE
ORDER FROM the Phoenica Publishing page

Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Thursday, November 29, 2012

P. S.

And here's a first peep at finished copies of Thaliad. The first fifty buyers get an extra-special present, courtesy of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Phoenicia Publishing... 2 days left on hardcover pre-orders.

Caustic Cover Critic on Thaliad

The Caustic Cover Critic a.k.a. JRSM has a review post up about Thaliad, and he likes the poem and the art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the design. Here's a clip from the start:
A while ago I was looking at a poet's website and saw that her next book was a post-apocalyptic blank verse epic, with specially commissioned illustrations. Someone's written a book just for me! I thought to myself. And Marly Youmans has, it would seem, done just that: Thaliad is a marvellous work, an exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin for a society born of a clutch of children who survive a nuclear war.
His next line amused me! It depends on a common mis-pronunciation of my last name (which is, of course, spelled improperly. The Youmans clan evidently can pronounce but not spell! My great-grandfather Nathaniel Yeomans and sometimes Youmans is evidently to blame for the switch in spelling, but we still pronounce the name as YO-munz. I suppose that proves that we can get things half right.)

And JRSM selects a lovely little group of vignettes and covers by Clive at the close, illustrating Beth's elegant page design as well.

Last day for a Phoenicia Publishing discount on the pre-order for a hardcover of Thaliad is the 30th... today and tomorrow left to knock on the door of Phoenicia and buy in a way that benefits both you and the press. And thanks to Beth for sending a link to the Caustic Critic's post...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gary asks a question...

Marly, here is your assignment for the week now that you have signed your contracts and judged your contest. 

In your life and career as a poet, are you writing for yourself, for an existing audience of poetry fans, or are you tying to help expand those who appreciate poetry (and yours, specifically)? 

I think that this is a question, if answered thoughtfully by any author (or any builder of any creative output for that matter) could be a good guide to how successful they feel. In other words, does their idea of what they WANT their output to do for the world match their approach in how they deliver that output to the world -- and how far along are they to reaching their particular goal (and what could / would they change to help better achieve their goal). 

I expect my answer in sonnet form. In French. 

Thanks, Gary 

BEING 14 BURBLINGS (14, as in lines of a sonnet) 

Sacre bleu! Writing is different from marketing or promotion--very different. Poetry and business do not often go together. Even on the rare occasions when they appear to go together, they don't go together. And writing poetry is different from writing prose. Usually people who find joy in playing with words aren't the same people who find joy in playing with business. (Gary Dietz, you may be the exception.)

When I draft a poem, I am not in the least concerned with readers. If the poem is any good, I am concerned with an alien, vertical infusion of force passing through my body and soul. I'm trying to capture some of that for my very own. (If it's not good, I'm just fiddling. Fiddling for a long time can be enjoyable and produce some quite pleasant work, but it's not the same as being struck by a metaphysical asteroid--and that's the strange sort of thing that a poet ought to desire.)

So, no, I have absolutely no thought of any possible reader here or in any other world when I make a poem. I am in the grasp of word-pleasure, a certain sort of intense, self-obliterating celebration.

That means I am not even thinking of me as a reader. If thinking of myself or of readers, I would not write as well as if I let myself be cast away by the tide of the poem. No poet would. Not one. All poets desire to be that kind of castaway. (Well, maybe not what we used to call the avant garde. They're up to other things.)

Poetry is evidently one of the weirder activities a human being may devote him- or herself to pursuing. Because the Muse wants all. Whenever the Muse visits, she seeks to seize.

Not only that, the proper stance toward the poets who wrote memorable poetry in the past is one of humility. So a poet's desires must demand a kind of humility toward the past and a kind of self-obliteration in the present. What a weird pursuit!

Do I have "an existing audience" of poetry fans? Yes. Is it large? No. It is composed of, insofar as I can tell from observation and what people say, writers and painters and bloggers and friends and kind strangers who love poetry and like to own poetry books--particularly people who love form and force in poetry. Because I do a certain amount of collaborative work with artists and designers, I collect a few readers among their fans as well.

How do I know such people exist? Some of them write email notes or leave facebook messages or blog comments or twitter messages or some such. Sometimes a publisher tells me what fans say. Sometimes I get a letter on paper. I get comments on places like Eratosphere or blogs, particularly when I publish in an online journal like Mezzo Cammin or qarrtsiluni, which has a large readership and an editor who sometimes lets me know how many readers show up. Those places may be where I have the most readers; certainly far more than in a paper journal or even a poetry book.

Do I worry a lot about the number of readers? No. Saperlipopette! That poetry no longer sells the way it once did is a hard pebble in the shoe, impossible to remove. I have mentioned before discussing with an editor the dropping of a line of poetry from a well-known press with well-known poets. Why? Because not one book they had published in the past ten years broke the mark of selling 300 copies. Holala. That's fairly sad, given the number of potential readers in the U.S. We lost readers in the very long wake of Modernism, and I alone will not bring those readers back to poetry. Easier entertainment has replaced the arts for many, many people in our culture. So I am glad that there are people out there in the world who make it a friendly goal to try and get young people and others to read more poetry. It's not my calling. Nevertheless, I'm always glad to talk to people about poetry.

And what do I do about such things when I have a new book?  I make a plan with my publisher (unless said publisher is on the other side of the ocean, in which case I do a rather less) and try new ways of reaching readers. I tour. I do various things on the internet. I go to West Chester. I record and let the wondrous Paul Digby make videos of my poems. Etcetera.

But the best way a poet of genuine ability and sufficient obsession can improve the status of poetry, including her own, is to write good poems without the least worry about the status of poetry. The only way a poet can lodge a poem in longterm human memory is to pursue the Muse with sufficient stamina and passion and joy. Period.

Luck helps. It's always a mistake to discount sheer blooming luck in a culture that is as jammed with garbage (zut!) and diamonds as ours. If the poet is true to the chase, eventually he or she will find readers.

How am I doing? Well enough so that my second, third, and fourth poetry books were not submitted but solicited, sometimes by more than one publisher. Enough to get magazine requests. Enough to have a little band of readers. Enough to be asked to do panels and events. It's something. Sure, I'd like more readers. What poet and writer would not?

But those are just facts that leave out the joy and word-frolic and metaphysical asteroids. And that's what the goal always is: the joy, the word-frolic, the metaphysical asteroids. And in those measures (un jeu de mots!), I am a happy poet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


4 days left for pre-order discount on Thaliad hardcovers at Phoenicia. Just saw the first photographs of the finished book, and it looks as beautiful as designer Beth Adams and artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and I dreamed. My book page here. Order here.

Shake, shake, shake--

Circle Of Love Silhouette
Shaker births,
Shaker marriages...
Christmas is on my brain, as I got a sudden commission to write Advent lyrics for a song yesterday evening... Eighteen lines later, I was thinking about how I prefer requests like that one to shopping for Christmas. There's a chasm between the pure ideal of the infant of love and light and the great American shopping frenzy, now on shameful display for the world to see in YouTube Black Friday videos of lunging and shrieking Walmart buyers.

So often there's a canyon between the flogging of goods and the peaceable way that would be good to live. And even the more tasteful of U. S. catalogue peddlers can show what is either ignorance or some lack of harmony with their subject.... I was amused to look at a catalogue of Shaker reproductions and gifts for Christmas. It comes from a perfectly fine company run by people who are careful with their replicas of Shaker furnishings; my husband put together a kit of one of their Elder Chairs for my father in his illness, and we have a child's rocker he made for one of the children. Shaker design was a wondrous thing, and I suppose sometimes it is hard to remember--now that the Shakers are mostly objects and history--that they were about far more than furniture.

But what can one possibly make of the peddling of this family motto, declaring: Our Family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union, the circle grows. Etc.  Do they forget for a long and potentially lucrative moment who and what the Shakers were? How they saw the world? Family motto? Do they not know why the Shakers died out, aside from a few stray members? No births! No unions!

The elaborate cut paper with fleur de lis and the sentiments remind me of a Shaker dictum. "If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity."

For which, Nathaniel Hawthorne excoriated them in journal and story, by the by. He was repulsed by life at Hancock Shaker Village when he and Melville visited there. It would be hard to imagine that such a lover of solitude and retirement could adopt the idea of dormitories and shared work and meals, even though he was once a part of a utopian project (lucky for us, as we have The Blithedale Romance.)
Fabric Mouse Nativity Figures
Nothing says "Shaker" like an adorable Mouse Nativity.
Right, that's certainly in the Shaker worldview!
Though they did love Christmas and children and toys...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book promises

Contracts on my mind...

I've just had two requests for story reprints, so that's pleasant.

And today I shall send back three book contracts with some amendments but signed. I've taken a long time to finalized these, and have dithered a good deal. That's what comes of not bothering to get another agent and yet hating to do business. I'm keeping ebook rights and a few others.

FSG, 1996
One of these contracts means that Catherwood will be back in print. Catherwood was doing quite nicely in the way of finding readers and had moved from the Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover to the newly revived Bard imprint when the HarperCollins implosion (that's what comes of eating too much, HarperCollins!) took down many imprints, including Bard. I felt it as a great disappointment, one that was followed by my next book being delayed to days after 9-11. I do have the luck, don't I?

Then there's Glimmerglass, a somewhat fantastical book with many threads--growing older, failure and renewal, chasing the Muse, love and marriage, siblings, murderous impulses, a flood, and more. Despite being somewhere on the continuum between what is called realism and what is called speculative fiction, the setting is nonetheless identifiable as a version of Cooperstown. Parts take place in and under the lake, in a wonderful little gate house that I've called the "Seven Dwarves House" because it has seven doors, and in an imaginary great house not so terribly different from others around the lake. And yet, in one key way, terribly different...

And last is Maze of Blooda book loosely based on the deep-South life and times of that unusual boy and man, pulp writer Robert Howard, with faux-Howard pieces interspersed, and to some degree channeling my hot summer weeks near Lexsy and in Collins, Georgia. I know that boy and his strangeness, and I know that hot Southern world, so I had great fun frolicking with him.

So I am sticking with Mercer for my 12th and 13th books, and by then I will have four first editions with them, a number that rivals my four with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, with lovely acquiring editors Elisabeth Dyssegaard and Robbie Mayes. And I suppose that will mean having the stellar team of Burt and Burt again as book designers. The pair designed A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012) and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer, 2011.)

That reminds me, I haven't mailed my Thaliad contract, and the book's almost out. Coming!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Me and bf Homer

Collage vignette for THALIAD
by the great Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales!

Poet/novelist, aware of that people want new electronic games and semi-alien gadgets for Christmas instead of a blank verse narrative poem, even if it is post-apocalyptic: I need to get together with Beth in the next few weeks and brainstorm. It's not easy for an epic poem these days.

Husband too smart to become a writer, expressing his sympathy as he sees fit: Took Homer years to get the recognition he deserved.


It's a thought. Worthy of a cartoon.

Mr. Bookseller: "I don't think this Homer guy has the numbers we're looking for. Let's just order one of his next book."

Ms. Bookseller:  "If that."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Finally, an explanation for what's wrong with government, academia, and The DaVinci Code

A re-post from 9/28/05: I stumbled on this one while hunting through the past and was surprised to realize how much this strange book influenced my writing at the time. I wonder if it's common for a nonfiction book to take such hold of a writer's imagination... And I can't say that it has happened since.

Like everybody else, I've wondered why the world sometimes appears such a miscreant place, full of lies and badly written books and mean-spirited nonsense.

So I am glad to find the answer.

In a footnote to Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, Marva Dawn cites one William Stringfellow's description of the tactics used by fallen powers and principalities: "denial of truth, doublespeak and overtalk, secrecy and boasts of expertise, surveillance and harassment, exaggeration and deception, cursing and conjuring, usurpation and absorption, diversion and demoralization, and the violence of babel (including verbal inflation, libel, rhetorical wantonness, sophistry, jargon, incoherence, falsehood, and blasphemy.)"

Think about it. Government and politico-speak. Academia and the glorification of the impenetrable. Bad but bestselling books.

All, all explained!

Mysteries of life settled, I wonder if that Stringfellow was a relation of my beloved Mrs. Stringfellow, who taught me in first and second grades at University Terrace in Baton Rouge?

I should add that the Dawn book is a very curious one, suggesting that some of the ways we human beings see the world have changed far more radically that we commonly understand. "The Powers" have crept into my imagination and forced me to write several stories and poems, including "The Nesting Doll." 

Addendum: See Philippa Robbins' Red Riding Hood, Wolf, and Granny nesting dolls: here. They cover several posts... Thanks, Clive!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thaliad reminder: one week left

Reminder: one week left to purchase Thaliad in hardcover at the pre-order discount directly from Phoenicia Publishing (and so helping a small press as much as is possible with your order.) 

Post-apocalyptic story in blank verse, with jacket and profuse interior art by major artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales, beautifully designed by Elizabeth Adams of Montreal... The first pre-orders will be limited edition hardcovers through Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal. Afterward the hardcover limited edition and the paperback will be available through the website, or via various Amazon sites abroad and in the U.S. Books will be shipping around November 30th.

In THALIAD, Marly Youmans has written a powerful and beautiful saga of seven children who escape a fiery apocalypse----though "written" is hardly the word to use, as this extraordinary account seems rather "channeled" or dreamed or imparted in a vision, told in heroic poetry of the highest calibre. Amazing, mesmerizing, filled with pithy wisdom, THALIAD is a work of genius which also seems particularly relevant to our own time. --Lee Smith

 For more comments by authors, excerpts, and clips from the first review, go here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I celebrate my Thanksgiving birthday with Keats--

I give thanks for a conflagration of cake with yet another birthday with an excerpt from a document written on November 22nd in 1817--a letter from John Keats to his friend Benjamin Bailey that is full of dear concern for a friend, bright musings, and the ideal. He may have despaired that his name was "writ in water," but it was the kind of water that splits rocks or springs up as new life...

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not - for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. In a word, you may know my favorite speculation by my first book, and the little song I send in my last, which is a representation from the fancy of the probable mode of operating in these matters. The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream, - he awoke and found it truth. I am more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consecutive reasoning - and yet it must be. Can it be that even the greatest philosopher ever arrived at his goal without putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts! It is a 'Vision in the form of Youth,' a shadow of reality to come. And this consideration has further convinced me, - for it has come as auxiliary to another favorite speculation of mine, - that we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we called happiness on earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger as you do after truth. Adam's dream will do here, and seems to be a conviction that imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human life and its spiritual repetition. But, as I was saying, the simple imaginative mind may have its rewards in the repetition of its own silent working coming continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness - to compare great things with small - have you never by being Surprised with an old Melody - in a delicious place - by a delicious voice, felt over again your very Speculations and Surmises at the time it first operated on your Soul - do you not remember forming to yourself the singer's face more beautiful than it was possible and yet with the elevation of the Moment you did not think so - even then you were mounted on the Wings of Imagination so high - that the Protrotype must be here after - that delicius face you will see. What a time! I am continually running away from the subject - sure this cannot be exactly the case with a complex Mind - one that is imaginative and at the same time careful of its fruits - who would exist partly on Sensation partly on thought - to whom it is necessary that years should bring the philosophic Mind - such an one I consider your's and therefore it is necessary to your eternal Happiness that you not only drink this old Wine of Heaven, which I shall call the redigestion of our most ethereal Musings on Earth; but also increase in knowledge and know all things.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More Yolanda Sharpe

Part two of an interview with artist and soprano Yolanda Sharpe here.

Biz and numerology

In answer to a question from a reader about which of my books are in print: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Thaliad (in a couple of weeks), The Foliate Head, The Throne of Psyche, Val/Orson, and... the hardcover of my very first book, Little Jordan. All of those are in print in hardcover, and Thaliad and The Throne of Psyche are available in paperback. Catherwood will be back in print soon. So that means seven of my eleven books will be in print. Glimmerglass and Maze of Blood are forthcoming.

Eleven. And soon thirteen. I feel rather like Bilbo Baggins, preparing for his "eleventy-first" birthday party. How did I manage so many? And yet it is a mere speck by the count of the Victorians like George MacDonald and Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. I've barely begun.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yolanda yacks--

Please pop by to take a look at the first part of an interview with Yolanda Sharpe, artist and mezzo-soprano, at the IAM-Otsego website. Interview by brand new webmaster Benjamin Miller. Please leave a comment there if you enjoy their work! Comments off here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The ideal in twilight...

Vignette for Thaliad
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Wales)
The time we are given

Will they say of our time in the arts that people chose surface glitter over the glow of transfiguration, shallows over deep-sea depths, flat screens over multiple dimensions? It is harder for artists to achieve in eras when the trivial and the ephemeral crowd the culture, and when artists often run after such things?


Achieved beauty in art breeds more beauty. In some sense, Shakespeare was the glory shining out from his wonderful contemporaries.


Foolishness, I embrace you. I marry you. I let you fly free and then return like a boomerang bird to my hand. I am willing. I put on the Fool's mask and see.


The sun burns; the moon reflects light back. So the reader or viewer or listener and the artist stand, each shining at the other, making a circle, a bond, a marriage.


I choose to believe that inside the great world of what is called the arts, a kingdom stands. I aspire to be a citizen, with all the rights and privileges thereof.

Travel in time and space

Past the limits of desire. Past understanding.


The most potent action of art is a kind of lifetime's self-transformation as beautiful creations pour through the artist, leaving a residue in the soul. Art is not just about making something outside oneself; it is about soul-making. It is the transformation that comes to the willing soul when power sweeps through... Just as prophetic utterance changes the prophet, art changes its maker. How hard is it for such things to happen when most no longer believe in the strange, intangible soul?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

12 days till...


Reminder of meritorious possibility! Act on this while eating bitter melon and you will never suffer from monobrow or baldness or general stupidity!

Believe it?


The Phoenicia Publishing (Montreal) pre-order discount price for the hardcover of the upcoming Thaliad is good for 12 more days. If you want a copy, that's a good way to get it, not because it's the very cheapest way (no doubt, it isn't, as you may choose the paperback or miraculously discover a tea-stained copy at a yard sale in twenty or thirty years) but because you manage to both get a lower price (always okay with us, no?) and also support a young small press that tries to thrive and sprout new leaves in the Sahara of the Bozart (it may have been what Mencken called the South in his day, but I think that particular desert blows its sands across many places these days.)


Publisher Beth Adams is a grand designer to have--she writes and paints and draws and takes photographs and sings, so she has plenty of sensitivity to nuance and text placement. And she takes pains, which is a wonderful thing.

And of course she has good material to work with, given the wonderful artwork that Clive Hicks-Jenkins has made for this book (and for The Foliate Head.) Just was taking a peek--I want to share all the still-secret pictures that we have not shown. They are special... So if you don't desire a copy of your very own, well, you should go take a look at his wondrous Thaliad images and his archive of work done for the book. You can find it here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

NYC glimpses

Ivory dreams. The National Book Foundation put us up
 in The Essex after our first hotel was washed out by Sandy.
This shop window is not far from the hotel.

Lalique and Footlongs

Shop window with reflections of Central Park
trees and equestrian statue.

Art deco portals at the Essex.

Friday, November 16, 2012

At the National Book Award frolics

Greek revival ceiling at Cipriani Wall Street.

Rebecca with Anne and Gary Schmidt.
Gary was the wonderful leader of our judging panel.

Bar, Wall Street Cipriani.

Judith Ortiz Cofer with Rachel and Steve Sheinkin,
Finalist in Young People's Literature for Bomb.
Our panel's star, Susan Cooper...
(Susan Cooper Cronym)

With my daughter Rebecca.

Table companions, poets Dana Levin and Patrick Rosal,
judges for the poetry award.

Author Sophia Quintero with Patrick Rostal.

Cipriani Wall Street.

Picked Sagittarius and Scorpio, as my birthday lands
on the cusp between them.

With Judith Ortiz Cofer. Devoured by judge-corsages.

Fellow YPL panelist Daniel Ehrenhaft, author and now head
of the Soho Teen imprint, along with his wife Jessica,
a vice president at Scholastic.
Rebecca Beatrice Miller in her new pixie cut, all curls gone!
Judges Susan Orlean and Judith Shulevitz in the background.

Table 55 assembling...

Table 55.

Judith Ortiz Cofer and Rebecca.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Myers' list of best fiction, 2012

I am just (barely) back from the National Book Award celebrations and will write something about them anon--for now, I'm just linking to critic D. G. Myers' choices for the best fiction of 2012. His choices are not quite the same as the fiction judging panel. Amid much brouhaha, he was just fired from Commentary, so the list is at his A Commonplace Blog.  Be sure and look at the end of the list (you know, where XY and Z live.)

As I admire his forthright criticism, I am pleased to have crossed his radar. Last week he put Catherwood on a list of historical novels that make good use of historical settings "to instruct and delight."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The 3 Kenneths and the Little Match Girl of Poetry

Could we please get this straight?

There are three poets from approximately the same era named Kenneth. Kenneth Koch, Kenneth Rexroth, and Kenneth Patchen. (You may be interested to know that I am permanently mortified over having become uncontrollable with laughter during a Koch reading in Providence, R. I. back in 1975-ish, back when I was a silly sprat of a girl.)

It was Kenneth Patchen, not one of the others (as I have seen claimed on the internet here and there), who said that "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a pack of cheap sons-of-bitches." Other versions are floating around--particularly "a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches"--and I've seen them attributed to a Wrong Kenneth as well. But you may check out the book Sleepers Awake by Patchen and find out the truth. Alas, I'm not incredibly well read but have merely looked it up on Google; New Directions calls the book "novelistic fantasy." Think I will have to try it, sooner or later.

The narrator meets poet Fitzmichael Kell in "a bar on 3rd" and proceeds to buy three of Kell's books "which he was good enough to sign." He does this because he is not one of those "People who say they love poetry and never buy any."

Now you know.

Spread no more internet rumors! Manure not the field of pixels!

And this sterling bit of wisdom reminds me that I have new 2012 (and one 2011) poetry books, namely The Foliate Head and Thaliad (and The Throne of Psyche.) It would make me very happy if you were like the narrator of Sleepers Awake and bought three copies of each. I'm sure that I'm as fine a poet as Fitzmichael Kell. Not to mention the fact that I can go home to the wretched White Camellia Orphanage and snuggle in my raggedy bed instead of standing out here in my match-girl coat, selling wee poetry books and matches to passers-by (and may have to burn the poetry books to keep warm before I can go home.) I may, in fact, freeze to death on this Yankee stoop.

Either that or be overcome by an attack of whimsy.

Three Kenneths and one Kell...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veterans Day gallimaufry--

A late addition to the medley here: Critic D. G. Myers with a list of 25 historical novels, including Catherwood.

It's the Veterans Day holiday, and I'm remembering with thanks the generation of my father, Hubert Lafay Youmans, who left life as an impoverished sharecropper's boy at 17 in order to join the Army Air Corps and ended up flying tailgunner in a B-17 in World War II. Lucky for me that he survived and came home to ride the G. I. Bill through Emory, where he met my mother, and LSU. His brother Dafford (bit of Welsh naming?) also served in Europe.

Meanwhile my mother's brothers were sprinkled around the world during the war: Louis, Martin, Leonard, James, and Hugh Morris. The last of them died recently, tucked into eternity. I'm also recalling their mother, Lila Eugenia Arnold Morris. People in the little town of Collins, Georgia said that she prayed all five of them home, on her knees every night, talking (wrestling, pleading, arguing?) to God. Miss Lila was quite the matriarch in her town, mother of nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood.

My youngest played for the village parade and wreath-laying yesterday... That's a lovely thing for our children to do.

Tomorrow I am off to New York City with Rebecca, pleased to be meeting my fellow NBA judges for lunch on Wednesday. Then: the banquet and awards. It should be a day of great interest! Today I am getting ready and trying to boot the cold far away from me. If I have time, I'll do some tweaking in The Book of the Red King, as I've promised to send it on to Clive so he can be mulling art.

Upcoming: Thaliad appears to be on schedule for the tail of November or nose of December. Forthcoming poems in Mezzo Cammin and Books & Culture. And after that: two novels, both a bit unusual.

NBA glam? Luisa Igloria posted this link on facebook...

Quote for the day: I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. --Dana Gioia

About that quote: I know quite well that inside the mass culture is a band of people dedicated to making art of beauty and power--artists who attempt to work free of the reductive trends, fashion, and demands of the marketplace. The question is what happens when those people become invisible and no longer infuse the culture with their life. What does it do to them; what does it do to our culture?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"There and back again"

Rebecca Beatrice Miller

Still feeling worn from a lingering cold and travel, but I'm back from a day at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, where my daughter Rebecca and I attended Portfolio Day. (She is currently on extended leave after her sophomore year at Bard College, doing some writing and film jobs this month, and will probably finish up there some year in the future.) We stayed at the Coolidge Hotel for a week for one of their workshops five years ago, when she was a mere sprat of 15. Now she's turning in an application for a 2-year certificate.

We met faculty and staff, Rebecca enjoyed a portfolio review with Jon Chad, and we had a marvelous, jolly private tour with first-year student Josh. The students seem wonderfully pleased with their first year "boot camp" and more advanced work--there's a lovely mix of unleashed imagination and hard work on premises. Evidently they locked any angst-ridden students in the courthouse vault. (Maybe it was a bank once?)

The school seems to be in a fair way to transform the town and give it some much-needed support. Physically, it consists of three older, re-purposed buildings--right now they are housed in a grand former post office and later courthouse (or vice versa), Colodny's department store, and the Telegraph Office. The Charles M. Schulz Library had to move from a site by the river during Hurricane Irene (books not liking water), and now is housed in a wing of the Post Office.

I'll have to remember to put aside the graphic novels from this year's judging stint to add to the Schulz collection... (Yes, the National Book Award banquet is Wednesday, and I am taking Rebecca as my companion!)

Friday, November 09, 2012

That Which Snatches

There! You needed harpies today, didn't you? And harpies you shall have... And me? I have a dire need to dispose of a harpie-bug one of my children gave me, so I am going to rest up today and fiddle with The Book of the Red King and do some (alas) light house-drudgery. Tomorrow, White River Junction! Next week, New York City! I hope they will manage at home without me... No doubt they will.

Now you know why I give you a poem for today, rather than rattling on about the contents of my head. This one is from The Foliate Head (U.K.: Stanza Press), available via Stanza Press and elsewhere in Europe and via Amazon in the U.S.

If you're passing by for the first time, you might like to know that my other 2012 books are: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, a novel inspired by events and people stretching over four generations of my paternal family line and set in the Depression, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award of Mercer University Press; the soon-out Thaliad, a blank verse post-apocalyptic epic from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal. Right now the hardcover of the latter is on pre-order discount directly through Phoenicia. It will be available more widely at the end of the month. All three of these books feature exceptional design work, and two have profuse artwork by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, so I have pleasure in them as objects as well as records of what I have made "out of a mouthful of air."

This poem is about harpies, and it too is in blank verse. Wallace Stevens is to blame for interesting me in short blank verse. Or perhaps it is poet William Harmon, with whom I once had a chat about the blank verse of Wallace Stevens. It appeared first at Mezzo Cammin, where I have often published.

That Which Snatches

Vulture-like, the harpies wheel on updrafts
Or settle in the grove of wind-whipped trees,
Their small, secretive faces looking out
Without sign of interest or passion,
As pinched and harsh as soul heads on a stone
Propped up by mourning Puritans on land
Unused to buried bone: winged skulls that glare.
One is singing, Turn away, my bonnie,
Turn away home, and yet there is nowhere
To turn, no home when such weird sisters sing.
In Cretan caves they hang like ungroomed bats,
Letting locks hang, letting the lice parade,
Their molting feathers like some nightmare bed
Where no man fancies lying—that’s a truth
That galls, for only breeze that glances here
And there and then is gone could bear to kiss
Their shriveled, wicked purse of privacies.

Bedraggled, murderous, entirely foul...
If they had hands, the fingers would be small,
As leathery as paws for throwing scat
At queens or prophets. No respect, no cheer,
No proper sentiment for the flawless
Horses of Achilles, their own offspring,
That wept to smell the battle-scent of death.
No sisterly devotion to Iris
Tricked out in sunstruck iridescent drops.
They’ll shriek the dawn awake and howl for flesh,
Heraldic frights so ignorant of evil
They could be us—so self-absorbed, so free.
On branches in the bleeding wood of souls,
They shift their talons, sigh in sleep like doves,
Dreaming of men like birds of paradise,
Of leaf-winged forests tumbling in a storm,
The phoenix burning on her nest of myrrh
Who found this harpied world worth dying for. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Light heart, broken heart, child heart--

Olana - Matthew Six
Olana - Matthew Six
Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada
60 x 48"
This modest little post is dedicated to my friend Makoto Fujimura, who lost 20 major works and 50+ smaller ones in the flooding of Chelsea's Dillon Gallery during Hurricane Sandy. He has served on the NEA board, founded International Arts Movement and Fujimura Institute, and is well known worldwide for his nihongan paintings.

Yesterday afternoon the mail brought me the most delightful little book by royal mail. I now have a beautiful Godine edition of the late Charles Causley's selected poems, and I have a paperback collected poems that I wish were a bit higher quality, but this is a little charmer: a paperback of the Selected Poems for Children, the poems chosen by him not long before his death.

"Among the English poetry of the last half century, Charles Causley's could well turn out to be the best loved and most needed." --Ted Hughes

I dearly love Causley and can't fathom why he's not better known on this side of the Atlantic puddle. Editor John Wilson introduced his poems to me some years ago, and I've been very glad of it.

Writers and readers cast a kind of after-burial vote for whose books will last and whose words are worth reading, and I'm casting one for Causley. Charles Causley is one of those still-water-running-deep people one longs to have known, and I could feel a little envious of those who have, were envy not one of the seven deadlies... Invidia.

In this book, one meets elephants and mermaids and sea-lovers and tales of kings or paupers that make one laugh or crack the heart. I've just started to dip into it here and there, seeing poems I know (like the marvelous "Timothy Winters" or "Mary, Mary Magdalene" or "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience") and poems entirely new to me, bright or sometimes uncanny or grim(m). Here's a poem to drive a child--or you or me--out of bed and into the blooming sun:

Early in the Morning

Early in the morning
The water hits the rocks,
The birds are making noises
Like old alarum clocks,
The soldier on the skyline
Fires a golden gun
And over the back of the chimney-stack
Explodes the silent sun.

And here's one of his lively tales in small:

Charity Chadder

Charity Chadder
Borrowed a ladder,
Leaned it against the moon,
Climbed to the top Without a stop
On the 31st of June,
Brought down every single star,
Kept them all in a pickle jar.

Here's a snip from a jolly, longish poem called Three Green Sailors. Causley was a sailor, and that was the source of many a grief-struck or lovely poem of his. But this one is a comedy for children and the child-hearted, and reminds us that Causley was a teacher of young children. I wonder if he once recited this poem to a class:

Three Green Sailors

Three green sailors
Went to sea
In a sailing ship
Called The Flying Flea.
Their caps were round,
Their shirts were square,
Their trousers were rolled
And their feet were bare.
One wore a pigtail,
One wore a patch,
One wore ear-rings
That never did match.
One chewed baccy,
One chewed cake,
One chewed a pennyworth
Of two-eyed steak.
One danced to,
One danced fro
And the other sang the shanty
Haul Away Joe.

And here's a little weather poem especially for Mako, with the hope that his every painting day is a sweet Saturday:

All Day Saturday

Let it sleet on Sunday,
Monday let it snow,
Let the mist on Tuesday
From the salt-sea flow.
Let it hail on Wednesday,
Thursday let it rain,
Let the wind on Friday
Blow a hurricane,
But Saturday, Saturday
Break fair and fine
And all day Saturday
Let the sun shine.

The book is illustrated by John Lawrence, who traveled to Launceston, Cornwall to meet with Charles Causley and make sure his work was accurate to the place. Small, vigorous vignettes decorate the book and add much pleasure and charm.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Hibernating continent

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.” -Francis Bacon
Cancelled all my day's events so I can stay home and get over a cold, as I have a drive to Vermont and another to New York City in the coming days. Be peaceful while I'm snuggled up, will you?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Genre and the (Parenthetical) Laundry-Woman

Hideous day of laundry and cleaning here: reminds me of several things having to do with genre fiction--science fiction and fantasy in particular. You may find them interesting. Or not. But here goes the laundrywoman, emptying out the contents of her head into the blog pail.

1.  I saw on facebook the picture of the World Fantasy winners, and they were men men men plus two couples (for editing and press work.) I don't object to men; I like men. I just wondered. It was just an awful lot of male faces. All the writing awards. And art. It's nothing to do with the particular men (in fact, I sometimes correspond with several of the winners), but I'm still wondering. Is that how it always works?

2. While I fold laundry, I often read. And I started thinking about a science fiction and fantasy trope. You know how Luke Skywalker (I have three children, so I know these things) loses his hand in great pain and gets a fancy new robotic one? And how Wormtail in Harry Potter (I have three children, so I have read the entire series aloud) loses his hand (also with great pain) and gets a fancy magic one in its place from Lord Voldemort? (Oh, and isn't he just like Tolkien's Wormtongue? And there's an important arm injury for Frodo, too.) And you know how in Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (I have three children, did I say?) Lirael loses her hand--her best friend, the Dog (who talks and is much more than a dog) bites it off to save her--and the close tells us that she will gain a beautiful golden hand in its place, made by Sameth, the prince and Wallmaker? No doubt you may add some lost hands and metal replacements of your own if you reach science fiction or fantasy; there are more. Take Eugenides, who is deprived of his clever hand by The Queen of Attolia... Well, you add what you like. Gene Porter's Freckles had no hand. Read that one as a child. And there's a precedent of dogs biting off a hand with Fenris.

Point being, thanks to my laundry-reading, I am wondering if all this comes most clearly from the famous tale of Gotz von Berchlingen (1480-1562, a nice long life for the times), who was known as Gotz of the Iron Hand (as, say, Lirael became known as Lirael Goldenhand.) A Franconian knight, he lost his hand in 1504 in Silesia, when a cannon shot broke his sword hilt (hey, there's another trope--the sword that is broken) and drove half of it, along with arm-plates, into his right arm. His arm was crushed and the hand ripped away entirely. Being a gallant knight, he rode to camp and found a surgeon. He was later given an iron hand and continued as knight till his death, or so the book claimed. What a formidable fellow. Still competent with only one proper hand.

Maybe everybody already knows this... If not, now I do, and you do.

3. I have completely forgotten the third genre-thought I had while folding the endless laundry. Oh, lucky you! And now I need to eat and go vote. You too!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Celebratory clip

A minor moment from A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012), posted in honor of the end of my driving-lesson tribulations--my elder children took their last driving lessons and passed the road exam. No doubt a few hair-raising moments await, but they each have a license...

     “Mommer, would you go comb your hair? You look like a medusa.” Roiphe climbed out of the car, staggering a little as if the ground were a foreign medium.
     Her fingers moved nimbly around her head, collecting the crooked pins into a small dark sheaf, which she bound with a rubber band and dropped into her apron pocket. “You could have been killed, the pair of you, or landed in the county jail with a pack of misfits. Roiphe Tattnal, you don’t know the least thing about driving, no more than a fresh-laid egg.”
     “He does now. The boy proved himself a driver of ingenuity and downright verve.” Pip clambered from the passenger seat and leaned for support against the side of the auto. He was not sure he could walk away yet, having recently been startled by a close call with a straggle of cows in the lane.
     “Lil, that was a dadgum shattering experience, but I believe—I truly believe that he could have done a powerful sight more if he had put his unthrottled genius into the thing. If he survives, Roiphe Tattnal has some kind of a future in transportation.” With a wrench, Pip yanked a bushel basket off a headlamp and surveyed it.
     “First man on the moon,” Alden crowed.
     “First idiot on the moon, more like. Y'all better pluck those chicken feathers off the front before Mr. Louis sees it,” Lil advised. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
     “Would that it were.” Roiphe rolled his eyes dramatically. “All,” he added in case she had not understood.

Friday, November 02, 2012


Thanks to Rebecca B. for posting this quote from Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time / Запечатлённое время on my facebook wall:
Modern art has taken the wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for his own sake. What purports to be art begins to looks like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalised action is of intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in an artistic creation the personality does not assert itself it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always the servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of the self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of human calling.
I especially love and believe this: The artist is always the servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. That thought is a very un20th-, un-21st-century idea, but it feels true to my own feelings and beliefs about art. And yet, the act of making a lyric poem, say, is a stirring joy in itself, and so the initial gift is repaid by wielding the gift, which in turn creates more gifts that at their best feel in-flooded rather than, as it sometimes seems with lesser works, spun from navel lint.

Another thing that is barely suggested in that Tarkovsky sentence is the idea of the artist and humility. That is, the artist's proper stance before the monuments of art from time past should be one of humility. 

And now I want to read that book...