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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Scribd, again

Selections from all three of my 2012 books are now up at Scribd. If you desire to commune (and sometimes frolic) with me, you can read a novel (/A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage), a collection of poems(The Foliate Head), or an epic adventure in verse (Thaliad.) It's a bit boggling, my 2012, between bringing out those books and serving on the judging panel for the NBA-YPL.

Wee vacation to The Purple Island

Last night I went to choir practice and discovered that I can sing again, albeit with occasional coughing bouts. But I felt laid low and slumped into bed afterward. Then I wrote two posts this morning and deleted them both out of boredom with myself and the subjects, one about the teetering status of the in-residence 4-year college education and what that might mean for writers in academia, and the other was--well, who cares what that one was about! Afterward, for some mad reason I remembered and felt impelled to reread a few parts of The Purple Island by Phineas Fletcher, a 1633 long poem about the human body. I first read it an astonishing number of years ago: better not to consider! Fletcher was an influence for Milton.

Here is a rather absurd sample:

    The Urine-lake drinking his colour’d brook,
By little swells, and fills his stretching sides:
But when the stream the brink ‘gins over-look, 
A sturdy groom empties the swelling tides;
    Sphincter some call; who if he loosed be,
    Or stiffe with cold, out flows the senselesse sea, 
And rushing unawares covers the drowned lea.

Here's a better fragment (Canto 7, stanzas 10-11), and one that lets one see why Milton liked and was influenced by him:

When that great Lord his standing Court would build, 
The outward walls with gemmes and glorious lights, 
But inward rooms with nobler Courtiers fill’d; 
Pure, living flames, swift, mighty, blessed sprites: 
      But some his royall service (fools!) disdain; 
      So down were flung: (oft blisse is double pain) 
In heav’n they scorn’d to serve, so now in hell they reigne. 

There turn’d to serpents, slown with pride and hate, 
Their Prince a Dragon fell, who burst with spight 
To see this Kings and Queens yet happy state, 
Tempts them to lust and pride, prevails by slight: 
      To make them wise, and gods he undertakes. 
      Thus while the snake they heare, they turn to snakes; 
To make them gods he boasts, but beasts, and devils makes. 

I'm not sure about the "slown." Transcription error in the online copy? "Sown?" "Slow?" "Slown" is not in the O. E. D.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Childe Phoenix

This month a story originally published in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet will be reprinted in Lightspeed. "Prolegomenon to the Adventures of Childe Phoenix" is one of my stranger stories, involving a death, chasmic separation, and a young boy's departure into the great outer world. In its surreal elements I see obsessions that I have also dealt with in poetry. In addition, there is an interview with me. The full issue is available February 1st as an ebook from Lightspeed Magazine: Science Fiction and Fantasy; otherwise, I'll be up some time in February. Here's the table of contents.

Monday, January 28, 2013

At Scribd and in the Red Room...


"The Red Room" makes me think of Jane Eyre, flung inside to contemplate her wicked behavior... But nothing bad happens to me there; in fact tomcatintheredroom (Tom of Cardiff, we might also call him, it seems) has written a long, marvelous review of Thaliad that reminded me of things about the adventure that I had forgotten and also suggested ideas that I had thought about only in the strange, immersed-yet-outpouring way one thinks when making a poem.

Please go read the whole sparkly thing! I'm tempted to review the review because it was full of illuminating passages about sources, novel vs. epic, Gabriel and the fall from innocence, the tension between future setting and traditional form, the reason why it can get away with a name like Thaliad (despite nervily invoking classical epic adventures), the Hicks-Jenkins art, the poetic form, readability, inventiveness and exuberance, and more. I'm grateful to him for striking out in so many different directions, and for understanding so well what I sought to do so.

If you have a comment, please leave it there. Comments off.

Lots of Thaliad images, excerpts, and comments are now up at Scribd. (The first chapter of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is still there as well.) Please take a look and enjoy! Find more about the book (as well as how to get a copy) on my Thaliad page or at Elizabeth Adams' Phoenicia Publishing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

There is no other village

One of the vignettes from Thaliad,
by Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
My Thaliad page.
Phoenicia Publishing Thaliad page.

This excerpt from Thaliad has already been shared in several places, so if you're a regular visitor to my little cluster of huts by the internet stream, you may have seen it. What's the news of Thaliad? Lady Word of Mouth appears to be working slowly and yet steadily on such an unusual item as a 21st-century adventure in verse . . .

Now and then in writing, I was aware of drawing on some prior work. There's one long passage where I felt Anglo-Saxon rhythms and ways of describing, for example. But in this one I felt the presence of Cavafy, and the close of this chapter is indebted to him. Writers are always indebted to those the masters they love who did the work, and occasionally that indebtedness is strong enough to notice and acknowledge.

from XXI, (Samuel and Thalia, after tragic events):

Then Samuel in sorrow vowed to her
Now I will leave and find another place,
A village where my heart is not in earth,
And Thalia replied to him with truth:
There is no other village, is no place
To find where your dead heart is not in earth.
And still he moaned his lot, exclaimed with tears,
I want to go where ground is not a waste,
And where my life is not a ruined town.
And Thalia with mercy answered him:
In time you will begin to heal your heart
And all that seems a waste will bloom once more.
But he went on in anger, blaming God,
The strangers who had maundered into town,
The grave that meant a stone around his neck,
Until she spoke in haste against his words:
For you there is only this blood-drenched ground,
The murdered life that is your freight of guilt,
Also the murdered life that is your own,
The world that you create by how you act
Or see or how you dream the world to be,
Your world that’s ruined everywhere like this,
Which you yourself have caused to be a waste,
Which you yourself have scorched with inner fire.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter gratitudes

Freezing dusk is closing
   Like a slow trap of steel
On trees and roads and hills and all
   That can no longer feel.
     But the carp is in its dept
        Like a planet in its heaven
     And the badger in its bedding
        Like a loaf in the oven.
     And the butterfly in its mummy
        Like a viol in its case.
      And the owl in its feathers
        Like a doll in its lace.
                --Ted Hughes, from "The Warm and the Cold" (Collected Poems, p. 343)

It's -15 at a little after nine in the morning; when I woke, I found the pipes were frozen, so it has been a morning of rousting children to help while getting another child off to school. I seldom bother to use a dryer on my hair, but they're quite handy with pipes. Water is again flowing, and I am feeling glad and grateful not to have a houseful of plumbers this morning. And I also see that, after more than two weeks of that scourge, the flu, I really am going to get well. And for that I am even more grateful. Yankee winters are a bit of a trial if you're not raised to them, and so I shall stay home longer and write and do some cleaning (because an old house with five residents takes a lot of ordering and scrubbing) and let the world tick on without me. Outside a flock of birds is settled in a ravel of rose canes, one or two or three darting out to the feeder and then flitting back, fleeing deep in the canes to hide from the kestrel who regards our yard as territory. So it goes on planet Earth on a wintry morning. Good cheer to you, world!

Thanks to all the people who wrote notes or left comments on the prior post or elsewhere about the poem in answer to an inaugural challenge. To write such a thing is to reply to a very particular sort of dare, with demands set by the form, but also mediated by one's concerns about the country--in my case, I was thinking of a particular distress I feel for the chasm that has now been set between the two major parties and their adherents, so that there is a lot of voiced hatred and scorn for "the other." So it's a curious task.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Around five or six o'clock today, writer Richard Krawiec challenged a number of people on facebook to write an inaugural poem--Kathryn Stripling Byer is probably to blame for my inclusion on the list... (Thanks, Kay!) I curled up by the window while snow fell down and drafted this blank verse poem. It opens with images from the Bible--the lowly pot and the potter.


Even a famous man is just a pot
Thrown on the wheel—centered and true, one hopes,
But a pot all the same. So says the book
You use today, on which you swear a vow,
Your fingertips touching the word of God
And your skin prickling with the fingerprints
Of the potter—or nervousness, perhaps.
As pot, you circle round the air, you shine,
Preserving and protecting, defending
This Constitution you swear to uphold,
Words that are wild, sweet apples from the branch
Of freedom, watered with blood of ancestors.
Like an oblation jar, now keep for us
The fruit of that dream nation pilgrims sought
And suffered, all our union marred by sin
Because we were only men and women,
Fearing the white ships at the harbor’s edge,
Fearing the dark shapes moving in the woods,
Fearing and scorning what we did not grasp.
A jar holds summer’s peaches, summer’s sun
As if no time has passed: so hold the dream,
As if both light and shade could be our joy,
As if the past could yet be a blessing,
As if our knowledge came from wrong and right
Twisted together, a tree of knowledge.
So hold the dream, and let us taste of light
In scorning no one for his freeborn thoughts,
Knowing how little we discern, knowing
That we must stand together in this place,
One country given much, among many,
One planet set against the stars and cold:
So hold the dream, and let us taste of light.
 21 January 2013

Thaliad twice--

Artist Marja-Leena Rathje posts about rereading Thaliad here. She is a Finnish-Canadian artist with a passion for printmaking and photography, working in the Vancouver area of British Columbia, and her blog is part artlog, part personal.

Complete information on how to order Thaliad is here. My Thaliad page is here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Narnia and Cair Paravel

As I'm still toiling in the endlessness of the flu, my husband amused me early this morning by reading from that excessively odd and sometimes alarming personage, Montague Summers. And the passage he read struck us both as interesting for the name Narnia, both for the name itself (the Italian name already being known) and for the creation of the Narnian world. (If you're not interested in children's books and Narnia, read another post!)

As is not surprising, you can find something about the sources for the name Narnia online; in Professor Downing's essay on names in the Narnia books, one learns, "As to the world in which we meet all these characters, there is an actual place called Narnia. It is best reached, not by climbing into a wardrobe, but by boarding a northbound bus from Rome. Narnia, now called Narni, is a mountain village in the Italian province of Umbria. Lewis would have encountered the name as a passing reference in Tacitus, Livy, and other Latin authors, and he probably liked the sound of the name."

As he had such marvelous libraries available to him for browsing and reading, I'm wondering if he peeped into Johannes M. Watterich's Pontificum Romanorum Vitae (Leipzig, 1862.) Montague Summers describes a matter contained in it this way:
A very extraordinary circumstance is related by Wipert, Archdeacon of the celebrated see of Toul, who wrote the life of Pope S. Leo IX, a Pontiff, who had been for more than twenty years Bishop of Toul, and who died in March, 1054. The historian [Johannes Watterich, I believe he intends here] tells us that some years before the death of S. Leo IX, the citizens of Narni, a little burgh which is picturesquely situated on a lofty rock at the point where the river Nera forces its way through a narrow ravine to join the Tiber, were one day greatly surprised and indeed alarmed to see a mysterious company of persons who appeared to be advancing toward the town. The magistrates, fearing some surprise, gave orders than the gates should be fast closed, whilst the inhabitants incontinently betook themselves to the walls. The procession, however, which was clothed in white and seemed from time to time to vanish among the morning mists and then once again to reappear, was obviously no inimical band. They passed on their way without turning to right or to left, and it is said they seemed to be defiling with measured pace until eventide. All wondered who these persons could be, and at last one of the most prominent citizens, a man of great resolution and courage resolved to address them. To his amazement he saw among them a certain person who had been his host many years before Ascoli, and of whose death he had been recently informed. Calling upon him loudly by his name he asked: "Who are you, and whence cometh this throng?" "I am your old friend," was the reply, "and this multitude is phantom; we have not yet atoned for the sins we committed whilst on earth, and we are not yet deemed worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; therefore are we sent forth as humble penitents, lowly palmers... --Montague Summers, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1960
The account goes on from there, as the living friend has a fit from astonishment and is ill for twelve months. Let that me a warning to you not to have truck with ghosts! And it's a reminder to me that 12 days (thus far) is not all that bad...

What strikes me is the "picturesque" little "burgh" on "rock" at the point where one water meets another water--here, it is where the Neva joins the Tiber. What we know as the royal seat of the Narnian world changes a great deal over time, but it fits--at one time or another--this description. Cair refers to walled city or castle. (Paravel most likely stems from tenant paravail, or the feudal concept of tenant-of-a-tenant, but that goes in another direction entirely, with the idea of the ruler as servant to Aslan, who is in turn servant to his father--and also with the idea of ruler as servant to those ruled.) At an unknown time, either in hope of fulfilled prophecy or for use, Cair Paravel was built where one great water meets another; that is, where the Great River, not long after it is joined by the Rush River, flows into the Eastern Ocean. Sometimes in its history, Cair Paravel is surrounded by city, other times not. Sometimes it is sited on a peninsula, and sometimes the sea takes it for an island, and it becomes a palace with protective walls of water. It is, like the "little burgh" of Narni, seated on rock.

Summers' retelling of the story of a ghostly pilgrimage passing by Narni suggests bonds with Narnia and Cair Paravel having to do with "thin places," where one world verges on another. The Narni of Watterich's account is a place on earth where world and the spectral meet and may even converse. It's a "thin place" where our world impinges on the realm of the dead. Likewise Cair Paravel is a border place, sited in the eastern coast and so suggestive of the unknown realm belonging to the Emperor Beyond-the-Sea who is the father of Aslan. The eastern edge is the closest one can come to him in the land of Narnia.

That's why the ruling seat of Narnia is neither at Lantern Waste (where the first human king and queen ruled), nor somewhere central like the spot where the White Witch set her camp. As the Eastern Ocean surrounds what was once a peninsula, Cair Paravel becomes more and more a "between" place that exists on the boundary between earth and water. Even its design reflects this identity. While it may be built stone on stone, the cair has an eastern door that can be flung open onto the Eastern Ocean, where the mermaids sing. As a "thin place" and as a border spot, it mediates between earth and water, between the four human kings and queens and the realm of nature, between civilization and the wild, and between all Narnia and the world beyond ruled by the Emperor Beyond-the-Sea, the King of all Kings.

* * *

Tolkienesque postscript:
As my husband said, you can just imagine Lewis and Tolkien talking this story over in the Bird and Baby (more properly, The Eagle and Child, and less properly, Fowl and Foetus), one nabbing the name and the other daydreaming about an army of wanderers who have to work out their redemption by a particular task--one dayAragorn will hold them to their crime and allegiance.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bookish memory--

The world is full of dreadful news and noise and divisions between peoples and parties, but while I was dwelling on these things and "the dark lamentable catalogue of human crimes," as Churchill put it, I was reminded that President Carter, during his speech accepting his party's nomination for a second term as president, called Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey by the name of Hubert Horatio Hornblower. Instantly I felt wonderfully cheerful, with a store of good will and hope for the world.
 * * * 
 Is that the funniest political moment having to do with books? It's much more funny than George Bush reading a picture book upside down, though that was amusing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mendelsohn on the novel

Daniel Mendelsohn has a wonderful interview at Lamba Literary. As one expects of a critic, he examines the terms of the questions, looking at underlying assumptions as he answers. I don't agree with everything he says--how could I, not being a critic and translator of Cavafy but novelist and poet, poet and novelist?--but I find much that he says in accordance with my own thoughts or else fascinating to consider. Read the whole thing!

A particularly spiky bit:
I don’t know how people can still buy into this ridiculous, antiquated notion that the only really “literary” activity is writing fiction. I think the novel is over. It’s so clear to me that the novel is a genre that has reached its final stages, there’s nothing else to do, it’s all been done, the experiments, the this, the that. Naturally people will keep writing novels because it’s fun, and it’s a form you’re sentimental about. But you could certainly make an argument that the novel has now been eclipsed by the memoir as the pre-eminent form of literary self-expression just now—or certainly as eminent as the novel.

Here are my questions, pondering the idea that storytelling is not going away. I'm not all that well read in contemporary memoir and nonfiction, since I tend to write in three genres and try to read in each of those--I do, however, like to read essays. Feel free to answer while I go have a nice lie-down. Day 9 of the flu is proving a bit tiring.

  • Why is the memoir so "eminent" at the moment? Is it anything to do with the presence of characters and strong story? Is it anything to do with being presented with a character about whom we know much and for whom we come to care?
  • Is it anything to do with lack of alluring characters or story in some contemporary fiction?
  • Stock in Austen and Dickens is high; does that suggest anything about what people miss and seek, or is it simply a compliment to those authors?
  • Likewise, we have had many novels quarrying elements from older novels and retelling another side of an established story. As the Caterpillar inquired, "What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!" (One might answer with Alice's reply, "I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir, because I'm not myself....)
  • An awful lot of memoirs have been exposed after publication as lacking in truth in some way--then what's the difference between novel and memoir?
  • When memoir veers into fiction, are we just going straight back to one of the founders of the novel--toDeFoe and the blurry line he established in works like A Journal of the Plague Year and Moll Flanders (written "from her own memorandums")? 
  • Can memoirs avoid being fictional?
  • In other words, are a lot of memoirs really novels?
  • If we are going back to DeFoe in some sense, maybe it's time for the novel to go back to the beginning. Is faux memoir and the return to origins in some way helpful for the rebirth of the novel? Or its transformation?
  • Is some non-fiction partaking so deeply of the novel that "creative nonfiction" becomes just a name for a novel where you didn't make up events?
  • Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Thaliad giveaway

    sponsored by Elizabeth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing is now up at Goodreads here. For more information on Thaliad, click on the tab above or go to Phoenicia Publishing's Thaliad page here.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    Art and the path x 3

    SPAM Just when the Balrog spam guards were heartily sick of eating spam (and wearing Ugg boots), along comes dessert spam: effusive flattery that actually seems to have made a 60-second attempt to grasp the blog. Nom, nom! The Balrogs scoop it up with big spoons! In answer to the pressing question of what the Balrogs look like, I inform you that they do not look like the one in the movie but rather like one of the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. (Maurice Sendak, thank you for loving the world so intensely and being so full of vibrancy and grump!)

    Alert! Don't forget to pop down and answer the question in the prior post. Comments here and elsewhere have been helpful.

    Curious me-fact for the day:I have made it into the Wiktionary, it seems, with a word (and a number of lines) from The Throne of Psyche... I feel all sparkly. (Of course, that's probably just a new symptom of the myriad-minded viral Bug.)

    Triptych. Below you will find excerpts from two recent reads and a reread that seemed to fit together in a challenging fashion. All deal with the making of fiction, virtue, transformations of the world, and more. See what you think!

    The novel that reinvented fiction - John Banville

    In Portrait of a Novel Michael Gorra has written a ringing affirmation of the power of fiction to explore and represent consciousness. It can be argued that the novel after James took a wrong turn and lost itself in the playground of the avant garde. What James was offering was a way forward from the bland smugness of the Victorian novel into a grown-up world in which fictional characters face squarely the difficulties of actual life, and by their example encourage us to do the same.

    That way is wide and is still open to the novel; the journey awaits. Henry James knew the rigours facing the traveller along that path, knew the pitfalls that threaten and the gloom that pervades, yet he went on undaunted. As Dencombe, the novelist hero of James’s great story The Middle Years, puts it: “We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

    Once Upon a Time, There Was a Person Who Said, "Once Upon a Time" - Steve Almond

    Ten years later, I continue to receive stories long on vivid camera work and short on coherence. These manuscripts all lack the same thing: an effective narrator.

    Initially, I attributed this pattern to the modern pedagogy of creative writing — specifically the sustained dogma against exposition, which finds its purest expression in the mantra “show, don’t tell.” My teaching years made it clear that students were also mimicking — consciously and unconsciously — the dazzling visual media of film and television.

    I have since come to believe that these manuscripts reflect a more fundamental cultural shift. In evolving from readers to viewers, we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us.

    The best introduction to the mountains - Gene Wolfe

    It need not be so. We might have a society in which the laws were few and just, simple, permanent, and familiar to everyone -- a society in which everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same changeless rules, and everyone knew what those rules were. When we had it, we would also have a society in which the lack of wealth was not reason for resentment but a spur to ambition, and in which wealth was not a cause for self-indulgence but a call to service. We had it once, and some time in this third millennium we shall have it again; and if we forget to thank John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for it when we get it, we will already have begun the slow and not always unpleasant return to Mordor. Freedom, love of neighbour, and personal responsibility are steep slopes; he could not climb them for us -- we must do that ourselves. But he has shown us the road and the reward.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    Requesting opinions--

    Poll-time! I have a question regarding Thaliad, as we get ready to do some newspaper pieces. Does calling a poem an epic put readers off? (I mean "general" readers, refined readers, middlebrow readers, any kind of readers! And if you don't know what Thaliad is, check out the tab above.) Does calling it a story in verse help, is it--oh, I don't know--friendlier, less of a barrier? (Is epic a dirty, four-letter word? I'd rather be epic than not, really, wouldn't you?)

    It has been suggested that the book be called something like a "post-apocalyptic tale orchestrated in verse." Is that a good idea, to emphasize that the poem is a story and quite readable? People do seem to be saying that they become immersed and don't "think about" the tale being a poem.

    If you have an opinion, strong or otherwise, please leave it in the comments. Or any crab-like, sideways thoughts.

    * * *

    Just for cheer and silliness and to combat my outrageous bug, here's my last night's response to John Coulthart's twitter-based Blavatsky limerick challenge (North American pronunciation of avadavats, mind, so that the line's anapestic: ah VAH dah vats):

    Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
    Liked to wear a wee Roosian cravatski
      As she danced the kalinker
      With two ghosts and a tinker
    And her Asian avadavats three.

    Feel free to add your own silliness. Quite a few failed attempts litter Twitter! Hal Duncan wrote a complete one, but last I looked, people prefer throwing their hands up in comic style. Blavatsky must be an end rhyme.

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Review, The Foliate Head and more

    Books editor Greg Langley of The Baton Rouge Advocate reviews three recent poetry books:

    Thomas Lynch's The Sin Eater,
    Kay Stripling Byer's Descent,
    and my The Foliate Head.

    Clip: "A rarity among poets today, Youmans writes in metered verse, sometimes rhyme. Her skill at mastering the forms is impressive."

    When I was a high school girl in Cullowhee, Kay worked with my mother at the Western Carolina University's Hunter Library, and we often talked about poetry and writing. So it is interesting to be bracketed with her this way...

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    "You can conquer anything"

    Dear FOREVER 21,

    I am a U. S. author of 11 books, and I am here to tell you that it is wrong to "borrow" work from independent artists. You have taken art work from a young artist, "moosekleenex" a.k.a. Kelly Bastow, without permission and without payment. I was brought up to call such things stealing, and I just imagine you were too.

    You do her and all independent artists a great disservice when you commit such acts (from what I see on the internet, this is not your first bout of pilferage) and thus encourage others to do likewise. I imagine that this sort of behavior will come back to harm your company if you continue such practices.
    Artists of all sorts depend on income from their work, which is protected by a little entity called copyright. You have broken and danced upon fair use and copyright in this case, which makes me wonder if it is a favorite mode of your company. I hope not.

    I wish you well--that is, I wish you honest, and I wish you fair. I look forward to your reply and your assurance that you will make amends to Ms. Bastow.

    But is this your best possible, most productive business practice? I have a small suggestion.

    You know, I'd be happy to buy my daughter--a fan of Ms. Bastow and likewise a young artist--such a tee if Kelly Bastow received a part of the proceeds. Wouldn't it be interesting if you actually paid people for their work and also linked to their Tumblr logs, Etsy shops, and so forth? I think that could only make the tee more desirable, interesting, and collectible because it would then have a human connection and a story that mattered.

    Marly Youmans

    Here is yet another example of a business abusing the freedom of the internet to take from independent artists. If you would like to write a letter to Forever 21, you may write them at their customer service page here, as well as on social media. I hope that soon we may write to congratulate them on their good business practices. Unfortunately, you may find more than one complaint against them on the internet. Their designer knockoffs 
    have been discussed at length. For a similar case, look at the design pilfered from Jon Contino.

    Only yesterday a British poet was in the news for plagiarizing an award-winning poem; he won another award for it! M. B. Whitaker had reams of poems lifted to fill another person's blog. Etcetera. We must not strip independent artists of their work, disheartening and abusing them. Unless an artist chooses to give up copyright for a work and place it in the public domain, such use is wrong.

    If you would like to support and encourage illustrator Kelly Bastow, you may visit her Tumblr log, her Etsy shop, her website, or her DeviantArt site.

    Art and time

    Favorite facebook response to the prior post, dealing with time and merit:

    Ashley Cooper A lot of times the good art that comes quickly and suddenly is actually a result of countless hours spent on works that were less successful.

    It's possible to say that any particular work is a kind of culmination (even if it is a rejection) of the hours spent making art. Often there are deep roots in the ground long before any special flowering appears. To see more of Ashley Norwood Cooper's work, go here or click on her name in the labels below.

    Note: I'm on the sick list but will be back with review info tomorrow.

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

    The Fair Unfair

    Yesterday I read Damien Walter's essay in the Guardian about the "attention economy." This sense that time is now the desired currency in short supply, and that leisure has decreased (while new techno-pleasures have taken over leisure time) is one that seems to be cropping up in print lately. Damien's take on the situation is that writers should not be too hasty about rushing into print, lest they alienate readers with lesser work, and that years are better than months when it comes to books. The image of the writer who cranks out a good deal of rubbish in short order was clearly in Damien's mind when writing the article. And one has to say that he gives good advice.

    But life isn't fair, is it?

    And the merit of a book is simply not assured by the amount of time spent in writing it. This plain fact seems terribly unfair to many. Sometimes there seems to be almost no connection between time spent and merit--books go unloved that represent a decade of daily labor, while others tossed off with careless grace are remembered.

    Samuel Johnson wrote The History of Rasselas (1759) in a week (I was told a weekend in school, but I looked it up to make sure, and perhaps-reliable Wiki says a week) to pay for his mother's expected funeral expenses. The book is still in print, read, and studied. You may read about "The Prince of Abissinia" on Kindle, or as a brand new Penguin paperback, or one from Oxford or Dover or some other press. (In doing so, you join a great many fictional characters who have thought the book worth a read; Wiki lists them here. Why not aspire to be like Jo March and Fanny Price and many another fictional character in this way?)

    A mere week...

    Ease. Grace. Water pouring from the fountain. Unfair! Fair.

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    Mary Boxley Bullington

    Portrait of moi by my college friend, painter Mary Boxley Bullington, requested by poet and teacher Robbi Nester, also a college friend. We were all aspiring young poets together and all still write poems, all these years later.

    Mary taught Medieval Literature in her post-schooling life but has been surviving for many years now as a painter and collagist working with painted papers. As many of you know, that's quite a trick. She lives in a jolly, bright Roanoke bungalow and shows her work at galleries and events in the Southeast, and you can even visit her at home during the annual Roanoke studio tours and during her Christmas open house. So if you're traveling along the 81 corridor or live in Roanoke, you might check out her schedule! A number of my painter friends in North Carolina and New York have said they want to meet her; you might too. Just be sure and take home a painting, large or small... They're great fun as life companions, those pictures.

    Mary is an exuberant, wonderfully vigorous painter and collagist. I think she may have the messiest studios that I have ever seen; they are as rich and layered and full of interest as her collages. She is among those friends of mine who are genuine characters--who possess gen-u-ine character! You may see her blog here, but to see a rich world of new characters, her facebook photo pages are the thing: here. (And if you have a time-frittering desire to see a great many often very silly comments on the little portrait, go to here... Some may be "hidden," but many will show.)

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    Most questions answered, no. 3

    Here's another question from those left at the "Huswifery" post and elsewhere: Why The Palace at 2:00 a.m., when your two books of children's fantasy refuse all European tropes and focus on the American South?

    I conceive of The Palace at 2:00 a.m. as a secret nook in time, its name inspired from the work of Giacometti, who told of "a period of six months passed in the presence of a woman who, concentrating all ife in herself, transported my every moment into a state of enchantment. We constructed a fantastical palace in the night--a very fragile palace of matches. At the least false movement a whole section would collapse. We always began it again." According to the MOMA page on The Palace at 4:00 a.m., Giacometti told Breton that he could not make anything that did not "have something to do with her." His sculpture, The Palace at 4:00 a.m., reflects the power of a woman who can enchant the world.

    So why? Here is a little bundle of matchsticks to say why:

    This work meant a great deal to me when I was about 17 or 18, and when I go to MOMA, I pay it a visit. Unlike many things loved at a much earlier age, The Palace at 4:00 a.m. still rewards me.

    I like the idea of a palace made out of matchsticks, ruled by some Beggar Queen. I could have named the blog Matchstick Palace. Perhaps that is its real, secret name. Or perhaps I would never share its secret name, and that one is a nickname!

    As mother of three children, I have had to do a great deal of my writing in the small hours and later. The Wolf Pit was written entirely in the night. I stayed up until sometime between 1:00-4:00 a.m., and rose with my children at 7:00. I do not recommend it as a way of life unless one is mad to accomplish something you cannot do in the day. At 7:00 one feels electrocuted and shaken and unpleasantly otherworldly.

    Writing at its best feels like being overtaken by another power--like reaching a place where time and place are abolished and another spirit floods in. The Giacometti piece has an odd stance that seems to partake of stepping out of normal time and space.

    I have long been friends with visual artists who love words, and they have often been the people who gave me the kind of friendship in the arts that inspires, so this homage is a little nod to how important those friendships have been to me.

    2:00 a.m.? I needed to move the artwork, move house, make my own place. Mine is full of characters like the Pot Boy, and it is not so still (though can be uncanny) but likes a river's rush and the power of sweep and movement.

    Because the Giacometti piece belongs under the sign of love, and nothing is worthy that is made without love.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2013

    "Glorying in the language and the hope"

    You may find a post at Elizabeth Adams's Phoenicia Publishing commenting on the review of Thaliad by poet Rachel Barenblat, aka Velveteen Rabbi, here. The full review can be found at Velveteen Rabbi.

    In our era when poetry books often go without a greeting from the world, I am especially grateful for Rachel Barenblat's time and care in penning (or keyboarding!) a strong and lovely review.

    Here is a clip:

    The epic poem form is not an easy one, and in lesser hands this audacious project would have failed...but Marly makes it work. The subject matter, postapocalyptic survival, is grand enough to merit the form she's chosen -- and the children's journey is told with deep sentiment but no cloying sentimentality. This is a beautiful and powerful book -- worth owning, worth reading and rereading. I am so glad that it exists in the world and that I can turn to it, time and again, glorying in the language and the hope:
    The promise harvest years would be ahead,
    For conifers and oaks, the hickories
    And walnuts, spruces, pines were blossoming
    And clouding air with fertile shining silt
    That somersaulted in a beam of sun,
    That changed the spiderwebs to something rich,
    That kissed the surfaces of Glimmerglass
    And turned its scalloped border into gold,
    That moved across the air as if alive,
    The landscape's bright epithalamion,
    The simple golden wedding of the world.

    "Except the heart"

    rereading Jung's Man and His Symbols (1964): 
    Aniela Jaffe, "Symbolism in the Visual Arts"

    Man and His Symbols approaches its 50th birthday... Rereading pieces of the book, I am struck by how pertinent some of its efforts to reconcile the past and Modernism still appear, as well as how well Jaffe's comments on visual arts apply to all the arts--as Chagall suggests when he says "painting, like all poetry."
    Jaffe:  Chagall's quest in his work is also a "mysterious and lonely poetry" and "the ghostly aspect of things that only rare individuals may see." But Chagall's rich symbolism is rooted in the piety of Eastern Jewish Hassidism and in a warm feeling for life. He was faced with neither the problem of the void nor the death of God. He wrote: "Everything may change in our demoralized world except the heart, man's love, and his striving to know the divine. Painting, like all poetry, has its part in the divine; people feel this today just as much as they used to."
       The British author Sir Herbert Read once wrote of Chagall that he never quite crossed the threshold into the unconscious, but "has always kept one foot on the earth that had nourished him." This is exactly the "right" relation to the unconscious. 
    The French painter Alfred Manessier defined the aims of his art in these words: "What we have to reconquer is the weight of lost reality. We must make for ourselves a new heart, a new spirit, a new soul, in the measure of man. The painter's true reality lies neither in abstraction nor in realism, but in the reconquest of his weight as a human being."
    Jean Bazaine: "...A form that can reconcile man with his world is an 'art of communion' by which man, at any moment, can recognize his own unformed countenance in the world."
    Jaffe: What in fact artists now have at heart is a conscious reunion of their own inward reality with the reality of the world or of nature; or, in the last resort, a new union of body and soul, matter and spirit. That is their way to the "reconquest of their weight as human beings." Only now is the great rift that set in with modern art (between "great abstraction" and "great realism") being made conscious and on the way to being healed.
    Jaffe: And yet it seems important that the suggestion of a more whole, and therefore more human, form of expression should have become visible in our time.
    Tomorrow's post: Most questions answered no. 3: about Giacometti's The Palace at 4:00 a.m. and the title of this blog. Secrets revealed!

    Monday, January 07, 2013

    Mezzo Cammin, again--

    Six poems of mine are up at Mezzo Cammin, edited by poet Kim Bridgford. Below find a taste, the first three lines of each. Three of the six poems will be in The Book of the Red King, some day.

    If you would like to read more of my poems, check the contributors' notes--mine has links to other poems in earlier issues. Recent in-print poetry books of mine are: Thaliad (just out, a post-apocalyptic epic in blank verse from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal, with wonderful art from Clive Hicks-Jenkins); The Foliate Head (a 2012 collection of poems from Stanza Press in the UK, also with art--green men!--from Clive); and The Throne of Psyche (a 2011 collection from Mercer University Press.) See tabs above for more about each--available worldwide in hardcover, as well as paperback for two of the books.

    Little Epithalamium

    As soul and body join,
    As God was born in flesh,
    As Psyche married Love,


    In glittering clouds of snow the Red King sits
    And meditates, and the word LOVE is all
    His mantra:  L’s the scoop that hurls his thoughts

    The Bloodroot Fool

    And nectarless,
    Blown from another world,

    Great Work of Time
    The Alchemist to the Fool

    This you must know:
                                         the world is a bright glass,
    Reflecting all the universe

    Spring in Fall                      

    World new-washed with a raindrop on the tip
    Of every yellow leaf, strung and hung
    For miles into the distance . . . all dew and new,

    The Sheaf of Wheat

    Subtle, suffused light in the sheaf of grain
    Is pale gold that’s almost silver,
    Like, in a certain leaning light, the rain,

    Sunday, January 06, 2013

    Saline tributes welcome

    It is Sunday, and I am feeling pleased, satisfied, and downright merry that a goodly number of readers have reported crying over Thaliad. Trala! I'm very fond of both laughter (with not at) and tears in readers, and think it a grand privilege to inspire them.

    Saturday, January 05, 2013

    "All things fall and are built again"

    Anyone who chases the muse with energy ends up on a narrow, solitary path. Long ago, I slowly grew to understand that I was opposed to a good deal in contemporary work and the realm of the avant-garde. Then a clearer sense of what I desired to do emerged, in part from rejection of certain books and choices; in that I was no different from any other writer.

    My little row of books stands in peaceful opposition to an arts culture that has--in my opinion--embraced quite a few false gods of late. These idols include: a clinging to the ever-diminishing returns of Modernism, once forceful and alive; money as the prime measure of artistic success; decadent, feeble content, often deliberately destructive and scornful of past folk and fairy tales and literary heritage; nihilism; irony; personal navel inspection; popularity as more important than achievement; the stripping-away of vital subject matter and soul; a kind of fascinating tedium; an insistence on so-called "progress" in art, as though art meant merely the advancement of factual knowledge; the radical breakage and abolition of traditional forms; groupthink; the replacement of art and thoughtfulness by relentless entertainment.

    Are false culture-gods new?  No, though I think we may have a few extra packed in our bags.

    This morning I read Robert Merry's article, "Spengler's Ominous Prophecy." I recall seeing The Decline of the West in my academic father's office when I was child, but have never read Spengler. I found Merry's summation and analysis interesting, in light of our current military forays around the world and domestic events at home, and for what it says about the arts and the flowering and fall of cultures. It is well worth a little rumination, though one may not agree with his conclusions.

    My response was mixed; Spengler is inspiring on spatial and mathematical issues and how they relate to a given culture and result in certain kind of architecture, stance, etc. In fact, his ideas about the unity of ideas in a culture fascinate. Was he a pessimistic sort, a melancholic, though? He certainly sees no avenue for escape from his wheels of fate. And as a mother of three children and a writer, I am one small argument against his ideas about the modern "Ibsen woman." His healthy culture seems to be populated entirely by figures like Cather's Antonia, robust peasantry with many children. I rather doubt that his larger argument is built entirely on rock--do we not know a great deal more about the civilizations he studied a century ago? How does new knowledge shake his argument?

    As a thinker, he is as mythic as Yeats in his view of history, and as Romantic. His refusal to be sad about what he sees as inevitable decay also reminded me of Yeats and his gyres and his bold world-rebuilders. I found it curious to look through Spengler's Romantic time-telescope. Do I believe him? Sad as I am about some recent world and national events, I have a mustard seed of faith in renewal and rebirth and grace and so identify with the phoenix.

    We have yet our beautiful liberty to act.

    Artists are likewise, and must preserve their freedom to go a singular way. All quests involve a choice and have a price that must be paid. All things worth doing involve phoenix-like rebirth. And "All things fall and are built again," as Yeats wrote.

    Here's a Merry-sample:
    The passion for creative expression and new strains of culture knowledge runs on for centuries, generally a thousand years or more unless interrupted by external forces. But eventually it peters out. Then begins that civilizational phase, characterized by the deterioration of the folk traditions and innocent enthusiasms of the culture. Its cultural essence, once of the soil and spread throughout the “mother-region” in town, village and city, now becomes the domain of a few rich and powerful “world-cities,” which twist and distort the concepts of old and replace them with cynicism, cosmopolitanism, irony and a money culture.  
    Thus, Spengler draws a sharp distinction between culture and civilization. The former is the phase of creative energy, the “soul” of the countryside; the latter is a time of material preoccupation, the “intellect” of the city. As Hughes elaborates, “So long as the culture phase lasts, the leading figures in a society manifest a sure sense of artistic ‘style’ and personal ‘form.’ Indeed, the breakdown of style and form most clearly marks the transition from culture to civilization.”

    Friday, January 04, 2013

    Most questions answered, no. 2

    More answers to the series of questions left at the "Huswifery" post from a few days ago...

    The Return of the Pot Boy,
    who has received the following question:

    DAVID R. said... Dear Potty [sic] Boy--I wash my dishes in a sink and use the standard drying apparatus. Now, why is there always gunk accumulating in the bottom of the utensil drying bin though I just washed the pieces?
    Note from Marly: As David R. is part of a lively group of fb-teasers, I hope he will not take it amiss that the Pot Boy teases him in return...

               Dear David R.,

    Have you never darkened the door of a church, temple, lovely fane of columnar trees in the woods to learn about this matter of dust? Judging by your impertinent address to me, I fear not, and detect that the courtesy of the South has been (woe!) lost on you. Still, some wholesome truths may set you, if not right, then a little less askew--rumors of your shenanigans have reached even The Scullery. Dust thou art, man, and to dust thou wilt return! (Not singling out you in particular, mind, but still....)

    The world is faintly silted over with this fine matter, dust, and even the water from your (possibly execrable--look to it, man!) faucet contains dust (as does even the very whitest snow.) Your clean dishes are not so clean but dripping with wetted dust and minerals and possibly, from what I have heard of you, lemur and cat dander.

    Moreover, your feeble efforts to cleanse the world of dirt and dust only make the situation in your Standard Drying Apparatus more dire. Soap, dear man, soap makes gunk. I myself prefer an un-standard apparatus made of wire as being less of a soap collector, although metal is hazardous to fine china and glassware--there's nothing like a dish towel or mat for those.

    Lastly, the issue of drying: do you put forth your manly effort to dry these dishes, or do you let them dripdribbledrip into your Standard Drying Apparatus? I contend that such dripdribbledrip fecklessness is responsible for much of the gunk in the world and Apparati. Blot out that soapy, dirty water with a clean absorbent cloth, David R. The world and your dinner guests (cats, Loretta the Lemur, facebook friends) will thank you, or at least will not leave in disgust, making strangled outcries.

    Yours, from the Scullery--
    The Pot Boy

    P. S. Kindly ascertain that the above absorbent cloth is not marred by cat fur.

    P. P. S. For a review of what sorts of questions I answer in my role as P.A.C., please refer to this page.

    P. P. P. S. To return your Standard Drying Apparatus to its pristine state, perhaps a good soak of the noxious article in chlorox--perhaps even a judicious application of Lime Away or some other mineral remover?

    Most questions answered, no. 1

    Paul Digby said... 
    I'd like to see a post that discussed how your approach to writing might differ if there were no such things as publishing houses and ebooks and the like. How would you write for hand-bound limited edition stuff (as though 'literature' were no longer published or read). 

    Would there be changes to your approach? Would there be differences in the way you completed work if there were never any deadlines. 

    In other words - How would you write if your work were purely for your own joy, and that of those you know? The same?

    And then I'd like to know what on earth David R is doing here and how did he slip through your very thorough screenings?

    If no longer read at all, there would be no need for me, but since you ask about "hand-bound limited edition stuff," I suspect you mean exactly that. The answer is that I'm already pretty close. I broke up (sweetly, mind you) with my second agent and have depended entirely on requests for my work for publication ever since.

    This method does not smack of "savvy" behavior, but it pleases me, in all but matters of distribution and wider sales--please go and buy some more copies of my books and give them out on the street corner! Better and easier, just assist Lady Word of Mouth in her much-needed work of sending out little messages when you like my books.

    All this change means that I have been publishing with some of the houses who asked me to submit because they liked my writing. It has been a great relief to me to find that publishers and presses do ask for work, and that I don't have to go hunting for a publisher (though I may hunt for one for a children's book eventually.)

    I have lately published with a range of these publishers: university press (as, my 2012 novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, and my 2011 collection of poetry, The Throne of Psyche); houses that knew me well through prior requests for my work for their anthologies (novel Val/Orson and collection The Foliate Head); and small press (Thaliad, where the publisher knew an excerpt before asking for the whole poem.) Several of those publications were labors of love by artist and designer and writer in a way that approaches the hand-bound aesthetic. Three of the books appeared as limited editions in hardcover. (See tabs above to read more about any of them.)

    Deadlines aren't usually much of an issue because I appear to be what's considered fast in the world of writers, though I am slowed down by other commitments at times (my three children, the NBA judging stint, etc.) To me, the way I work does not seem fast and is often punctuated by times empty of writing . . . But I can say that if it took me 14 years to complete a book, I would not bother. It's really unfair, isn't it, how time spent and years of labor don't always help and do not mean some greater virtue in the work?

    I do write for my own joy and can't say that there's another way for me with poetry and for many passages of fiction. Nonfiction and blogs are not that way but have an interest of their own. Fiction demands workmanlike bridges and ladders that are sometimes less than joyful, of course. Re-writing and tinkering are oddly satisfying. My joy comes from playing with language and also from the splendor of a flooding pleasure that comes with bringing something out of nothing--the influx of creative spirit, delicious and vital.

    In the end, I look at all this in a simple manner. I have a gift that I did nothing to earn. What matters is what I do with the gift, and that I turn it into further gifts to go out into the world and live. For me, it feels magical and like a return gift that out there in the world, somebody is reading my words and so completing a story or poem.

    P. S. I almost forgot that important matter of David R and the ongoing facebook tilts and tourneys and occasional friendly wars. The Balrogs have become very fat on spam and do not guard the gates any longer but lie around burping extravagantly (the borborygme!) and letting out tiny moans. Feel free to pop over and let out a lusty You shall not pass! when David R wanders by with his pack of cats and lemur.

    Tuesday, January 01, 2013

    Salmagundi for the New Year


    Thanks to Beth Adams (editor, publisher, writer, artist!) of The Cassandra Pages for listing a novel of mine among her favorites of 2012: "Particular standouts written by friends included Marly Youmans' evocative and poignant novel of an orphan boy-turned-hobo in the depression-era South, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. The whole list and discussion is worth a look.


    Val/Orson appeared in several hardcover editions, one of which was quite limited and rather expensive. That one, the jacketed hardcover, is still in print. Originally priced at £24.99, the remaining copies are now on sale at £7.99. It was, by the by, editor John Wilson's Book of the Year at Books and Culture Magazine.


    Stauffer:  "Yeats believed in courage. His commitment to life was as unequivocal as it can ever be in a poet. there was no room in his living for world-weariness, and everyone has noted the miraculously increasing youth and vigor in his writings as he grew older. It is as if life for him were a heady drink, and long quaffing could only increase the frenzy and the Dionysian affirmation." The Golden Nightingale, p. 18.

    "Poetry delights us as a manifestation of energy." p. 81


    For those craving the apocalyptic: Thaliad in all its frabjous beauty, with art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and design by Beth Adams. Paperback and limited edition paperback links summed up here.


    This year has got to be the year to banish the horrid view of book as product. Stacks of boxes of Brillo pads. Even painted Warholian stacks of Brillo boxes. Enough!


    "Like the bees, [the artists] must put their lives into the sting they give." -Emerson


    George Herbert: "Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along."