Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Light twice: on Thaliad


Writer Jeff Sypeck friended me yesterday in the curious realm of Twitter, and today I find a lovely, long post about Thaliad on his blog, Quid plura? Here's a slice from the introduction:
But if we [Americans] don’t currently have an epic, the people who will live here someday may. That’s the premise of Marly Youmans’ eerie and beautiful Thaliad, a 24-book poem about seven children who survive a fiery apocalypse—and how one of them becomes the founding matriarch of a lakeside tribe in upstate New York.

Recounted 67 years later by Emma, a teenaged librarian who roves the wastes with sword and gun in search of unrescued books, the Thaliad fuses several out-of-vogue elements—formalist verse, narrative poetry, classical epic—to a familiar science-fiction trope. What grows from this grafting is a weird, fresh, magical thing: the story of a new world rooted in the ingenuity and optimism of ”one who / Was ordinary as a stone or stem / Until the fire came and called her name.”
Please have a read, as Jeff Sypeck sees the book clearly and has fine things to say, concluding:
If they’re willing to take a chance, fantasy and science-fiction fans and even the “young adult” crowd might all find much to love here. The Thaliad is rare proof that verse need not be difficult or obscure—and that even now, narrative poetry can still leave readers, like Thalian children eyeing strangers in their orchard, “[e]nchanted into stillness by surprise.”
As there are a great many writers in the world, and I am busy with a great many things (three children and so on) other than books, I somehow have missed the wisdom of Jeff Sypeck until now! He is the author of Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A. D. 800, the new Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles, and a translation of a Middle Scots poem, The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier. Doesn't that sound like a fascinating mix? And his bog seems full of intriguing posts. I am infinitely grateful to him for writing about Thaliad.


Clive Hicks-Jenkins, the artist who decked Thaliad in her fabulous artwear, has gathered up some facebook comments from novelist-illustrator-graphic-novelist James A. Owen and made them into a post at his Artlog. They focus on Thaliad, and I would never have been so bold and cheeky as to gather them and share, but I am glad that he did. James Owen had some spectacular things to say about the book. See the comments at the Artlog.


  1. This:

    "If they’re willing to take a chance, fantasy and science-fiction fans and even the “young adult” crowd might all find much to love here. The Thaliad is rare proof that verse need not be difficult or obscure..."

    Is what your publicist (or you) needs to email/snail mail out selectively to "big publication" reviewers with a gratis review copy, along with a two paragraph summary of the plot (as horrifyingly impossible as it would be to summarize the work).

    Great stuff.


  2. I'm running off to a class that I'm taking but shall definitely be thinking about what to do, O great advisor! Thank you.

  3. I don't know about "wisdom," but yesterday I heard that my post about Thaliad convinced two friends to buy the book, so I suppose that's something. I don't hold much influence in the world, but I'm eager to champion the book to whatever extent I can. Looking forward to it, in fact.

  4. Jeff,

    Just home and about to tumble into dreamland but glad to see you here! Thank you for that generous, thoughtful piece on "Thaliad."

    And two is good. Spreading an adventure in verse is a sort of "bird by bird" activity, it seems...

    By the by, my mother--a strict judge on matters of the book, being a longtime university librarian--enjoyed your post and then read about your books and pronounced them most intriguing.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.