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Thursday, October 31, 2013

In-print books at Scribd: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage; Thaliad; The Foliate Head; and The Throne of Psyche. Please peek. (For reviews, see tabs above.)

Hodgepodge for All Hallows Eve

Orson Welles, Agnes Moorhead, and Dracula

Gorey Stoker: Here's a little addition to Dracula. Edward Gorey illustrates Bram Stoker's Dracula here. Hat tip to Rebecca Beatrice Miller.

And here's a little addition to the broken, monstrous, death-shadowed world we remember on All Hallows Eve from A Death at the White Camellia OrphanagePip in the broken world...

He wanted to veer and flounder away, lurching through the over-heated atmosphere.  But he could not leave Otto—what was left of him—under the white rectangle that could not protect a body from the prying bees and hummingbirds or the hands of strangers.  When he felt better, he would be able to sense whether his brother's ghost hovered in the air, rested in the dead arms, or was jailed and swooning in the perfume of the hedge.  Mr. Willie’s question came back to him as if in echo.
            Yes, he suspected someone.  Who would do such a thing.  Yes, he feared their guilt.  Could see it shining, cracked and loony, in eyes.  
            “Speak up, boy,” Mr. Willie said testily.  He swung around to hawk and spit, and Pip saw blotches of perspiration on his shirt. 
            Oh, for the day a day ago, with his gaze sliding over a man’s shoulder, resting on his nose like the metal bridge to a pair of glasses, lighting on a mole below a cheekbone.  Those hours were swallowed up.  From now on, he would have to look everywhere and always until he found out what he needed to know.  He would be scalded in the hog-barrels and boiling kettles of men’s eyes.  He would have to learn to read the terrible enigma of their masks.  It was difficult; its mystery might take a lifetime to master unless he already knew all that there was to know—for now, all he grasped was that men were confessing some guilty secret.  He could see it shining out of sweat-slick features, out of irises that crisped his skin.  They were each found wanting.  As the preacher had shouted to them on Sunday, “We are every last one fallen short of the glory of God.  Every one! All fallen away from that righteousness!”  They were lacking:  Mr. Jimmie, Mr. Sam, the man with the gun, the man’s companion, and the purely foolish one.  Somehow they were bound up with the killing of his brother; he was sure of it, as sure as if he had seen the act.  And now he knew that wherever he went for the rest of his life, he would see a kind of burning in the faces of men and that until the day he died, he would never be able to look away from their eyes or from their secret knowledge.

All Hallows Eve / All Saints Day

Behold an image that combines the over-the-top creepiness of All Hallows Eve with the hallowed nature of the day--St. Benedictus from Paul Koudounaris' book, Heavenly Bodies. 

Murnau and a little Halloween soup

Glass half empty, glass half full--

The good news...

67% of high school grads do read another book. And that's a hopeful thing.

58% of college grads do read at least one more book. Some read lots!

43% of books are finished. (Confession: I don't think that's so bad. The older I get, the more demanding I am. At 35, I threw away my first hardcover. In the garbage. Didn't want it to pollute another mind. I very frequently quit novels and books of poetry. Life is short. My wish for a good book is long. And no book is right for every reader, it seems.)

30% of U. S. adults have been inside a bookstore in the last five years. And that's a lot of people.

20% of families bought or read at least one book last year. Some bought many more than one!

And the last two lines stand blessedly unchanged.

When has it ever been that more than a minority of people wanted a life of books? Go back far enough and our ancestors didn't even have any, though no doubt they told stories. Everybody does, even now. Books seem to be an acquired passion. (We may do our best to pass on a love of them, but often it doesn't take, or we do it the wrong way, as when a school prevents boys from moving around and having recess and then plunks a book in their hands and drones on about it.)

Hat tip to Flyleaf Books of Chapel Hill, now on tumblr. Me too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A fire was in my head--

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for The Foliate Head, poetry from
UK: Stanza Press, 2012
Listening to Mike Scott and the Waterboys and An Appointment with Mr. Yeats after writing the opening chapter--the warning chapter--to a very odd story...

Looks as if it might be described as a cross between two very different forms, one being a novel and the other being . . . eh, later!

I didn't mean to start anything new in fiction until I had finished going over The Book of the Red King poems and fooled with my out-in-2015 novel a bit more. I had the idea of changing the ending, even though it has been on the publisher's desk for a long time. And I wanted to tinker with the children's novel that has been lying around for entirely too long.

And I certainly didn't want to begin anything in prose until after I visited classes at Wofford College in South Carolina and did a reading at Hub City in November.

But perhaps I have fallen into something new after all. Or perhaps it will wander away . . . And that's all I shall say because you know (if you don't know, see left column) I AM SECRET.

"Come away, come away!"

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Zinn Brilliant Ornaments: Cooperstown artisans at work

Header from the new facebook page,
call 1-607-547-1900

At this time of year, Bill and Janet Rigby make and sell reflector ornaments crafted with 1880 hand-carved molds. Their 42 molds passed from the carver, Gustav A. Mayer, to his daughters, and then to Bill and Janet. It's wonderful to visit them in the cellar level of their beautifully restored Victorian house and see the ornaments--stags and fish and wonderful little suns and stars and more--at various stages of completion, moving from the tin bath to final painting. The ornaments are sold at regional fairs, at the showroom in Cooperstown, and in New York City. Watch the facebook page for news or contact Bill and Janet there. 

If you visit Cooperstown during the ornament season, they're interesting people to meet. Bill is also the owner of American Historic Hardware, and Janet has a wealth of craftswoman's talents.

Here's a little film about the business made by Rebecca Beatrice Miller:

from Mayer's catalogue of reflectors

Wreath adorned with small ornaments

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Rrrrrandom Rrroundup

Thank you 

to Clive for a fresh post on Thaliad.

Not a bit surprised

Ted and Sylvia invoke spirits:

"Mention Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the average poetry fan, and the first thing that comes to mind (other than the poetry, of course) is likely to be images of doomed romance, suicide, or love gone sour. Less well known are the pair’s experiments with the Ouija board. According to Hughes, in a note to his wife’s poem, Ouija, Plath “occasionally amused herself, with one or two others, by holding her finger on an upturned glass, in a ring of letters laid out on a smooth table, and questioning the ‘spirits’.”

The article goes on to talk about other interesting things such as Coleridge and the anima mundi....

Scott G. F. Bailey is baffled at Six Words for a Hat 

"I pause yet again to consider the state of American publishing. I confess myself baffled by it. It's rare when a new novel comes out that excites me, and when I look at the catalogues of independent presses I feel a definite estrangement from the books they're putting out. Everyone claims to be transgressive or experimental, but to me it's just a lot of formal gameplaying to hide, I strongly suspect, some pretty pedestrian ideas and inelegant writing. One is not supposed to say that aloud, if one is a writer, but there it is. I am aware that every novelist who can't get a book deal says the same thing. I am unable to critically evaluate my own novels, of course, as every novelist is unable to critically evaluate his own novels. So I can't even claim, honestly, that I write good books. I can only claim that I write books, that I have written eight of them. The most recent book I've written is called, for now, The Hanging Man, and I wrote the final sentence of the first draft around 1:00 PM, PST, today."

@tedgioia tweets

"I was especially impressed by [the late Arthur] Danto's claim that the future of art wouldn't be the pursuit of 'progress' but a return to serving human needs."

Dear journalists,

And yet another thing you're neglecting...

Could we spend slightly less time on the latest fracas du jour and a little more time on the plight of the honey bee? You gave the bee its moment and then moved on. We really need those little gold-dusted creatures. (Sylvia, bee poet, you should have stuck around and helped the honey bee!)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Glimmerglass and Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive's first preparatory studies for the cover of my novel Glimmerglass are, as ever, fascinating and lovely. He is planning on a Tree of Life for the cover, with lots of flora and fauna. The minotaur will be on the back with some more vegetation circling a panel for the blurbs.

The jacket/cover will be just as beautiful as the those for my Thaliad and The Foliate Head, and the book will also contain some interior art, just as those did. (This will be our fifth jacket/cover, as The Throne of Psyche uses a detail from one of his paintings for the cover, and Clive made a gorgeous painting for Val/Orson. The latter was a limited edition and is now sold out.) For links to and images of our work together, see tabs above.

Progress so far:
First images and thoughts on the cover.
First color.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Amusing my muse--

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, interior art for Thaliad
Update: Oops! Full Inverarity review is here. Thanks to Beth for alerting me on facebook. Also, thanks to painter and poet Mary Boxley Bullington for adding a Thaliad reader review to the wonderful reviews at Amazon.

* * *

I was pleased to learn of Inverarity's just-up review of Thaliad. Not because it's a shiny, stellar review--which it is--but because Inverarity made me laugh with pleasure at my choices and my muse!

I won't quote from the part that made me laugh, as it's more fun to read in context. But here is the conclusion, also amusing:
Verdict: I loved this. Who the hell writes a post-apocalyptic YA novella in blank verse? Obviously, someone inspired by a non-commercial muse. Thaliad is beautiful and touching and deserves a wider audience. Highly recommended!
But the whole thing is smart and funny and a useful read if you're considering whether to snare a Thaliad of your very own.
This is a brilliant and imaginative work. It's a writer stretching and doing something creative and different. And Youmans is poet enough to pull it off beautifully.
Like Midori Snyder's review, it looks at the book through a YA lens. I didn't intend the book for a YA audience alone, but if it finds both young people and grown-up readers of poetry, so much the better.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One month from today...

This is 59.
Photo: Rebecca Beatrice Miller, August 2013
One month from today, it will be the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I might not remember my tenth birthday were it not for that day when our teachers rolled in tall stands with big black and white televisions and let us watch the long parade of cars and Jackie Kennedy--who had three months earlier lost a newborn--not cowering in fear but crawling, reaching for pieces of her husband's head. No doubt there was an instant when her face was seen wearing the cross hairs of the sniper's rifle scope.

I grew and changed, remembering that president on every birthday, especially on the early ones when he was most remembered, and especially at 10-year increments when the day was noted more clearly. On November 22nd, it will be a half-century since that day in Dealey Plaza when a woman still grieving the loss of a child reached for scattered pieces of her husband's flesh and bone. Half a century. As everyone notices sooner or later, the mysterious substance of time goes by quickly.

And what of me? I will be sixty.

When I was the child who would have thought the me of today quite old, I was an obsessed reader. I read in the tub, on the toilet, in bed with hoarded flashlights, and under my desk at school, at least until I ran into Mr. Phil Brown in fifth grade, as he was determined to cure me of that practice! (He had a certain amount of luck, being both easy to look at and vigilant.) An early tragedy in my life helped make me passionate about falling into imagined worlds. Early on, people said that I would be a writer.

Although never very savvy about networking and marketing and such things--well, they weren't quite as possible as they are now in the net-lands--and often living in off-the-beaten-track places with few writers, I persisted on my winding path. And now here I am, almost sixty, with eleven books of poetry and fiction and more forthcoming. I'm still rather obscure (see the secret quotes in the left margin! I should have been collecting them), and perhaps that has been for the best; I don't know. For a while I taught but gave up my tenure because I felt that teaching took away from my writing, and that others could replace me as a teacher. I married and became the mother of two sons and a daughter, now ranging in age from 16 to 24. Over almost sixty years, good and bad has happened, some of each my own doing, some not. But I have been blessed and am thankful.

In the coming month I will be busy with running a household and with writing, my usual mode. I need to do some revisions on a couple of manuscripts. Then I'll be going to Wofford College, where Jeremy L. C. Jones is teaching A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage and Thaliad. I'll do a reading at Hub City Books. And I'll visit my mother before I go home. She is a kind of model for me of what getting older can mean. She volunteers for a day at the regional arboretum every week; she has always been a wonderful gardener. She also weaves on two looms, one a 4-harness and one an 8-harness, and makes beautiful shawls, scarves, and many other things. Not long ago I caught her saying something about delivering meals "to the old people." Clearly she was not one of them! She keeps up with friends from the university where she was head of serials in the library and is active in her church. I hope that I'll have the luck and grace to have coming years like hers, years without self-pity, years of giving and making, years to be thankful for.

But there's no doubt that sixty is a border crossing. Shall I do something special for my blog, I wonder? Certainly I'll do something to celebrate the day in the real world, although I haven't had time to think as yet! If you have a thought or a request for the blog, please leave a comment. And if you want to give me a present (some have threatened already), please just buy yourself or a friend a copy of one of my last four books, all still in print--The Throne of Psyche, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Thaliad, or The Foliate Head. The gift of a reader makes a writer glad.

Next year will bring Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.) The year after will see that pulpily-titled Texas story, Maze of Blood. Soon I will finish polishing The Book of the Red King and some fiction and a children's book. There's still a lot of work to do.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Beautiful things

A leaf from a commonplace book, on that interesting topic, beauty...

Hugh Nissenson:

One of the things that I felt I wanted to do as an artist was to expand the frontiers of my imagination as much as I could; to follow wherever my imaginative facility took me, and to create alternate worlds. I believe deeply that one of the reasons that we get a kick out of reading novels -- for that matter going to the movies -- is that it plunges us instantaneously into an alternate reality....

What is consistent in my work is thematic material. The themes remain the same, but the metaphors that objectify these themes have changed utterly over the years. My objective has been also, quite frankly, in addition to trying to evolve, to push the form of the novel in ways that are new -- and writers don't talk about it -- but I wanted to make beautiful things. I really feel compelled to make beautiful things, beautiful artifacts, out of my words.

Hawthorne, "The Artist of the Beautiful":

Thus it is that ideas, which grow up within the imagination and appear so lovely to it and of a value beyond whatever men call valuable, are exposed to be shattered and annihilated by contact with the practical. It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep his faith in himself while the incredulous world assails him with its utter disbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own sole disciple, both as respects his genius and the objects to which it is directed.

Isaac Bashevis Singer:

Favorite story in the Torah? Is there a single story in the Torah which is not beautiful? They all are. Absolutely all. The story of Sodom, or the story of Joseph and his brothers, and the story of Lot, and Jacob and Rachel, Isaac and Rebecca--it's all beauty.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Picnic in the rain, songs in the house--

James Krueger - read and listen and buy here

A picnic with many friends around a rural bonfire in the very lightest rain, not even pattering on the nearby pond, followed by a house concert with James Krueger . . . A lovely end to the day.

Extraordinary!  An extraordinarily talented writer with a real talent for poetic imagery.  Impressive poetic lines, beautiful and original.  Remarkable work!
- Judges’ Comments, Great American Song Contest
James’ poetry comes from a connection between the landscapes and the seasons of the northeast.  The emotion and spirit of James’ music is touching.
- Jay Ungar, noted American fiddler, composer and folklorist

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Triptych with artisans, art, and music

Hand of St. Valentin. Paul Koudounaris
If a common thread runs through this three-stranded post, it is that each of these things I find interesting this morning made me see something new and anew--the past and church history, a Frost poem so familiar that I couldn't imagine it being unfamiliar again, and the state of culture. In each case, I saw or heard through another, and enjoyed what I found for that reason.

1. Catacomb Saints

Photographs like this one by Paul Koudounaris are suddenly popping up around the web. I find them fascinating too, though they seem to be an excuse for many people to flog various dead horses of the past and church history, at least in comments on various sites. Go here for a reasonably respectful treatment of the "catacomb saints."

Koudounaris's new book is Heavenly Bodies. He claims "spectacular" as a descriptor in the subtitle, and that seems to be true from the many samples of photographs online. It's too bad that the book does not appear to have much apparatus to tell us about the photographs which, detached from their historical context and meaning, may well be seen as fabulous but freakish. Many artisans spent years laboring to decorate these bones, seeking to make them an image of the saints in glory . . .

"In 1578 the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs were discovered in Rome. The remains were given fictitious names and sent to Catholic churches and religious institutions in German-speaking Europe as relics of saints to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Reassembled by skilled artisans, encrusted with gold and jewels and richly dressed in fantastic costumes, the skeletons were displayed in elaborate public shrines as reminders of the spiritual treasures that awaited the faithful after death."

Last night I saw one of the images on Nathan Ballingrud's facebook page and had a sudden memory of an anecdote. A friend (who shall remain unnamed) was visiting an eastern European castle and allowed to take a peep into stone coffins down in the basement, including one of a recently-deceased aunt. I still remember an odd detail of her fine, detailed clothing. It would make a wonderful story...

2. Eric Whitacre making the over-exposed new

Here's the original version of Sleep from Whitacre's blog. The text was Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I love the way it estranges the text and makes it uncanny again. The Frost estate did not give permission for the use of the text, and so there is really only one version of the piece available, so far as I can tell. The Concordia Choir.

3. Gioia x 2

If you are interested in arts, music, culture-building, education, business-and-the-arts, or religion, take a look at the double interview with Ted and Dana Gioia:  The Arts: Agents of Change and Source of Enchantment. Here are a few clips to entice:

Ted Gioia: I am convinced that, if you have a vocation in life, you don’t choose it. It chooses you. The religious phrase we use to describe this process is the right one. You receive a calling, and the only proper thing you can do is respond to the calling.

Dana: The modern assumption that writers and artists are dreamy, impractical people is both odd and quite insulting to creative people. Sophocles was a general, Goethe a scientist and statesman. Shakespeare was the most successful entertainment entrepreneur of Renaissance England. 

Ted: . . . people are just as hungry for serious culture as they ever were, but are stymied by entertainment-driven media that refuse to give a platform to anything deep, challenging, or sophisticated. But let me make a prediction. Popular entertainment of the current sort will not satisfy this hunger.

Dana: Both jazz and poetry became too academic and intellectual. This is not unique to these two arts. It reflected the general isolation of the arts in our society. They have been relegated to small subcultures and cut off from the general audience that once supported them. That separation has hurt both the arts and the general culture. . . . We need to take responsibility for creating the culture we want to live in. That means to express our values—aesthetic as well as ethical—in our daily lives.

And a late addition--

Thanks to Stephen Roth for reviewing A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage at his blog and at Amazon! For more review clips, see the page tabs above. Evidently Stephen's first book will be out next year--congratulations to him!

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Who will come to the old man's rescue?"

Robert Frost before he became "the old man."
Have you seen this article by Ron Charles, giving glimpses of a story? Joyce Carol Oates is stirring up attention, attacking Robert Frost (and his poems) by the means of the cudgel of a story in the November Harper's. I have a few thoughts about this sort of enterprise, even before I see the full story, only partially available to non-subscribers.

Disclaimer: I have read many books by the writer, both poetry and fiction, and I have nothing against her as a person--never met her and am not suffering from any negative feelings toward her. In fact, I am the sort of person who rarely gets angry at people in real life, so I'm not too likely to have bad feelings about people I don't even know.
  • For me, it is wrong to take selective bits of a living or once-living person's life and write a story about them in order for the author to grind an axe. This portrayal feels too personal and too governed by the desire to mock and to debase for the author's own purposes. (Here I should admit that I have written one fictional piece based on--based on, not professing to be the truth--events associated with a once-living person. I wrote it because I was fascinated and intrigued and felt sympathy for how the man's nature clashed with his time and place. I did not use his name. It is forthcoming. I also used the Puritan figure of Edward Taylor as a minor figure in one of my novels and in a story, though only a tiny number of readers recognized him. I believe no axes were ground in any of those tales.) 
  • I happen to believe that it is always a mistake to write a story from a stance of lovelessness. It is probably a mistake to write anything or even say anything from that stance. "Love one another" is pretty good advice for human beings and hey, even for writers. What's the point of a character you despise and upon whom you visit no mercy?
  • Desire to transgress with the unwitting help of the dead seems to me . . . necrophiliac.
  • If you have no sympathy with Robert Frost's instinctual grasp of structure, sound, and metrical variation, fine. (In that case, I probably won't be thinking all that highly of your understanding of poetry, even if you have published a good deal of poetry, but you in turn won't be thinking highly of mine, so we come out even.)
  • Side note: Robert Frost has been out of fashion for a good long time--not that I give one little whit or hoot about fashion. Attacking him is both ostensibly transgressive (he's sexist! he's racist! etcetera) and yet weirdly easy. Let's topple somebody who's out of fashion! It's about like cow-tipping. Now Poe was brave when he attacked W. W. Lord, a poetry power in the realm at that time (and, oddly enough, once rector here at Christ Church in Cooperstown.) But attacking Frost is about like attacking Longfellow these days. (Both deserve not to be forgotten.) Here I note that Frost's attacker is given a Longfellow name, Evangeline. Longfellow's poem of the same name was enormously popular.
  • The fact is that Modernism stripped away many of the elements of poetry, not just sound and form, and that the richness and sentiment and color and abundance of a poet like Frost now look fairly strange to many of those who came after. That's okay. The thing we are now--post-post-post-Modernism or what have you--will also pass away (if it hasn't already) and look strange in its turn. People will wonder how so much of our poetry became so thin and drab and pedestrian and unpleasing to the ear. People will not wonder why we lost our audience.
  • There is no progress in poetry. There is only alternation and flux and the occasional achievement of beauty and power. To think that there is progress gives a person the strange idea that one might just be a better person and poet than an accomplished writer who lived in an earlier time. This is a false way to think. Because he lived long ago, Andrew Marvell is not less than, say, Mary Oliver. As a writer, he might even be better. I don't care about whether he's better or not better in any other way. It's not my business or my interest.
  • People who lived in the past are not exactly the same as people who live now. It is a category error to think that people in the past were just like us and felt and believed exactly as we do. (That's why we have so many historical novels that sound like contemporary people are wearing fancy dress and pretending. And it's why we can sometimes feel so very self-righteous in scolding the great men and women of the past.)
  • I do not care about Robert Frost's failings as a human being, or about how he evinced any traces of his time and culture. Robert Frost is done with all earthly repentance and grief and attempts to be a better person. We the living are the ones who must struggle in that way now. 
  • What I care about in the case of Robert Frost is something very different. I care that he gave over much of his life to the making of wonderful little constructions of beauty and power out of words and "a mouthful of air," as Yeats said. I care about the costly-to-him, free-to-us gift that he left behind for me and anybody who wishes to pick it up. That is no little thing. 
Ron Charles asks who will defend him. Who will come to the old man's rescue? As I said earlier in the day, Frost, you have at least one woman who will heave-ho your dadgum statue back in place.

Close of the late poem, "Directive"--

 Weep for what little things could make them glad.
 Then for the house that is no more a house,
 But only a belilaced cellar hole,
 Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
 This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
 Your destination and your destiny's
 A brook that was the water of the house,
 Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
 Too lofty and original to rage.
 (We know the valley streams that when aroused
 Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
 I have kept hidden in the instep arch
 Of an old cedar at the waterside
 A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
 Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
 So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
 (I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.) 
 Here are your waters and your watering place.
 Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book of labor, book of dawn--

Walden Pond. Courtesy of Bekah Richards
of Snellville, Georgia and
Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.  --Thoreau

Thoreau once joked that he owned a library of 900 books; they were all his own and all the same, for Walden had not sold. The pages uncut, they slumbered on the shelf, unread. Perhaps the book was too singular in its wordsmithery (despite kinship to Emerson, who was a much-admired speaker of the time, as well as a writer) and too bent on veering away from the laboring realities of his time. It is hard to picture Henry David Thoreau as a contemporary mid-list writer, vigorously marketing his book and chatting on twitter and facebook, and it's not just because the neck beard would put us off. For Walden whispers to us that book marketing is not an "effort to throw off sleep" and so will end with labor, rather than the "poetic or divine life."

And Walden is certainly right.

I am glad that some book marketers manage to make a living, and that some fine books manage somehow to sell in our age despite the noise of the day. I recognize the need for horn toots to announce books and the need for helping friends bring their books from the invisible world to the visible. I do for my own new books what I can and have no Franzenian pride in scorning encounters on twitter and Facebook (such pride comes easily to the luck-kissed writer of books that a publisher chooses to push as lead books. And I enjoy chatting with writers and readers, so that's luck for me.) No mid-list writer desires to own a library of 900 identical books because a small first run did not sell. Very few resist the publisher's call to market and promote.

But Walden is nevertheless right. Marketing is one of those activities not of the dawn but of labor.

And yet the book Henry David Thoreau didn't market and that readers rejected has become a cornerstone of American literature, while works that could speak only to their time have been flung away, tumbling into the waterfall of oblivion. Thoreau's pure, demanding voice, full of love for the awakened, whole man and woman drifted on into the world. Walden multiplied wildly and fed and awakened many with its light and lovely singularity. How rare and sweet that is! Would that have happened in our over-busy and chaotic world, or would such precious things be lost? The paper and ebook Niagara of published and self-published books roars, deluging us with words of labor and occasional dawn light.  Does the singular and the beautiful still find its way through the labyrinth of time, heading toward the center? Can we still distinguish the book of labor from the book of dawn?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Poem of magic

Go here to see a complete version of this translation and art
by Kathleen Mooney.

Douglas Hyde and Amargin

from Geoffrey Moorhouse
Sun Dancing:A Vision of Medieval Ireland
(Harcourt, Brace, 1997)

"The old [Irish] stories say that there was a poet, Amargin, who led* the Tuatha Dé Danann when they arrived in Ireland. To him is attributed some Druidic verse which no less an authority than Douglas Hyde--himself a poet, a literary scholar and the first President of Ireland (1938-45)--believed might be the oldest surviving lines in any European vernacular outside Greece. This was Dr Hyde's translation:

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rock,
I am the fairest of the plants,
I am the wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of knowledge,
I am the point of the lance in battle,
I am the God who creates in the head, the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain? 
Who announces the age of the moon (if not I)?
Who reaches the place where the sun couches (if not I)?"

Amargin and Aengus

Versions of these lines exist in translations by Yeats's friend and patron, Lady Gregory, by Robert Graves, and others. I find that especially interesting because of the start of that marvelous Yeats lyric, "The Song of Wandering Aengus": "I went out to the hazel wood, / Because a fire was in my head."

Aengus was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann and a god of eternal youthfulness, but Yeats gives us a mortal Aengus who ages, though the passion for the little silver trout girl reflects the love of the mythic Aengus for Caer, who alternated between swan and young woman. Yeats's wonderful Aengus is no mythic god but a hero who keeps faith with his search for the beautiful and for completion.

The Magic Storm (and Clarke)

*Here is another version and summation of those mythic events, courtesy of Wikipedia, in which Amergin Glúingel is a leader of the Milesians (said to be Gaelic-speaking Celts) against the three kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann (each killed by one of the three surviving sons of Míl Espáine) and later names Ireland after their three queens. Amergin is both bard and judge and sets the rules of engagement, retreating beyond the ninth wave and its magical boundary before the assault begins. They will gain Ireland if they can reach land, and five of Amergin's brothers will die in the attempt.

Amergin sings the poem in order to dispel the magical storm sent by druids to prevent the Milesian forces from reaching Irish soil. (If you are a Susanna Clarke fan, a druidic, magical storm that attempts to halt the Milesians and keep them beyond a barrier of waves might just remind you of the sea blockade of magical rainwater ships in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.)

The Magic Words

So "The Song of Amergin" (or Amargin, or many other variants--Amairgin, Amorgen, Aimhirghin) is in fact both magic and poem. And who can doubt that a poem should, at its best, be magical and change how we see the world?"

Sunday, October 13, 2013

9 Questions that plague the mind--

Why is it that when a peaceful, lovely, semi-elderly cat gets out of the house, she panics and thinks that her adored humans are toothy creatures from that mining planet in the ALIEN movies?

Why must novels never be 100% finished but only abandoned? (Yes, I just abandoned mine on a lonely hilltop, where it will survive or not.)

Why do facebook friends ceaselessly try to lure me into the real of Fritterdom?

Marly Youmans18 minutes ago
YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE: I *know* hope springs astonishingly eternal in your breast(s), but I will never have time to play Zynga Bingo or Penguin Parade or even Words with Friends. Well, maybe when I'm hyper-old if utterly deserted by the muse (stay with me, lovely Muse!) Till then, it's words and friends, not Words with Friends.
Why does Susquehanna the extremely elderly dog start barking the world to bits, angling for a jaunt and doing her biz just as soon as the jammies go on?

Why do people get their knickers in such a very confounded scold of a twist about Columbus (who, yes, did some things that make us gasp) when they know perfectly well that the era and even centuries after was a time when their ancestors relished a good public hanging (draw and quarter, anybody?), slavery was rampant, and native Americans veered between peaceable and astonishingly and imaginatively barbaric? (My husband is an eighth Akwesasne Mohawk. Those fellows were terrifying! Even when Christianized, their saint was also terrifying in her fervor... Kateri Tekakwitha used to chop open the ice on the Raquette River and jump in for her morning ablutions and penance. I suspect this bit of genetic potency may be at the root of why my over-educated husband is driven to feats of insanity and hunter dare-devildom around the world.) 

It's a puzzle. Gentle academics everywhere are torn between wanting to condemn the man and wanting to keep their day off from work.

Proposal: How about we celebrate Brendan the Navigator Day? In his travels he encountered all sorts of wonders--the crystal tower that must have been an iceberg, the precincts of hell (volcanic eruptions in Iceland), and what many have said must have been Florida! He appears to have been peaceful and good and brave and modest. 

Why do people run after books we all know to be meretricious hog slop while ignoring works of beauty and power? 

Why does the shutdown of the government by two very silly parties have to mean that we totally forget about the rest of the planet? Hordes of people butchered at church and elsewhere, Syrians to mourn and bewail, Kenyans threatened again: is the human head that flighty?

Why does one person on an airplane go in the lavatory to recreate Flemish portraits with napkins and seat covers and neck pillows, while another has nothing but destruction and havoc and death in his mind? (I want to play with toilet paper with Nina Katchadourian!) Why is one person a poet, and the other a terrorist who kills him in a mall where you can only go home free if you can name of the Prophet's mother?

When ten lepers are cured, why does only one say thank you?
All writing deadlines met! Please come clean my house.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Glimmerglass News

Clive is busy transforming the world of Glimmerglass.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins + Glimmerglass

If you'd like to see how the cover is progressing, go here. That's the second peep at what Clive is doing with Glimmerglass, forthcoming from Mercer in 2014.

Me + Glimmerglass

The book has been sitting at the publisher's for a very long time, waiting its turn. And so I decided to tweak it once more and have promised to give it right back. So that is what I am doing, along with many other things that keep stopping me. But it'll be back in...

Others + Glimmerglass

As two people asked to read the book in manuscript, I asked them for blurbs. So that's poet Jeffery Beam and editor John Wilson. And I've also asked Margo Lanagan. Three just might be enough... I'll be posting them soon. Clive has already posted most of Jeffery's long comments here.

And other books

If you like the looks of this early progress, please take a look at some of the other books Clive and I have worked on. Most recently, that means two poetry books--Thaliad from Phoenicia and The Foliate Head from Stanza Press (UK.) The Throne of Psyche (Mercer) also has a Clive cover, as a detail from one of his paintings is the jacket and cover image. And as we set out with a new book, I don't want to forget my other recent paper children, particularly these three and the novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, also from Mercer (The Ferrol Sams Award; Silver Award, ForeWord Book of the Year Awards.) Please click on the tabs above for more information.

Shutdown, wrap up--

Photo of The Gates by Christo and Jeanne Claude is
by Brandon Keim of NYC. Courtesy of
Impressed by Christo and Jeanne Claude? Liked the mystery and boldness of the wrapped Pont Neuf and the Surrounded Islands and Wrapped Medieval Tower, the Wrapped Roman Wall and the Wrapped Reichstag?

And now just take a look at all our 2013 Shutdown Simultaneously Wrapped National Monuments, the greatest national art project in the history of art-wrappings! Why, our government even brings in elderly veterans in wheelchairs to tilt and invade and overwhelm as part of this magical art story . . .

Thursday, October 03, 2013

First peek at Glimmerglass!

You can jump here and look at the notebook of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, a once-blank region where he is now at work populating and decorating my novel Glimmerglass, forthcoming in 2014. Once again, as in Thaliad and The Foliate Head (see tabs above for news), we will have interior vignettes and a beautiful jacket, with immaculate design work done by the team of Burt and Burt for Mercer.

Clive has also let a stray proverbial cat out of its secret bag by including pieces of a blurb from poet Jeffery Beam... So there's an extra bit of fun.

Secrets! Magic! Transformation!

Mr. Common Sense: Well, of course it's a realist novel, isn't it? What's that dragon all about? And that thing without pants?

Miss Imagination: Yes, sure, call it realist. It's about a painter, isn't it? And in what we call the real world. And she begins to see . . .

Mr. Common Sense: No more cats out the bag! Tie that brown paper and calico up in string!

Miss Imagination: Okay, fine! Think you have it your way! But then again, there's no such thing as realism in stories. All paper realms are created second-hand out of words made of air and the stuff of creation, aren't they?

Me; that is, the one called Marly, who is only occasionally fictional: And I just might have borrowed a trick or two from the medieval world...

P. S. Notice that the first time in my life I have been compared to a holy well!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A backward glance...

What fun!

Christina Wilder reviewed Val/Orson... and put dreamy forest pictures with her words. I didn't even know this site existed, though it seems very bustling and active. It's another reader-as-reviewer site, only each review gets its own page, and Christina has illustrated the page with appropriate pictures. Anybody know anything about it?

Val/Orson is out of print now, but it'll be back in ebook.

And wasn't that a beautiful jacket/cover? Courtesy of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, marvelous painter, once and future theatre man, and dresser of the most gorgeous books.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Marly in fall--

Green Man vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
From The Foliate Head
One more deadline to go, and then I'll have a breather and welcome my husband back from his v-trip. (So far it is Vienna, Venice, Verona, etc.--and yes, I am a bit green! Make that verde.)

While he was off at a conference and then being a tourist, I have judged several contests, turned in a poetry ms., dealt with painters and carpenter and child no. 3 and gone for much dogwalking with Susquehanna the elder-dog, sung at various events and assisted a young priest at a funeral, and am now doing a final burnish on a novel to be turned in by Monday (or bust!)

And so now you know. I'll be back at regular blogging after the next deadline.

Up soon: A trip to Wofford College, where several classes taught by Jeremy L. C. Jones are reading Thaliad and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Shall also be reading at Hub City Books. And maybe somewhere else, if I get energetic and look around for another place on the road.