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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poems at Mezzo Cammin

Take a look at the new issue--lots of familiar and not-so-familiar names in the realm of women-who-write-formal-poems. Also, please look at the just-prior and brand new post about "The Magician's Card," an essay written for Fujimura Institute.

The Magician's Card

The Magician’s Card by Marly Youmans

Poet, novelist, and short story writer Marly Youmans has written a compelling response to Makoto Fujimura’s On Becoming Generative: an Introduction to Culture Care! In the 10-page essay, Youmans explores the role of the artist in caring for culture through the powerful story of her friend Louis D. Rubin, Jr. You can download the full PDF for free here.

* * *
About Fujimura Institute. Wander around in the project, resource, and event pages.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Novelist Stephen Roth at Amazon

The Ferrol Sams Award
Silver Award, a ForeWord Book of the Year
Thanks to novelist Stephen Roth for taking the time to review on Amazon...

It's a rare achievement when a work of fiction contains enough detail and nuance about a particular place in history that you, the reader, feel like you understand and inhabit that world. That's how I felt reading Marly Youmans' A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, which is part murder mystery, part road story, but also a poetic rendering of life in the rural South of the 1930s and early 40s.

White Camellia tells the lonely story of Pip, a Depression-era orphan who loses his half-brother to a horrific, unsolved murder at the Georgia orphanage where he lives. Soon after, Pip decides to leave his squalid existence of picking cotton and sleeping in close quarters, "breathing in the scent of near-naked boys and the stink of the chamber pots." It is the golden age of the hobos, so Pip chooses a life crossing the country and hopping the rails. Like another fictional orphan named Pip, his coming-of-age journey comes at a brutal cost, but he also experiences kindness from a series of eccentric strangers who are drawn to the equally eccentric and fiercely independent Pip.

Throughout the tale, Youmans captures the surroundings, mood and language of the era so convincingly you almost expect to find red clay caked around your shoes when you set the book down. If you enjoy beautifully crafted descriptive prose and a coming-of-age story that is in turns heartbreaking and uplifting, check out A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fracas in Book Land

An interesting response from Smashwords to the Amazon-Hachette battle--something readers and writers ought to read. And a writer with a response to that response. Another. And another related one. And one on indie expansion. Feel free to add any thoughts or further links in the comments--readers and writers have a stake in these events. Big hat tip to Damien G. Walter

Here's an issue about paying artists for my friends who paint, collage, make encaustics, etc. Hat tip to Makoto Fujimura.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Antioch Writers' Workshop, Yellow Springs

Registration for the Full Week Program and A La Carte is now open online. The deadline to register is June 22, 2014. A program description and schedule are available on the Antioch website.

29th Annual Summer Workshop: July 12-18, 2014

The 2014 AWW Afternoon Seminars are filling up! But, there may still be time for you to make it into one of these excellent seminar opportunities:

Afternoon Fiction Seminar--Short Fiction Focus-Erin Flanagan
Erin Flanagan

Erin Flanagan is the author of two short story collections-The Usual Mistakes and It's Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories-both published by The University of Nebraska Press. Her stories have appeared in Prairie SchoonerColorado ReviewThe Missouri ReviewThe Connecticut Review, and elsewhere. She had held fellowships to Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, The Sewanee Writers' Conference, The Breadloaf Writers' Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She is a professor of Creative Writing at Wright State University and serves on the Antioch Writers' Workshop Board of Directors.

Afternoon Poetry Seminar-Marly Youmans

Marly Youmans  photo credit: Rebecca Beatrice Miller
Marly Youmans is the author of five novels: Little Jordan (David R. Godine, Publisher, 1995);Catherwood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996); The Wolf Pit (FSG, 2001, The Michael Shaara Award); and Val/Orson (UK: P. S. Publishing, 2009); and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer University Press, 2012, The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction.) In addition, she has published two Appalachian fantasies for young adults, The Curse of the Raven Mocker (FSG, 2003) and Ingledove (FSG, 2005). Her poetry collections are: Thaliad, an epic adventure in verse from Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal, 2012; The Foliate Head, from Stanza Press (UK, 2012); The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011); and Claire ( Louisiana State University, 2003). She also has several novels due out in the near future:Glimmerglass and Maze of Blood from Mercer. A reprint of Catherwood will appear soon as well. She is a native of the Carolinas currently living in a snowbank in Cooperstown, New York with her husband and three children. Learn more about Marly at

Getting Started with Fiction or Creative Nonfiction (No Manuscript Required) Instructor-Gayle Brandeis
Gayle Brandeis
Gayle is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), the novels The Book of Dead Birds(HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change,Self Storage (Ballantine) and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young readers, My Life with the Lincolns (Holt). She released The Book of Live Wires, the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds, as an e-book in 2011. Gayle's poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies (such as Salon.comThe Nation, and The Mississippi Review) and have received several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. In 2004, the Writer Magazine honored Gayle with a Writer Who Makes a Difference Award. Gayle holds a BA in "Poetry and Movement: Arts of Expression, Meditation and Healing" from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction from Antioch University. Learn more about Gayle at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"I hope more and more people will recognize"

I'm really proud of what we're all doing together -- and it seems like the readers agree. Which is good because we all need their support to keep going. Poetry publication is extremely challenging, and I hope more and more people will recognize the high quality of the books we're bringing out, not only in terms of the writing but the design, art, typography, and printing. It's a group effort, a lot of work, and very satisfying but the goal is still to get the books into the hands of readers! I'm grateful for every single one. --Elizabeth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing, a response on facebook
Next book up at Phoenicia: Luisa A. Igloria, Night Willow. Pre-order now!

Ferrywoman on the road

Bit of green stained glass courtesy of and Anonymous
It was an adventurous day of playing Ferrywoman, fetching my daughter home. I managed to get lost in the Absolute Boonies despite a mapquest printout and GPS (which took me in a not-amusing forest circle) but made it to where I was going, and even had a wonderful picnic on the way back, and saw three curious fox kits in the woods. (Yesterday I saw a single fox kit, along with muskrats, a giant box turtle, pickerel, bass, and sunfish, so I've been feeling that spring really is here to stay.) In a sadder vein, we were also first on the scene of a dreadful bike accident--a boy swooped down an unpaved mountain drive, rocketed across the highway just in front of us, smacked into a guard rail, and somersaulted over it. Poor child, he was lucky not to break his neck or be hit by a car (ours, perhaps.) But he was badly injured and I'm still thinking about him, so if you're the praying kind, say a little prayer for Justin. He's the world's child, a young roamer caught up and thrown in a moment of play and wildness. Here's a fragment of poem for him and for the restlessness in my mind:

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
     -Yeats, from "Prayer for My Daughter"

It's past two in the morning... Good night, moon and trees and sleepers in sickrooms and bedrooms and tents and the open air. Good night, world!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The hand of peace and love--

 A hand of hard-earned peace and love on Memorial Day.
Image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing)

       To the hour when Cain is ever slaying Abel
       In the dark eternal backward.
                               --from Thaliad

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sun Dry Fie(d)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Glimmerglass
Advance apologies
I may be on a little less often for the next ten days, as I have two major child-ferrying trips plus other company arriving for a stay. And there is much to do to get ready.

The Glimmerglass News
Things are progressing on Glimmerglass. It's very hard to top the beauty of design and art for Thaliad and The Foliate Head, but it may well be happening, thanks to Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the design team of Burt and Burt, designers for Mercer. Yesterday I had an advance peek at the jacket (not quite finished, as it didn't yet have blurbs or description on), and it is the most clever, cunning, beautiful thing... I even love the spine, and that's downright odd!

to all the people who responded here and there to this:
Today, why not support poets&independent publishing - how about Thaliad by , art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins?
Rebecca Beatrice Miller
End of year project at The Center for Cartoon Studies--a 25-page comic called Castle. Shall be glad to see the young graphic novelist some time soon! I've enjoyed seeing her projects through the past year...

Memorial Day
Have a good Memorial Day weekend--my Scouts are out marching in the rain in today's parades. I'm remembering my father, a boy who joined up at 17 and was a tailgunner aboard Incendiary Blonde in World War II, along with many uncles who served in WWII and Korea. I'm remembering my deep-South ancestors who served (yes, they were on the Confederate side, and one of them, Col. James Washington Hance, died at Gettysburg and left behind a wife and three little daughters.) I'm also recalling the wild Revolution-era crowd led by my terribly colorful Wales-born ancestor, John Thomas, colonel and founder of the Spartan Regiment of South Carolina. Jane Black Thomas was a heroine of the Revolution, and sons, a son-in-law, and a daughter were notable figures in the fight for independence. What a sluice of struggle and death is the history of the world, pointing back to that first story of Cain slaying Abel!

2nd Lt. Ivar Hendrickson, Bombardier; S/Sgt Bufford Brown, Engineer;
S/Sgt Paige Paris, Radio Operator; S/Sgt Edward Fitzpatrick, Ball Turret Gunner; S/Sgt.
Hubert L. Youmans, Tailgunner. Two things come to mind about this picture.
One is that S/Sgt Blaine Corbin is missing, having recently been killed by flak
on a mission. The other is that my father (standing, far right) the future professor
has an odd-looking hand because he'd been in a fight the evening before.

He was a sharecropper's boy who plowed and sometimes rode the rails,
and he is in the mix of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Seonjoon with white camellias--

Here's a sort of mini-review from Seonjoon in the realm of Twittery. I like it! Tweets are short but can encompass a surprising amount of thought. And at the end there's a review of the review... At her blog, Seonjoon describes herself this way:

Ordained Buddhist monastic.
Incorrigible bibliophile.
Novice shutterbug.
Aspiring practitioner.

I am glad she is an incorrigible bibliophile. She read the book in the air between Seoul and New Haven, finishing up with her feet safely planted on the ground. Thank you, Seonjoon (and DeathZen!)

* * * * * * *

I'm wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I started ' A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, but it surely wasn't this:
Seonjoon @seon_joon A contemporary American epic, tenderly and piercingly rendered, resonant with the rhythms of the American south.
The novel's language is lush without excess, a rare feat, and characters are brought to life with deft surety. My favorite read so far year.
 9h  But was fabulous. Finished it afternoon. Looking forward to your book this summer!
 5h As well you should! :) Seriously, who else could write such a strong book review in two sentences?!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear people,

Mailbox courtesy of y0s1a and
Today I will be frantically packing up all my overdue packages (including promised books--and that includes the great poetry giveaway going to Guy in Israel, as I am nothing if not a true-to-my-word procrastinator) because Obama is going to be hanging out and pronouncing on issues a mere one block away tomorrow, and that, people tell me, will be a navigational problem. Particularly because of the location of the Cooperstown post office . . .

Also, it seems I must weed my front borders in honor of the president. Because despite my 17 (husband-counted) trilliums, my bleeding hearts, my uvularia, my Jacks in the pulpit, my Virginia bluebells etcetera, my garden looks a little bit overpopulated with stray grasses.

And before I go off to sing in the evening, I hope to write a tiny story and simply must finish reading Deep Exegesis (Milosz, Sophocles, Bach, Joyce, Eliot, Melville, Marvell, Austen, and most of all scripture!) today or else roast for my sins, as I have promised to read it all the way to the end for the priests-and-clergy reading group of central New York. I am visiting their next meeting in the form of token poet and novelist, and I will tell you about it, as it is sure to be . . . different.

This means that I do not have time for a blog post. Kindly purchase all four of my in-print books if you miss me. (Insert adorable emoticons here.)

More news will no doubt materialize tomorrow, when I will be huddling inside my charming though somewhat decrepit federal house and hoping not to be noticed by all the snipers who locals say will be dashing about the rooftops. Bush no. 2 was once at a party at the house behind mine, and I managed not to see either the president on the lawn or the FBI in the alley, so I expect that I will manage a major bout of huddling perfectly well. (My mother, on the other hand, wants me to walk down the street so she can see me on CNN.)

Yrs, with packing string and skittles,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On art, artists, and Bergman

German poster for The Silence (1963)
Art by Dorothea Fischer-Nobisch
I want very much to tell, to talk about, the wholeness inside every human being. It's a strange thing that every human being has a sort of dignity or wholeness in him, and out of that develops relationships to other human beings, tensions, misunderstandings, tenderness, coming in contact, touching and being touched, the cutting off of a contact and what happens then. --from Ingmar Bergman Directs (1972) by John Simon
Isn't that simple and lovely? Long ago, I was obsessed with Ingmar Bergman, and when I bump into his words, I sometimes feel a little melancholy.  How strange it is to think in this tender way of human wholeness in a world that projects a public image that rages for entertainment and dislikes reflection and what Melville called "deep diving."

I took a course on Bergman with poet R. H. W. Dillard when I was in college, and one of the texts was Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman. In it, there's a passage where Bergman talks about Chartres, and how wonderfully satisfying it must have been to be an anonymous artist who felt that his gift was from God and so had both confidence and a natural humility. For that artist, being lauded as better than others does not even register as a thought. Bergman expresses longing for a time when an artist might make, say, a portrait head for the cathedral and be pleased with knowing what he had made, and with knowing that it was a piece of a more complex work created by many people for a great purpose. (Perhaps there's a link to the image of Christians as lively stones that make up the church, all part of something much larger--"like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house" NRSV 1 Peter 2:5.) In his own time, Bergman sees the modern artist as bringing all things out of himself, an effort that is lonely, over-obsessed with the individual, and leads to a state where artists "bleat" news of ourselves constantly but are unable to see one another. Artists are not built up into a cathedral in his view but are caught in a miserable pen sheep. In that image from Bergman, each artist appears isolated within what should be a flock. No shepherd appears.

How comic we will appear in a hundred years, with our heavy use of The Ministry of Sanctioned Words (latest installment being the chiding of professors for using "triggering words"--I wrote a piece about it yesterday but decided that one was entirely too satiric for posting!), our ruling passion for celebrities (red-carpet gods of the day in designer suits and gowns), our jettisoning of literature in the academy in favor of theory and an obsession with judging art through various -isms. To be an artist with these sorts of things held in mind means to de-nature one's work, to run after things that don't matter, and to be always self-conscious about political stance--all things that destroy the natural flow of art. How much lovelier it is to grow like a tree among trees by a stream, rooted and flourishing, sending out fresh leaves and blossoms--and all the while, those little green factories in the leaves go on transforming the air so that others may breathe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Industrial pictures are not art"

Poster for the new Jodorowsky movie...
I like this Alejandro Jodorowsky quote about forgetfulness and remembering in the movies. I think it applies to other art forms as well. After all, remembering the self goes on in all art. And what is "industrial" and "not art" is frequently hailed as art in other areas of the arts as well.
I don’t want you to forget yourself for two hours seeing a picture. I want you to remember yourself seeing the picture, but not remember your problems. I want you to remember your life and the beautiful human beings you are. That is what I am trying to do.
How does he want to be recalled? "He was free to do whatever he wanted, and he wanted the freedom to have artistical expression in movies."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Catherwood update / in-print books

Small vignette for Glimmerglass
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

After the Entertainment Weekly tip-of-the-hat to "heartstopping" Catherwood, used book dealers sold a good many copies of the book--this, of course, was both lovely and a little frustrating, as I have in-print books that need homes and am planning on a new edition of Catherwood. I've decided to turn down (with many thanks, and after too much dithering on my part) some offers from publishers to reprint, and to experiment with doing the reprint myself in my so-far-imaginary free time. Despite the usual too-crammed schedule, I am aiming to have the book out in paper and ebook within a year.

And my books now in print--

See tabs above for reviews and other information on A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (novel, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award and a Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA), Thaliad ("exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin"), The Foliate Head, and The Throne of Psyche. The first two were both on the end-of-year 2012 Favorites at Books & Culture. The last two are poetry collections, and I'll let this quote recommend my work in that line:
Youmans is a traditionalist in her use of forms, and her work will delight those who enjoy classical poetry with direction and structure, yet her strong and inventive metaphors and similes evoke an otherness that only Coleridge attained....wholly beautiful and brilliant. Youmans is a writer of rare ability whose works will one day be studied by serious students of poetry. Greg Langley, The Baton Rouge Advocate
All four of these books were lucky to have exceptional designers--Burt and Burt of Macon, Georgia (who won an Addy for The Throne of Psyche), Elizabeth Adams in Montreal, and Andrew Wakelin in the UK--and several have beautiful art both within and without by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Beam on Glimmerglass

5/15/14  New art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins up! (5/15)

5/14/14  I'm releasing all of Jeffery Beam's
long, marvelous blurb for Glimmerglass 
(Mercer University Press in September) here.

Cheered by Mr. Beam--
first time I have been compared
to a holy well!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dreaming better dreams--

Minotaur study by Clive Hicks-Jenkins 
for Glimmerglass

Writer bounces out of bed at 6:30 and scurried about making lunch for her third child, packing track-snack in a sack (can I toss in another rhyme?), fixing breakfast, and tossing books in the backpack (there you go.) Mid-way, the writer turns on NPR and hears that 45% of teens read no more than 1-2 books a year. Or did they say less than 1-2? At any rate, not much of note. Writer plunks down at her laptop to have a cup of tea. First thing she sees: novelist Darin Strauss on twitter, mentioning a new book that uses "Jewish man" as a slur: "Nobody cares / even notices." The Author aka "Ass Queen" is featured in Salon (a coup for a writer, right? like her treatment in Slate or on NPR) with an interview about being a porn star and drug abuser--smoking crack in a BSDM dungeon, anybody? Hey, now we know what kind of lively, appealing-to-the-curious book the almost-non-reading 45% might possibly read! Because that's a book-with-a-hook--we writers are always suppose to have a hook that we are willing to share with the world--that will sell, even to non-reading teens, I expect.


Who would have guessed that this would one day be the writer's world, back when she first gave her years to making something true and rejoicing in putting words into new shapes? A world where teens don't read and professors complain that their students don't crack open their books. A world where a clever volume reveling in unabashed porn and drug use has more of that desirable quality, hook, and will get more coverage than a first-rate novel (and infinitely more coverage than a good book of poems.)


All you lovers of reading and shapeliness in words, defy this crazy world! If hopeless, still be brave. Read better books, make better books. Encourage taste, a human achievement that used to support culture. Online or in-person, recommend what's best in the arts. Make the better world, even if you fear that you are the only person who inhabits it. Dream of a better culture, a more worthy gift to hand on to our children.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Mother's Day--

Raphael, Sistine Madonna detail via Wikipedia, public domain
Remember the bereft Nigerian mothers--their girls stolen--and all mothers who mourn.
There is little enough we can do for any of them; Amnesty International petition here.
I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me.
They have clung to me all my life.
--Abraham Lincoln

Friday, May 09, 2014


P. S. to the Kraken! post: Be sure and read Scott Bailey's clerihews at Six Words for a Hat (post and comments.) I'm afraid that I challenged him to a Chernyshevsky clerihew. This came about because his posts about Henrik Pontoppidan seeped into my head, and so I wrote a clerihew about Henrik Pontoppidan the novelist's ancestor (I suppose), Erik Pontoppidan the bishop, who had an interesting connection to cephalopods. So I blamed the Pontoppidan clerihew on Scott, and then remembered he was now writing about Chernyshevsky. Tada! I think I deserve chocolate for spelling Chernyshevsky, Pontoppidan, and cephalopods correctly (or close enough) in one post.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Octopus courtesy of Gisela Royo
of Barcelona, Spain and
I have been having fun yesterday and today with my cephalopod stories, mentioned in the last post--there are seven tiny fictions plus an eighth piece, a clerihew for Erik Pontoppidan. And all that goes to show that blog visitors and bloggers can influence my mind because I'm not sure if I would have gone for eight (although so very appropriate when one is contemplating cephalopods), were it not for RT (aka Tim) mentioning numerology yesterday.

Then toward the end of these somewhat bizarre fictions, I suddenly wanted to write a clerihew. That is rather like eating, say, a rather piggish amount of cilantro-pineapple ice and suddenly wanting hoecake on the griddle. I suppose that is why Scott G. F. Bailey's posts on Henrik Pontoppidan popped into my head--at which point it was only natural to leap from Danish Henrik to Danish Erik because Bishop Erik Pontoppidan wrote about the Kraken, and the Kraken is surely a cephalopod.

And I must go and do a little drudgery, now that I have finished my cephalopodish frolic!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Photograph courtesy of merchant mariner John Boyer,
who is sometimes based in Kuwait, and
The octopus is so intelligent that it is considered an Honorary Vertebrate for legal purposes in the UK. I wonder if octopi are insulted by this. Perhaps they haven't been told.

I've been writing tiny stories lately, and the thought of one involving a cuttlefish or octopus has crept into a crevice of my head and is holding on tight. Octopi in captivity play with toys and have preference for one human over another. I love the idea that cuttlefish and octopi, with their famous ability to transform appearance, may see with their skin.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Death of the novel and why writers write

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, image
from the rear cover of The Foliate Head
(UK: Stanza Press, 2012)
    For some reason or other (people do argue about why these things happen, don't they?), I wrote a little short story--one about a fantastic event that caused a woman to begin living a set of experiences that would become her next novel--after reading Will Self's essay, "The novel is dead (this time it's for real.)" I didn't believe a word of it! Well, perhaps I believed he had a teen son who strummed a guitar... I immediately dredged up one of his prior remarks as commentary:
I’ve always enjoyed bullshitting people. I still enjoy it. --Will Self, interviewed by Jacques Testard at The White Review
     I've been equally unbelieving (albeit good-tempered) about some of the responses. After all, when a death is predicted for too long, methinks there may be too much protestation.
    David Ulin, book critic of the L. A. Times, says that Self is wrong (so far we agree, and I perhaps Self does too), and points out that even to have any ideas of lodging a book in historical memory is absurd, given the brevity of life and the deluge of books. In face of such difficulties, the job is "how to evoke experience in a manner that does it justice, that gives dignity to the evanescence, to the ephemerality." He believes that the ultimate vanishing of the evocation and the one who experienced is "part of the point; we’re just creating sand paintings against the void." Ulin concludes,
No, the only reason to write is self-expression, which is by its nature a fleeting conceit. --David L. Ulin, in "Notes on the (non-)death of the book,"
I enjoy his tribute to the shad-fly evanescence of life, but this idea of why we write is wrong. Wrong! Oh, yes, sure, along the way we can say that some evidence of the self (another rabbit hole--what is the self, Mr. Self? Mr. Ulin?) may possibly be expressed or extruded or fingerprinted or some such, but it's not why writers write.
     You have to be very cautious about listening to the claims writers make because they are in the business of making things up. In fact, right now, I might just be making things up. Don't trust me! I might be, like Self, "bullshitting people." I might happen to "enjoy it." However, such a thought never flew into my innocent head until I read Self's claim of the same, so you're probably reasonably safe, if (if only!) I can understand what my own reactions are and not trundle off on some possibly-circular digression.
    Ahem! End of small digression.
    So why do writers (real, sure 'nough writers) write? Because if there is a legitimate reason, perhaps word-twisting and this baggy, odd, changing creature we call a novel really can't die. I will tell you why writers write, and you may laugh at me and go on clicking on links, or you may pause and believe me, as you will. Here is the answer to a hard question (or at least to a much-debated one) in a mere four lines . . .
   Writers write because they find joy in playing with words, hearing them chink together and sing, and feeling them marry and meld with what is told. Writers write because they love to make things and so to bring something with the illusion of life and energy out of nothing. Writers write because to make a story or a poem is an act that is true, beautiful, good, and a singular mirror held up to creation and God, maker of the universe (or the multiverses) out of nothing, and to creation itself. Oddly, all this is true whether a writer believes in these elements--play, word-music, sub-creation and creation, truth and beauty and God and goodness--or not.
     The end. There. Settled.

* * *

P. S. I've been a bit unfeeling to write another post not many hours after posting an interview meant to help get the word out about a brand new anthology, so please pop down to the previous post and take a look, have a read, buy a book, etcetera!

Monday, May 05, 2014

CC: Robbi Nester asks--

Lummox Press, 2014
What follows is a copy of an interview conducted by Robbi Nester, posted last Saturday on a facebook page for The Liberal Media Made me Do It, a brand new anthology from Lummox Press, edited by Robbi. Although the interview has been re-posted here and there on facebook, I'm adding a copy for people who don't venture that way online.

* * *

For our second interview with a contributor from the book, I've chosen Marly Youmans, a poet, novelist, and commentator on the arts (and other things as well).

Robbi: Do you often listen to/write about public media?

Marly: I often listen to NPR, but television is not part of my day--I don't really have time for it, though I did watch PBS when I was much younger. I once had an idea for a novel while listening to a folk music show on WAMC (Albany.) A folk singer on Wanda Fish's The Hudson River Sampler told an anecdote about her grandmother wandering off the edge of her farm in Vermont and becoming lost, traveling on foot in Canada for months without meeting a soul. That little seed of an idea eventually became Catherwood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996. It's out of print now but will be back in print within a year.)

UK: Stanza Press, 2012
Now in second printing!
RN: What else are you doing in your work right now?

MY: I'm writing poems and tiny stories because I have little time at the moment. I have several poetry and fiction manuscripts to polish, and I have an idea for a novel that I want to work on when time appears! I'm not in a hurry to bring out another poetry book because the last three came in such close succession (The Throne of Psyche, The Foliate Head and Thaliad.) I'll be on tour again later in the year, and I'll be teaching at Antioch in the summer.

RN: National Poetry Month just ended; what poetry-related activities do you recommend to our readers or potential readers?

MY: Oh, I don't know--these days, when poetry has such a dwindled audience, recommendations seem almost out of place. Go to a good university library and enjoy the lost art of browsing? Read a Shakespeare play aloud with friends? (Pick one with some marvelous blank verse, couplets, or songs.) Or study a pronunciation guide and then read some Chaucer with friends, taking turns? (Enjoy it--laugh a lot!) Memorize a poem? Go to a well-stocked bookstore and buy a new poetry book by a living writer? Pick out a press to support and follow--buy books directly from their site? Choose a writer to support, so you see how his or her work changes over time? Try translating or writing a particular form in order to understand it better? Read translated poetry?

Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012
This is a beautiful and powerful book--
worth owning, worth reading and
rereading. --Rachel Barenblat
RN: Though I see your reason for saying poetry's audience has dwindled, all the same, the number of MFA programs (online particularly), spoken word events, self-publishing outlets, and such has grown exponentially. What do you think this disparity means? Does it herald big changes in the art, or only the effort to turn the impulse of poetry, which will always be with us, into a commodity?

MY: My opinion on these subjects is a tangle of contradictions. For example, I don't think an over-the-top proliferation of MFA programs (it is, yes, a commodity and cash cow for universities) is a good tendency, given the state of the economy and the level of student debt incurred by many. On the other hand, a free ride with years to write must be very sweet! And I know people who have gone for the MFA because they need more credentialing for teaching, even though they've published quite a few books. That's useful, though here I point out that we've gone credentialing-mad in the last fifty years. If an English department wants a writer, they should go for a writer of good books and have no concern for the diploma. But the university administration has a concern with ticking off boxes and improving its rankings. But what's the use of a credential to poems and stories? None. It's like giving a tiara and matching earrings to a terrier. But we are a nation obsessed with credentials from the ivory tower. Signs of change are appearing on that front, though, and perhaps we will become more sensible.

Mercer University Press, 2012
The Ferrol Sams Award
Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA
I expect that creative writing (like a lot of people, I'm not fond of that label) was more vibrant when it meant bold first ventures at places like The University of Iowa and UNC-Greensboro and Hollins--when it had the life and energy of something new and daring. Lately the programs have been attacked as places where writers teach, anoint, and credential other writers who will go on to teach, anoint, credential--an art for the free market economy. A program today is going to have to struggle against that image. So far, though, they seem to be surviving and multiplying.

You ask about self-publishing. Self-publishing is one of those curious things that is just exactly as good as the work of the person making use of it. Self-publishing has an old, venerable past. It also has an old, cheesy past. The dilemma is once again the excessive nature of current usage, this time with the added difficulty for the reader of finding needles in a gargantuan haystack.

I'm not in the least opposed to self-publishing, particularly for mid-list writers. The major New York publishers put enormous amounts of money and time behind the lead books they decide to sell, but the rest of the list must share small money and small marketing time. (It's hard. The gobbling-up of large New York houses has meant pressure from conglomerates to fatten profits in a traditionally low-but-steady-profit industry.) A first-rate writer without lead book status becomes a design in the classy wallpaper on which the lead books are hung.

Mercer University Press, 2011
"a writer of rare ability whose works
will one day be studied by serious
students of poetry."Baton Rouge Advocate
But here's an issue for poets: poetry is never lead book material. Oh, you may find some push for a Billy Collins or a Mary Oliver or a Sharon Olds. You may find a push behind a celebrity who decides to publish a book of poems. Is it a problem? Not really. A poet needs to see the situation and get on with navigating rocks and shoals; if that means self-publishing allures, fine.

Currently I'm thinking about self-publishing the reprint of a novel, even though I have offers from a number of publishers. I'd like to give it a try once, if only out of curiosity. Whitman, Woolf, and plenty of other writers have relied on self-publishing.

Since I've been living in a rural village for the past 15 years, I don't have a sense of the range of poetry events available in a city. My experience with tour readings at bookstores and other venues is that they are still attended by many different sorts of people, not just writers, and that's good. I'd be curious to know how many people attend, say, "spoken word events," and how often they draw a crowd including more than the organizers and the poets who appear regularly. Perhaps that's irrelevant and wrong-headed--perhaps the fundamental purpose of such events is to create a sort of sub-world where poetry retains meaning and purpose for every inhabitant. Sometimes I have the feeling that poets are a sort of lacemakers' guild, quietly going on with the work in stray corners. If that's so, fine. I'll make lace.