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

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Book of the Red King on the 11th day of Christmas

iPhone photo by Rebecca Beatrice Miller
A royal sunset on Main Street, Cooperstown

I've finally gotten back to working on The Book of the Red King, long written and finally, now, revised for a final time (and another and another and so on. But it's good to think of it as a final polish. Final polishes are always more complicated than they seemed at the start.) Like Thaliad, it tells a tale in an alternative landscape. Unlike Thaliad, the manuscript is composed of many poems, some of which I have just now cast into the fire, as on some terrible day of judgment (though a fire on the hearth is pleasant.)

Always, it is a severe lesson for a writer to look at a large group of poems. After much time away, I can see that some of these are simply not good enough for a book. They don't leave enough gold in the sieve after I pan through their waters. And then the rest have varying degrees of spark and combustion of language. Some I want to read again because they still manage to surprise me, or because I like the sounds of them. It's the middling ones that I dither over--are they needed for the over-arching story, are they good enough, can I polish them more? Can I wrestle with the angel again, and gain what I seek? Am I just playing in the shallows, or have I managed to swim out to deeper waters? Do the poems, placed together, make a kind of potent journey from darkness into light, through transformation, or are they only dead leaves skittering along the pavement?

And it is strange to read poems so different from my own life, yet so close--threads of self-scorn and old darknesses in the Fool. What a hard time he has becoming a man, becoming a proper Fool with mastery of his foolishness, his tales, his loves... He feels so near, so far. Jots of my own days are here but unrecognizable to any but me.

I am considering using "The Starry Fool" (slightly altered) as the first poem in the book, to be a sort of proem-poem, a kind of preface. You can see it in the original version at Mezzo Cammin here. 


  1. It sounds as though the housecleaning megrims of previous days have been vanquished.

    Your postings about the writing process continue to fascinate me. You simply must write a writer's memoir one day. Those who love to read and those who dream of writing would cherish your perspectives.

    Well, for whatever it might be worth, I hope those malicious megrims are far behind you now.

    1. Hah. I am just about to clean my messy bedroom and bathroom. Alas. But I'm pretty cheerful about it!

      I'm not sure that I remember my vacillations and so on all that well once I am done and jettison memory of those passages of time... And perhaps I do not have the requisite self-admiration to write a memoir of any sort. Or maybe it's something else I lack... Not sure.


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.