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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NPM: I give you harpies

April, national poetry month, no. 1 

I am finally getting around to celebrating national poetry month. Last year I did a giveaway; this year I'm just going to give everybody a few poems. Here's one about harpies because everyone loves to spot some harpies except the people who are persecuted by them. Those unfortunate people would be men, mostly. Sometimes it is way beyond first-rate to be a woman.

"That Which Snatches" (blank verse) is the fourth poem in the opening Powers section of The Foliate Head, a hardcover book now in second printing from Stanza Press in the UK. The poem originally appeared in that wonderful online magazine, Mezzo Cammin, edited by poet Kim Bridgford. (It can be ordered from Amazon, or by special order through indies and other bookstores.) You can read more poems from the book here. 

The gorgeous art in The Foliate Head
is by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Book design by Andrew Wakelin.


Vulture-like, the harpies wheel on updrafts
Or settle in the grove of wind-whipped trees,
Their small, secretive faces looking out
Without sign of interest or passion,
As pinched and harsh as soul heads on a stone
Propped up by mourning Puritans on land
Unused to buried bone: winged skulls that glare.
One is singing, Turn away, my bonnie,
Turn away home, and yet there is nowhere
To turn, no home when such weird sisters sing.
In Cretan caves they hang like ungroomed bats,
Letting locks hang, letting the lice parade,
Their molting feathers like some nightmare bed
Where no man fancies lying—that’s a truth
That galls, for only breeze that glances here
And there and then is gone could bear to kiss
Their shriveled, wicked purse of privacies.

Bedraggled, murderous, entirely foul . . .
If they had hands, the fingers would be small,
As leathery as paws for throwing scat
At queens or prophets. No respect, no cheer,
No proper sentiment for the flawless
Horses of Achilles, their own offspring,
That wept to smell the battle-scent of death.
No sisterly devotion to Iris
Tricked out in sunstruck iridescent drops.

They’ll shriek the dawn awake and howl for flesh,
Heraldic frights so ignorant of evil
They could be us—so self-absorbed, so free.
On branches in the bleeding wood of souls,
They shift their talons, sigh in sleep like doves,
Dreaming of men like birds of paradise,
Of leaf-winged forests tumbling in a storm,
The phoenix burning on her nest of myrrh
Who found this harpied world worth dying for.

More from Clive...


  1. I have always loved this vivid vision of these mythological females, and who hasn't felt like this, of a morning?

    1. You are quick off the mark! Rah!

      I never feel like this... ;) XD

  2. Dark and beautiful -- a dangerous but irresistible combination -- and wonderful!

    Note: I have known a few harpies in my life. I wish they could read your poem. 'Twould be the mirror of inescapable reality. (And isn't that the actual magic of fantasy -- mirrored reality?) Hmmmm.

    1. Hi Tim--

      Hope you are feeling better. I shall have to go take a look later today. I, too, have known harpies. I even put one of mine in "A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage." I tried hard to keep her out, but she insisted.

  3. Very nice. I like your poetry. Your blog looks good, too. Better than mine. Back to editing. Enjoy the day!

    1. Thank you, oh-so-distant cousin! I am a little worried about the conjunction of "nice" and "harpies," though... Happy editing!

  4. Stunning images of ugliness AND beauty together! Bravo!

    I'll have to try get the second printing of 'Folate Head' - will it be alike the first?

    1. Hi Marja-Leena,

      Yes, it's a bit on the duende side of things! And yes, it's the same as the first edition.


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.