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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

You Asked, no. 4. With bells on.

A flowering head--what every writer desires.
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
division page for Maze of Blood.
Scroll down if you want nothing but the You Asked. Otherwise, stroll along until you arrive.

And what did you do?

Yesterday I was reading the late (the newly late) Michel Tournier (for a commissioned article), interspersed with poems by Robert Walser and Rubén Darío. I ended up writing a poem about Walser and another about a fountain in Chile dedicated to Rubén Darío. The rest of the day I spent trying not to scratch my eyelids and seeing that child no. 3 was packed for college.

So skip it, it's just marketing--
really good marketing--

Marly Youmans continues to put out superb novels. Early in 2015 I read her excellent Glimmerglass, a book about life and inspiration. Very late in 2015 I read her latest, Maze of Blood, which is naturally getting good reviews and you should buy two copies, give away one and read the other. -novelist Scott G. F. Bailey at the wonderful Six Words for a Hat

You asked series.

I'll continue the topic requests later, I expect. Right now I am feeling rebellious and itchy. Also sad about the arts death-sluice that is this January. Another unexpected loss today. April is no longer the cruelest month. In the meantime, here's a little poem by Luisa--oh, never mind. As usual I have put a book down somewhere and can't find it! How about a little Robert Walser instead?

Never mind about continuing later. 

Because I feel a You Asked coming on. Midori Snyder asked for writing about poetry, and here is some. I feel pretty sure it's going to be highly wayward, though.

TADA!  You asked, no. 4.

They should have used
Malevich's White on White.
Here's a poem I read and then wrote a response to... And I was cheerful about it! That's rather amazing. Cheerful, even though I followed Robert Walser into a field, where he died.

Well, maybe we're not quite here yet. We'll get to the poem eventually. It's our goal. We're going on a walk. With goal.

Walser in a white field. There's Modernism for you, Robert Walser having terrible or mildly terrible (we can't sustain the terrible forever, and really he prefers the mildly terrible) thoughts and denying himself, being a detached flâneur and going on white sanatorium walks (less a walk than a stroll, without the incidental pleasures of a stroll) into snow and then dying with his eyes wide in a white field.

He might as well be a barely visible white on white (or white on what, as auto-correct would have it) square in a Malevich painting! All hail the Suprematist Manifesto and Suprematist Malevichian Utterings: "Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without 'things' (that is, the 'time-tested well-spring of life')" It's all mal, and life's a bitch, Malevich!

Hey. Give me the well-springs of life! All of them. Give me marvelous things.

It's all so very meta, the self-abolishing, self-obliterating artist Robert Walser with the incredibly tiny, almost-disappearing handwriting vanishing into a white field like a sheet of blank paper. (Himself a slight mark on that paper, to be carried away, erased.) And that's an image from his first book! (And also rather like, kindred to this poem, our goal.)

I must be terribly obstinate because twice in the past three days I've written poems in response to Walser's poems, and in both cases I am busy refusing, refusing, refusing him and being of pretty good cheer. Of course, I like him. I do tend to like people. And so I was quite nice to him in both poems... even tried to get him to come inside out of the cold, into the warm, buttery light.

Perhaps it's because I tromped along in my own self-obliterating field of youth, long ago, but I always have the impulse to tickle Robert Walser unmercifully, to insist on going along on his random walks, to force him into peculiar or lovely destinations. I would have annoyed him by bundling up (deliberately picking out bright colors) and chasing after him, snowball in hand. Whump! I would have brought children along, and they would have pelted him with more snow and insisted that he make snow mermaids and castles and forts for battles. We would have dragged him outoutout of his white square backdrop. We would have made him scribble letters in the snow, ten feet high. We would have dressed him in a thousand zany scarves, knit by long-haired women and containing strands of their hair.
Do You See?

You do see me crossing the meadow
stiff and dead from the  mist?
I long for that home,
that home I've never had,
and without any hope
that I'll ever be able to reach it.
For such a home, never touched,
I carry that longing that will
never die, like that meadow dies
stiff and dead from the mist.
You do see me crossing it, full of dread?
Yes, I see. "Stiff and dead." It snowed, and Robert Walser lay flopped in the field with his eyes flung open, staring at a white, socked-in sky. Something should have saved him from his bleak, threatening age, and from the final sanatorium where he went to be mad but didn't seem it. But nothing did save him.

I like you, Robert Walser, but I am very glad that I crept out from under the giant monochrome monoliths of Modernism and Post-modernism and Post-post and infinitely on through refracting fun-house mirrors. It's pleasant out here in all this freedom, and there are shouts and outrageous, manic rhymes and walks with funny and gorgeous and moving goals! All the same, I'm going to read your The Walk very soon.

I don't know German, so I should ask Scott Bailey if the translations by Daniele Pantano are much like the original. They look, soundwise, somewhat simplified. But perhaps that's in part an illusion, made out of my ignorance. Certainly he's not interested in duplicating his rhyme schemes, when Walser works in rhyme.

And that's the end of You Asked, no 4. More anon, no doubt.


Today I shall notnotnot scratch my eyelids, and I shall clean a bit of house, walk on the treadmill in avoidance of hideous weather, and work on The Book of the Red King. I'm getting there. It's just so huge! Five years since I wrote most of the poems in a great rush, and I'm still not done tinkering and arranging and downright fussing.


  1. Hello! From what I've read of Pantano's translations, he's done a good job of retaining Walser's simple and clear language, and the overall feel of the poems (although I am not the most brilliant reader of poems). It looks like the rhymes have been ignored, which is a shame. Walswer's rhymes aren't complex by any means, but they are nice and of course one does things with vowel sounds and stress in one's native tongue that can't be translated.

    That guy sure wrote about bad weather a lot.

    1. Simple and clear. Okay. I wasn't so sure about that, though I could see there were not so many of those gigantic multiplying German nouns. Komposita. Thanks! I do wish he'd made a stab at the rhymes.

      Twain, "The Awful German Language." You are brave, Scott.

    2. p. s. Don't talk to me about the (polar, icy, unforgiving, white) weather.

    3. The Astrologer is set in winter, mid-Advent to about Epiphany, and I remember how cold I was while writing about all that snow and ice. I swore I'd never write another story set during winter. Of course now I'm writing a novel about a voyage to Antarctica, so go figure.

      One thing about German, the rules for word formation are pretty regular, so a lot of those long portmanteaus unspool themselves for you. "Damit" hahah, Twain, good one!

    4. Twain is always funny about language! I like the Jumping Frog scratched into French and back again.... Had a copy of that when I was a kid.

      I've had a good bit of winter in stories and poems and "The Wolf Pit" certainly has some agonizing Elmira winter in it. I always feel so sharply constrained by it as a Southerner, since I never learned to be a snow bunny and skin and so forth, and the cold is not pleasant.

      The Astrologer is on my list, with or without the fireplace and Rebecca. Reading all of Tournier for an article, so right now it's mostly going to be Tournier plus poets, but it'll be Bailey or Bust before the year is up! Eyeballs are cooperating for the first time in more than a year, so I'm moving fast.

    5. What a wonderful fresh voice--thjanks for writing about
      Robert Walser, a poet I hadn't met.

    6. Hi, Miss Mary B--
      And now you have. And it seems you like him! Good.

  2. There are sentences in your stuff that remind me of those compressed balls of paper (from Japan I think) which you drop into water where they expand into flowers. Perfectly formed and pink-tipped.

    Here's a bit of one: "...being a detached flâneur and going on white sanatorium walks (less a walk than a stroll, without the incidental pleasures of a stroll) into snow and then dying..." Water would cause that to transform itself into a whole flower-bed, add gin and it would cover a meadow, absinthe and we'd have a danger to public health but in a nice way.

    You give the impression you're enjoying yourself, looking for words that may cause giddiness and where meaning isn't aways the be-all and end-all. Is this wise? You get quoted. You're a literary reference point, perhaps even a Lady Criterion. And you live in a country where seriousness is applauded and even earnestness is worth twenty bucks an hour. Consider your standing in the community and the lilies of the field.

    I am now going to read your poem and pick out two lines I especially like. How can I be sure I'll find them? Op. cit. Garn, I can't even find the poem. But I did find "death-sluice". Did you know that Leontes in Winter's Tale uses "sluice" as a synonym for an act considered sordid by some. Don't you just love that. Virtually onomatopaeic.

    1. Oops, I clicked the wrong "reply." But you'll find it. "Roderick Robinson" is quite a literary-sounding name, all that alliteration and assonance and evoking Smollett's "Roderick Random."

  3. I did write a poem in response to this one, but it's still in hiding. Showing things too soon can be mortifying, which may be good for one, but I don't like it.

    You know, I loved those little expanding flowers when I was a child. I have a very clear memory of putting one in a glass of water. Seems to me that I was given them several times.

    Making good sentences and nothing else is such a temptation for a writer! As a poet, I was afraid that I would do no more when I became a novelist (or a would-be novelist.) In the end, I did finally see the point of causality and plot, though.

    "Giddiness" was a good word for that post! I was feeling a bit unleashed, a mode that is no, not wise, though enjoyable. I never think about anyone actually reading my words until afterward. After all, upon encountering an editor I respect a few years ago, he asked, "Why are you the invisible novelist?" So I tend to feel quite free to do exactly as I please! I like to frisk in words. And yes, I love the sound and feel of them.

    "Sluice" is a grand word and can, indeed, accompany various acts!


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.