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 26, 2016

Dreaming back

Making Manuscripts from the Getty Museum.
Well worth watching...

I'm surprised by how many times the medieval world has crept into my books (perhaps most obviously in The Foliate Head, Val / Orson, and The Book of the Red King, but elsewhere as well) and into many of my blog posts. Perhaps I really am living in the wrong century, though I would not have lived long in the medieval world and am grateful to modern medicine's influence in matters of bad bacteria and childbirth.

My own possibly-quirky explanation of why green men invaded European churches here.

Druidic verse from Amargin, and a link to Yeats here.

"The Annunciation Carved in a Medieval Prayer-nut" here (and in the print edition.) And no, you're not missing anything; it ends with "stumbles--"

And here's one where ├ża middangeard crept in. "Vermont Kingdom."

And a bit of The Book of the Red King here or here. Some of these will be a little altered when the book appears.

A favorite medieval-mad website: Jeff Sypeck, Quid plura? Here are his medieval-inflected posts.

And here is Jeff's Beallsville Calendar, now in progress, inspired by medieval calendar poems.

Christmas at Camelot from Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Clive's posts on Gawain and the Green Knight are here
Information on ordering the Gawain prints (more to come) at The Penfold Press

The medieval world is still with us. I just went to the door for mail and found a box of wine and New Selected Poems by Les Murray. Looking up an interview, I see him talking about influences: "Various Scottish and Irish medieval poets too, Dunbar and the poet of that mighty anonymous hymn from Ireland, "Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart," hymn 31 in John de Luca's Australian Parish Hymn Book" (Image Journal.) And here's this, a comment I might have made, from another interview: "the deadliest inertia is to conform to your times" (The Paris Review.)


  1. Thanks for the links! (After nine years, my blog has really turned into a scattershot encyclopedia of American medievalism.)

    I'm glad not to be living in the Middle Ages as well, but when we peel away the stereotypes (knights, castles, plague) I think there's much we can learn from the poets, thinkers, artists, and artisans of the time. I've often said that my fixation on the period has helped me discern what sort of behavior is truly of its time and place, and what's universally human.

    1. That's such a good thought. Yes. I do not think we are in general good at discerning such things. If we were, historical novels would be better, with fewer characters that seem moderns in fancy dress.

    2. Yes—I continue to see scholars and pundits across the ideological spectrum cite the Middle Ages and pronounce with risible confidence that the "lessons of history" coincide, mirabile visu, with the social and political prescriptions they were already inclined to favor!

    3. It seems strange but true that we often find only what we seek to find, and that so often we can't see the past through the lens of our own day. I like to think about the past as a place where I still can go and wander, if I'll only obey the laws of that world--a place where people are in many ways different from those I know.

  2. the better half and i were discussing this morning what humans would be like if language had never been invented. would we still be smart? would technology still exist? maybe we'd be telepathic... maybe trees would have evolved to fill the niche, and at the present time would be harvesting humans for fertilizer... i think i'll write a book about that and earn a million $. hahanot

    1. But there's more and more out there to say that trees do talk! Maybe not quite like Ents, but they communicate. And trees turn out to be kind to one another.

      There's this, from Wired: Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks: Intact, undamaged trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack. They somehow know what their neighbors are experiencing, and react to it. The mind-bending implication was that brainless trees could send, receive and interpret messages.

      And there are many articles about how fungi serves as a sort of inter web between trees and plants so that they can communicate and help one another. I guess there was something like that in "Avatar" (which I did not see), but it turns out that it's real.

      Scientific American: Mycorrhizal fungi like Rhizopogon partner with plant roots because each gets something out of it. The fungus infiltrates the plants’ roots. But it does not attack — far from it. The plant makes and delivers food to the fungus; the fungus, in turn, dramatically increases the plant’s water and mineral absorptive powers via its vast network of filaments. They provide far more surface area for absorption than the meager supply of short root hairs the tree could grow alone. What has not been appreciated until relatively recently is both how complex mycorrhizal fungal networks can be and that they can also act as conduits between trees. Much of the work I’m about to describe to you has come out of the laboratory of Professor Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia.

      The world is weird and wonderful!

  3. i've heard about some of that; there's so much we don't know about this small planet; and we're busy...grrrr..... Oregon is supposed to have the largest fungus in the world, i remember reading somewhere. it's in the subsurface and is, like(don't quote me), 500 square miles large. it's associated with old growth forest i think...

    1. That giant one is a bad-for-trees fungus, though... And supposed to weigh more than 200 gray whales. That's a lot of fungus! And it is quite protean and can look radically different from one phase or spot to another. I'm fascinated by tree stories, but that one is sad.

      It reminds me of how (though this is a prettier story) aspen groves are said to be one organism, and probably the largest living organism in the world, and they give the credit to either a grove in Utah or one in Colorado. Aspens are clonal, and so when you see a group of trees, they're really one body.

      Both stories are so strange and marvelous. I dearly love the sight of an aspen grove shivering in the wind, especially when the leaves are yellow.

  4. it's startling to watch, like semaphore or something...

    1. Glittery! Perhaps they are sending a message.

  5. Our fictional impulses start from opposing points of the compass: I would find no escape from a life defined by wattle daub, smoky interiors, weak home-brewed beer, rough tunics and cock-fighting; you would be equally trapped by a plot twist that involved the ingenious, even horrific, application of an angle-grinder. (Second thoughts: I may be wrong about this, you have a formidable list of abilities and these may include adaptability).

    The words "lapis lazuli" may give you a frisson while I'm busy responding to "integer".

    And yet as someone said, somewhat elliptically, (he may have been US): "It's differences of opinion that lead to horse races." I'm back yet again, wondering what on earth you're up to.

    1. What I am up to... Shall take you literally! I woke up at six and began sorting a big box of papers in my writing room. Found all sorts of trash (dental records, out-of-date contracts, etc.), along with little things created by my children and heaps of poems that I had wholly forgotten and seem like something written by another person. I am taking a break, feeling appalled (well, maybe not appalled--there I go, mythologizing the mundane) by how slowly it goes.

      Oddly, I am thinking about a story that involves "wattle daub," as I am considering (festering over) a request from a former editor of mine. She always liked a story of mine that involved a Viking raid. Always asked me for something "ancient" in setting. Have no idea. Maybe I'm just daydreaming.

      I find that description of me intriguing, though I don't really know what it means, exactly. It appears, though, that I am easily bored and like to fling myself off into space--trusting that I'll find a new country under me feet. You can consider that a virtue or not. I can see it from either angle.

      My husband has a very odd story about going to see cock-fighting in Vietnam. It is not quite as bizarre as how he became accidentally engaged without his knowledge, but it's curious: He is always having adventures when away, and I am always worried because of his willingness to confide himself to the universe. Women never have that quality, being deprived of it early on by the necessary warnings.

    2. I should say (not in defense but in confession) that I didn't even grasp the idea of plot twist for a while. For that matter, I didn't grasp plot. I thought it was silly and artificial when I first started writing fiction--now I'm quite willing to introduce plots and twists into a poem. Life, so tricksy!


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.