Thursday, August 17, 2017

I am taking a break from blogging because of deadlines and personal commitments.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Linkfest: some poems online

Images from three in-print poetry books--
The Throne of Psyche,
and The Foliate Head.
All art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

I have added about 150 links to poems online on the stories-and-poems page. Some are poems or excerpts from published books--Claire (LSU), The Throne of Psyche (Mercer), The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza), and Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia)--and others are from future books, including a good many poems from The Book of the Red King. Some of them are not final versions, having been tweaked before they found a home in a book.

Thanks to Clive Hicks-Jenkins and three wonderful designers--Andrew Wakelin of Wales for The Foliate Head, Mary-Frances Glover Burt of Atlanta for The Throne of Psyche, and Elizabeth Adams for Thaliad--the books are beautiful. Good to have and to hold and to read.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Larking at the Clark
Michael and I had a glorious 30th anniversary celebration over the weekend in Williamstown, MA. Two days at the ever-fabulous Clark Art Institute, feasting at Coyote Flaco etc., lots of walks around Williamstown. (If you go and are of a literary bent, St. John's has a splendid Bunyan "Pilgrim's Progress" window, and there are fabulous John Martin mezzotints of "Paradise Lost" hidden away in a little gallery in the Clark cellar.) Special exhibits on Alma-Tadema, Picasso, and Frankenthaler are on at the moment. Bemused by several pieces that suggested how much Sendak learned from Picasso.... The collection is splendid, with wonderful works by Ghirlandaio, the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, Pesellino, Gainsborough, Homer, Inness, Singer Sargent, and many more.

I discovered that a person cannot get away from Cooperstown in Williamstown, and not only because Sterling Clark was brother to Stephen Clark, who founded so much in Cooperstown with their father's share of the Singer fortune. Saw a stone-and-bronze monument to Ulysses Grant (Negro Leagues star) that mentioned The Baseball Hall of Fame, and three paintings by local painter Tracy Helgeson were hanging in the front window of Greylock Gallery. 

That was my third and longest visit to the Clark. If you have not been, it is well worth the trip. And there are now trails and a big reflecting pool and new galleries and study areas. I came home with books about the Clark collection, Dürer, and Owen Jones's The Grammar of Ornament.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Marly at Porter Street

Big thanks to Chris Phillips for featuring "The Wrexham Coverlet" and "At the Fall in Borderlands" (published in the current issue of John Wilson's new Education and Culture) on his podcast, Word from Porter Street (#4 new series.) I'm at 2:45, but listen to the whole thing; it's a quick 15 minutes. Jump just HERE. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer sampler, part two

Named as one of their Favorite Books of 2015
Books and Culture Magazine, Maze of Blood 
(Mercer University Press, 2015), is a visceral
shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging
at the imagination that examines the results
of thwarted dreams and desires in the life
of a young writer. Set in rural Texas
in the 1930’s, Marly Youmans uses language
as both scalpel and wand to conjure a place
and time as real as the abandoned oil wells
and as otherworldly as the magical lands
of the great epic poems.... Suzanne Brazil
The start of the 11th chapter of Maze of Blood...

The girl broke into his house like a wave.
Windows were thrown open to let the breeze in, and the crickets sawed like mad on their dry, chitinous fiddles. Somewhere in the background a radio played a cowboy song about horse thieves and a broken heart. Conall had been rattling the Underwood’s keys and ranting a story to the air when she sailed through the door and splashed against the walls.
His mother and father tried to turn her away, as if pushing with their dried, withered fingers against the blue-and-green swell of a mermaid. But her voice rang out so loudly that she woke him from a tale of bushwhacking across the wilderness, and he came into the living room.
Her brown eyes held his.
    He could feel the walls starting to buckle—could feel some kind of radiance pouring out of her and pushing at the meager room, making the dilapidated couch and chairs stand out in all their cheerlessness. Perfume blossomed in the air that had been stale and smelled faintly of illness. Her presence diminished his mother and father, and they dwindled to toys. She might as well have been a tiger roaming the Sikhote-Alin mountains, and they two little rabbits in the ginseng leaves! Her body moved easily, as if she were more at home in the house than they, with more of a right to be there. Conall felt a ripple of pleasure—or gratefulness—perhaps even joy. Whatever it was, the sensation was so unfamiliar that he could not put a final name to it and knew only that for all his bulk, he felt very light on feet that seemed about to float up from the floor. He wanted to rush to her, wrap his arms around her, and sniff the scent of her hair, and he would have been content to hold her that way for a long time.
“You reminded me of a poem,” he told her, later on in the evening.
“What poem?”
“‘Kubla Khan.’ The way the water goes dancing and diving.”
“Next time I’ll bring my dulcimer,” she said..
“My Abyssinian maid,” he said, and smiled.
“The Abyssinian maid melted away like the poem.”
“I’ll have to hold on tight,” he said.
She dazzled him. A kind of bewitchment was shed from her fingertips as she spoke. In the distance, crickets were chirping, and a few spotted chorus frogs were throat-singing—their vocal sacs emitting a series of rasping trills. Conall said that the frogs had been Mongolians in another life but had been sent to Texas to repent of their sins. He told her that he had called up the moon especially for her and that the harvest moon belonged to Ceres. Soon, he said, the daughter of the goddess would be leaving for the winter kingdom of Hades. He wondered how Persephone, so full of light and life, could endure such a kingdom of darkness.
   Clinging close to the horizon, the enormous autumn moon had taken on the surprising color of a rutabaga. Perhaps they had danced under the moon together. Conall didn’t know how to dance but couldn’t imagine that ignorance would have stopped him. He could not remember, though he could still feel her hand that was small and warm and sweet-smelling. Perhaps the dancing had come later in his dreams.
Her name was Maybelline.

Note: hardcovers of Maze of Blood and Glimmerglass are currently on half-price sale at Amazon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer sampler, part one

"Its themes and the power of its language,
the forceful flow of its storyline and its characters
have earned the right to a broad national audience."
30 July 2012 John M. Formy-Duval. Contemporary Literature
excerpt mid-way in Chapter 10, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Pip runs away again, and this time he thinks to take Clemmie and her baby.

* * *

Stillness had come over the world; the train had been checked in its flight and was taking on water.
“Come with me,” Pip whispered, the idea so new and bright and large in his mind that he never thought to hold back the words, any more than he could think to keep the orb of sun from cresting the horizon at dawn.  He had grown another inch in the past month.  He bent down and kissed her on the mouth, and under his hand he felt a flutter at her throat.
Clemmie laughed and then kissed back, pressing against him until the baby squalled and she drew away.
“Come with me.”  The words seemed potent and magical, like what he had imagined back in the Emanuel Primitive Baptist Church as Preacher Bell described the peal at the world’s end when souls would be threshed from their husks.  Would it be so different from the two long whistles that meant the brakes had been released and the train was moving?
The locomotive released a head of steam; a black thunderhead sprang from the chimney.  And at once Pip understood that this was what he had been meaning for years:  Come with me.  Had he known all along that the three of them would be standing by the train, that he would draw Clemmie by the sheer force of his own wish, and that they would swarm, laughing, into the shadows of an empty boxcar?  They would be a family, flying across the flatlands, feeling the earth swell under their heels and break from the plains in mountain surges.   It was not anything to do with Bill; it was about him.  In the light of his rapture of need, her earlier bonds looked wrong and weak, would crumble to dust and drift across abandoned farms like ghosts exposed to the dawn.
He could see the double-headed engines now, black boulders crowning a rockslide barely held to the groove of track as it eased to round the curve—then the train was upon him, the rumble quickening and the whistle crying the crossing signal of two long notes, a short, and another long that seemed to pluck at his skin, alerting every inch of his body.  The lead engine shot past, the engineer and fireman towering above him, sparks from the wheels zinging onto his pant-legs like beetles of fire, but he did not stop staring at Clemmie, who was laughing again but not shaking her head.  For once in his life, he was locked onto a woman’s eyes, her pupils widening to take him in.  He grabbed her hand and began to race alongside the train, the baby shrieking in bursts like a small steam whistle.  When he leaped for the boxcar, Pip made it easily, but their hands uncoupled, and he shouted at Clemmie to hurry.
She did start after him, lifting Lanie as if she would throw the child into his arms.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conundrums of art

In between graduation parties and company and weeding the riot of summer and tidying the hovel and hanging out with the godly (the ones we now call Puritans), I've noticed a few things that seem good for those attracted by the arts.

Creative economy podcast

A lot of this tends toward the usual depressing stuff about the inability of the arts in our day to feed and clothe 99% of its practitioners. But it does sum up a lot of issues. I don't know.... Being a medieval (male) artisan with a lot of family luck in the realm of health and longevity seems more and more attractive.

William Deresiewicz talks about art in our day: the transformation of makers of art from artisans to artist to professional to entrepreneur; the creative economy; online lives and art; digitization; everybody wanting to be an artist; multi-platform creators; craft and creators; the new mode of "creativity."

Seizing ephemera

Jacoba Urist, How Do You Conserve Art Made of Bologna, or Bubble Gum, or Soap?As contemporary artists get more ambitious with their materials, conservators have to find creative ways to preserve the works.

Can we preserve a mayfly as easily as we can a statue carved from basalt? Is the word bologna still applicable to nonsense? Has this bologna risen to the level of art? Should artists who use disposable materials be endlessly curated at high cost? Purchased at high cost? If a work has to be remade every few years, is it not reproduction rather than original work? What happens when the artist dies and somebody else does the reproduction in order to retain the museum or collector's investment? Or are the artist's assistants already doing the work? (If so, can they just continue the artist's work after his/her death, rather as novels are sometimes printed under the name of a dead writer?) Should there be a foundation to do that in perpetuity? Or should the museum get into the manufacturing business? Does common sense suggest that the impossibly ephemeral (bubble gum painting, chocolate sculpture, bologna portraits, styrofoam) should be treated differently from marble, ivory, gold, paint, and "gilded monuments of princes?"

This article fascinates, though it does not address the basic questions that a reasonably intelligent person who had long loved art might have in response to the subject matter.

Psychology of creativity podcast

Exploring the Psychology of Creativity is a conversation between Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, and Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. March 9, 2017 at the National Gallery of Canada.

Creativity, openness, interest in ideas, art, liberalism and conservatism and temperaments, personality traits and the arts, risk, foolishness, the game of art, tests that select for creativity; employers, systems, and creative people; structures and artists; life as an artist; artistic distribution; winner-takes-all mode in creative domains; aesthetic joy; Jung, archetypes, and artists; deep biological needs to make art; monetizing your art; entrepreneurs; creative children; the genii; art as solving difficult problems; artists as teachers of seeing; the miracle of dreams; mediation between order and chaos; visionaries; art as vanguard; beauty of Europe as infinitely valuable; Canadians, zebras, and standing out.

Ida Nettleship John

I love this review of The Good Bohemian: The Letters of Ida John edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd, though it breaks my heart. The reviewer is clear-eyed and sympathetic to Ida Nettleship John and to her mother. The sketch of her is by Augustus John, c. 1900. Poor Ida, an artist barred at every turn but still amusing and touching in her letters. It's too bad she couldn't climb "outside over there" like Sendak's Ida.

The 2017 Frederick Buechner Workshops, FYI

Fuller Seminary has cancelled the September conference, so I won't be doing talks and workshops there in September. It is a shame because the three annual Buechner Workshop weeks at Princeton have done well, and it would be good to have one on the West Coast. But I understand the reasons and wish Fuller well.

One good thing: The day I found out, I also got a request to publish a version of the talk, so that's something salvaged from the work. Should be out within the year.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Poems: new online

I've just arrived back from more than a week at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. As but an Alternate Fellow, I was pleased and grateful to be invited.

Meanwhile, some print magazines with my poems arrived, and a few poems popped up in online magazines. Here are links to the online poems at John Wilson's Education and Culture and Karen Kelsay and Jeff Holt's The Orchards.

Print arrivals: requested poems in Trinacria, Artemis. I ought to be  more industrious about sending out. Ought. Somehow am not.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

To make or not to make--

This post is especially for Tim Davis, a retired professor who often visits here, and who just wrote a post about why writers write. He also linked to a Huffington Post article about the same. I started to answer him on his post and then realized my response was not a comment but a post itself and probably could be a book, though luckily I have no desire to write a book about the subject. Out this post goes with best wishes to him for better health.

Of course, I don't know why the group called writers write. I only know why I write, and why I did not stop when having my third book come out at FSG within two weeks after 9-11 destroyed my so-important "numbers," or why I didn't stop when various editors orphaned my books by leaving FSG or LSU or Godine before pub date, or why I'm still writing today. Those things don't make me special; every published writer has a collection of such stumbles and pieces of ill luck, and plenty of us have made wrong choices along the way.

So here it is: my plain truth. No varnish. No trim.

* * *

Making is joy.

Playing with words can feel like joy streaming through the body.

There is little that is stranger, wilder, and more thrilling than to go to what feels like a fount and to bring back a pail brimming with golden water.

The call is to bring a shaped thing out of the welter of things and names: to create using the materials of Creation.

A strange part of all this leaning toward shapeliness is that a writer is also made, enlarged, changed and transformed. She may fly into ethereal realms or trudge through the underworld, may die on the phoenix pyre many times. She experiences redemption, loss, debasement, courage, all wax and wane--a whole gamut of ways of being. She loves the unloveable as well as the much-loved. Like a fantasy object, a writer becomes bigger on the inside through making poems and narratives.

Giving a made thing away in the form of a book and having it be received is also fine. And lovely. And makes a writer pleased and glad. But when the book goes out from the writer, it is just that: gone out. Whatever flame it has may continue to burn elsewhere. Something new needs to be born. Yeats's Wandering Aengus chases his silvery trout lady until he is an old man; he will go on till times and time are done.

You ask about money and writers. Expecting to be rewarded financially for art in our current times is dangerous to the self: see all those annoying studies on black swans for evidence! Almost nobody is rewarded with a consistent living wage; as in many arts fields, a few (and often not the best) take home the main financial reward. I know people who were deeply harmed by not understanding this brute fact. Expectation of financial reward broke them. Expectation of easy publication broke them. Expectation that others would support their work out of love broke them. (Publication is, of course, easier now, with so many new modes, but writers of my generation did not have so many choices. Having many choices presents new problems and unintended consequences, but that's a different rabbit hole to be explored.)

In the comments, you question whether art or "readers and filthy lucre" matter most to the writer. One writer is not all writers, but maybe the life of one writer can shed light on your question. Earlier, you mentioned Hawthorne and Melville; the latter is an especially instructive example. Melville suffered mightily from the withdrawal of readership and encouragement over time, and he lived so very long without it. In the face of people who thought him nigh-mad, in the no-face face of being ignored and forgotten, he kept on making art, writing poems and fiction. He persisted. He died with Billy Budd in the papers on his writing desk. That's courage. Despite whatever flaws a biographer might gleefully unearth, that's human nobility. That's deep-diving devotion to beauty, truth, goodness, and creation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Distractible me

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, My Dream Farm
When I could have been doing research or cleaning the house or writing something more sensible, I have been seized by the possibly-silly impulse to quorate. And as both my current forays into Quora deal with collaborator Clive Hicks-Jenkins, I shall post links to my answers.

Who is your favorite illustrator?


If you had to live inside a painting forever, what painting would you choose?

More Quora frittering:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


The Rollipoke News no. 3 is now out! If you're a subscriber to my newsletter, please check your spam if you do not see a copy.... (And if you wish to subscribe, leave your email address in the Rollipoke subscription slot in the right-hand column.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Novelist and poet Seb Doubinsky (he writes in both French and English) has a new project he calls "The Tabago Page." Interviews with writers will not focus on marketing and promotion but try to dig a little deeper into the work and the novelist or poet (or the poet-novelist or novelist-poet. Not sure what I am!)

Here is my interview.

And thanks to those who have already shared on social media. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Sarah Raphael-Balme at Lotte Inch, York

12th May 2017 - 17th June 2017

"Featuring the weird and wonderful, the imagined and the exaggerated, with prints and original paintings by artist, illustrator and designer Clive Hicks-Jenkins and York based painter Sarah Raphael-Balme."

As you can see, original art from Maze of Blood is among the offerings. (The book was Finalist, Forewood Book of the Year Awards, and was featured in Favorite Books of the Year at Books and Culture and Books of 2015 in First Things.) And there are cunning little pendants from Clive as well.

More about the Sarah Raphael-Balme and Clive Hicks-Jenkins here.

Sarah Raphael-Balme
Interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Maze of Blood
Sarah Raphael-Balme
Lots more of her images collected here
More about Lotte Inch Gallery here

Facebook photo pilfered from Sarah Raphael-Balme.
You can see one of the Gawain prints,
a pen-and-ink piece from The Foliate Head,
as well as copies of Hansel and Gretel,
Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Maze of Blood
and Six Poets The Book of Ystwyth - 
Six Poets on the Art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
available (click title) post-free from Grey Mare Press.

Friday, May 05, 2017


"Spirit-fall," a poem influenced by Yoruban chant and ancient Hebrew poetry. Originally published by editor Jonathan Farmer in "At Length." Part of a longer sequence. I made the recording using Audacity, and Paul Digby tinkered with the sound afterward.

Illuvia dorado
Photo courtesy of Ignacio Leonardi and

Sunday, April 30, 2017

"tremendous beauty and continuous revelation"

"Exploring the Psychology of Creativity" (click for the video.) Below are some quotes from a conversation between Marc Mayer, Director of The National Gallery of Canada, and Dr. Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. March 9, 2017. I liked the video; you might also. Peterson has a Jungian perspective, and he leaves room for the dignity and freedom of human beings.

Professor Peterson, University of Toronto
Photo via BBC News Toronto
The known world inside chaos: "Imagine that the world is basically explored territory inside an unexplored territory.... Every world is like that."

Where artists live: "The artists like to be right out on the edge. That's the edge between chaos and order.  They like to expand the domain of order out into chaos. They do that first by transforming perception."

Artist on the edge: "You can fall into the chaos at any time."

Artist as dream: "Artists have always been on the frontier of human understanding. The artist bears the same relationship to society that the dream bears to mental life."

More artist as dream: "The dream mediates between order and chaos. It starts to make chaos into order, so it's half chaos. That's why it's not comprehensible. And artists play exactly the same role in society."

Old and New Worlds: "The beauty that the Europeans have produced, it's infinitely valuable.... People go from all over the world on pilgrimage to Europe just to look at beautiful things. It nourishes their soul. They're priceless. Paris is priceless. Rome is priceless. And it's all beauty that drives it. It's phenomenally valuable! And Canada is just ugly as sin. Really. Really. We should be ashamed of ourselves."

Ugly as sin: "Hell is a place of drop ceilings and fluorescent lights."

What there is other than worldly success: "One of the things that pays off big for creative people is that they get to be creative. There's great aesthetic joy in that, and depth."

Jung and the arts: "The reason Jungian psychology works is because it works for creative people. It doesn't work at all for non-creative people. It just falls dead and flat for them. It isn't how they think."

Power of art: "It speaks of the ultimate depths...."

The start of a great explanation of how publishing works according to an airport book shelf, and how winner takes all: "Half the money in the publishing business goes to Stephen King."

Openness as a personality trait for artists: "Creativity loads very high on openness."

The artist's gamble: "There's a high probability you will lose."

Teen telling parents about a desire to be an artist: "It's like discussing color with someone who is color blind."

Artists and society: "Artists and entrepreneurs are the same people."

On regimentation in schools: "They're factories. You don't produce creative people in factories. You produce factory workers. That's fine except there aren't any factory workers anymore, so we should probably stop doing it."

The pepper grain in a salt shaker: "Creative people are as rare as the winners of races."

Worldy success for artists: "You have to be more creative than everyone else, and good luck with that."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Curiouser and curiouser

The fabulous Miss Yo-Yo!
I've written seven pieces so far for a collaborative project that will result in a solo show in September, one that mixes visual arts (pen and ink, with colored inks) with poems and stories. Though I can't say anything much about it in public now--because we all love good surprises, and I can't spoil this one--I will be writing about it more privately in The Rollipoke, no. 3, for those of you who are subscribed.

It's one of the odder series of works I have committed to doing, and has certain challenges that are unusual. I was invited to do this work by Detroit-born painter Yolanda Sharpe (who also sings with Glimmerglass Opera and is the highly successful head of the SUNY-Oneonta art department, so she's formidable--see her work at and am finding it interesting and sometimes amusing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Yellow-blue morning

Four male and three female goldfinches perched on the feeder, backed by a lawn that is a low meadow in shades of blue scilla and a few yellow crocuses. Plus a persistent squirrel. I am recalling my father's electrifying squirrel-defenses....

More on my wanderings, for the curious or downright nosey--

Grovewood Gallery by Grove Park Inn
After I returned from Paris, I devoted three weeks to a North Carolina trip. This one was entirely personal, as I went down to give my mother (now 88, not 89, as I had thought--weak math!) a hiking companion (thank you, Etheree Chancellor, for being a good hiking friend) and more. My mother is still active volunteering for the North Carolina Arboretum, gardening at her home in Cullowhee, and weaving, so she is still up for many outings and for hiking in the Nantahala Forest or Panther Falls Trail (near Tallulah Gorge, GA) or Pinnacle Park in Sylva or near Fontana Dam, etc. We also explored interesting or just plain wacky museums (rocks! tartans! historic houses!) all over western North Carolina. We ate out constantly (when we weren't home with such deep-South favorites as green boiled peanuts and field peas and okra) in Asheville and Franklin and Sylva. We marched all over the Asheville arts district, rambling through studios and galleries (stopping to eat at White Duck Tacos because my mother said she had no one who wanted to go there with her) and to the Grovewood Gallery at Grove Park Inn, and to see weaver Susan Leveille at Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, etc. etc.

Now you know.

I came back in time for a wonderful Holy Week, and now here I am, company departed and ready to work. I have a batch of manuscripts to read, a novel to revise, poems to write for a special project in the fall (I'll write about that in The Rollipoke, for those of you who are subscribers), and a talk for Buechner Workshops to contemplate and begin.

Jordan Murray and self-publishing

As Jordan is a friend and daughter of friends and was in Cooperstown to sing (we have occasionally sung together in choir, though she is a far better singer than I am) and babysit doggies, I invited her for Easter dinner. I'm curious about self-publishing and have been interested in her progress. (Remember when her possible covers were posted? "Help Jordan Murray Pick a Cover." She picked one and The Emperor's Horn is now out.) Since she writes fantasy and science fiction, I'm fantasizing that she will find the pot of gold at rainbow's end and go to Clarion and meet lots of writers and have the fun of going through the fine-tooth comb that is Clarion critiquing. (It is transformative fun, or so say the Clarionites. Though the ones I've met also say they didn't sleep all that much for six weeks.) I've asked her for some comments on her road to publishing, and here they are:

There is undeniable value in the artistic freedom that self-publishing enables.

Respecting that value with high quality work takes vigilance and sacrifice, and it takes a great deal of time. Commitments to goals are easily sabotaged by impatience, one of the ugliest enemies of any author or artist. After all, isn't self-publishing supposed to be faster and easier than the traditional route?

Self-awareness is an essential part of the process.

Self-publishing requires the author examine their work with staggering levels of humility and honesty. They must learn to recognize their weakest skills and confront them until they either get better at it or hire professional help. There's no shame at all in hiring a professional editor or artist. True, it involves more up front expenses, but, it also provides the rare opportunity of choosing your collaborators.

It's important for independent authors to realize that extensive editing is only the beginning of their commitment to self-publishing.

Repeated, time-consuming tasks that have very little to do with the simple joy of writing will fill days, months, and years of their lives. Will it make them a better writer? Yes. Will it teach them valuable life skills? Frequently. Will it make them a bitter, frustrated person who resents their choice? It might. But, the choice for one person to do it all need not be a permanent one.

Contracts with editors and publishers elapse, change, and evolve in traditional circuits just as self-published authors may choose to become traditionally published during their careers. There need not be such a strong division between the two. The path an author takes to crafting and publishing a good story can be uniquely suited to their own needs. That is an exciting prospect, and the pursuit of art for art's sake is equally important to keep alive during the process.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Lessons in history, beauty, and the point of life"

Moreau's Jason and Medea,
Musée d'Orsay, Wikipedia public domain
It's a bit odd that I made it to Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu before I ever made it to Paris but so it is. Here are a few scattered thoughts about my just-finished trip, which was quite wonderful and not at all like Lent (aside from sore knees and seeing many skulls and bones and rambling in the chilly rain.) What is so alluring about Paris is the beauty and also the plain fact that there is so much worth knowing: it has many satisfying layers of culture.

How we change! At 19 I loved Burne-Jones. Decades later, I hardly give him a glance because he's hung so close to Gustave Moreau at the Musée d'Orsay. That place alone is proof that high culture in the West cannot do without the "dead white male," like him or not.

Mystery is always an element in the most pleasing work, and I thought about this repeatedly in Paris. Probably the most over-familiar example there or anywhere is La Gioconda. But in La Dame à la licorne tapestries at the Musée de Cluny (Musée national du Moyen Âge), I like the way the final motto, À mon seul désir, can be read in so many different ways that it tends up seeming pregnant with meaning but not at all revealing itself.

Climbing the winding stair from the lovely lower level and turning the corner into the upper level of Sainte-Chapelle: surprise linked to intense beauty is as pleasing in architecture as it is in a garden of winding paths with secret sculpture and discovered vistas. I'd like to go back there again. If you're in doubt as to whether high culture is a worthy and beautiful ideal, Sainte-Chapelle will settle your mental hash.

Perhaps as we grow older, what culture we have tells us what things we don't really need to know. While I regretted not being faster here and there (never quite got to the Manet), I found myself a bit cool on royal gaud at the Château de Versailles. I didn't regret missing some of the rooms, though I loved the outrageous chapel, and it was interesting to see works by Bernini, the Clicquot organ, etc. in a "home" interior. I hung around the Morand clock, waiting for the playlet of the laughing dwarf to appear on the hour, but it seems to no longer function. (I love automatons and clockwork--well, who doesn't?) Enjoyed walking the André Le Nôtre gardens and poking around the grounds and seeing the smaller structures, particularly the adorable hamlet of Marie Antoinette, tumbledown though it is. Perhaps what I was cool on was Louis XIV himself, as the degree of narcissism seemed overwhelming and sometimes comical. Or perhaps it was the Baroque? But I like Bernini. And Caravaggio. Maybe Louis, then? Because I enjoyed seeing the broken royal monument of Queen Adelaide of Savoy, wife of Louis VI. Yes, I think the Sun King's affectations must be why--that and the prodigious ostentatiousness of the place, even though I saw many things to like.

À mon seul désir, Musée de Cluny, Wikipedia public domain

An element that is seldom seen in the states but common in Europe and Asia is that interesting sense of one phase of culture taking over another in architecture. It must be wonderful to live with that constantly. It is a rich thing for a writer, too. Living with tradition is to be fed by culture. You have a sense of ongoing culture in Notre Dame and other churches, but it's even stronger elsewhere. I liked seeing Crypte archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame where the medieval bumps into the Roman--or the Roman frigidarium bumping into the medieval at Cluny--or the constant refurbishing and remaking in churches like St. Severin or St. Pierre. There's also a sense of the place as layered and undermined with the Les Catacombes and sewers and various archaeological underground sites. That must do something to one's mind. And a good thing, too. It's pleasurable for someone from the states and for a writer. I think of all the early writers bemoaning our lack of "thick," built-up civilization, or of Charles Brockden Brown transforming the forests into Gothic structures. We do have some ancient native American sites, but they are not so woven into our cities, and none of them have the presence of the sites in Latin America.

It is possible to walk from rue Meslay up to the Seine and past the Tour Eiffel with lots of side wanderings even if you have a bum knee that makes you sorry you did it later on. What a walkable city! Sidewalks are often a bit narrow, but who cares? I live in a little Yankee village with lots of museums that's quite walkable when we're not in the mad middle of a blizzard, as we are now, but eventually all sidewalks have been thoroughly walked many times....

Did I say that I love the medieval world? I adore medieval carved ivory and stained glass. And bizarre reliquaries and goldsmith work and tapestries. If only I wouldn't drop dead in childbirth (would) or die of illness in childhood (would) or be a miserable peasant (would), I could be a happy medieval traveler.

In lieu of a medieval life, I might just like to live in the Louvre. I managed to stare at the Vermeer show, Egypt, Assyria, the medieval rooms, and a huge amount of European painting, but I think it might take a lifetime to look over the place properly.

Lovely to see the university classes using the Louvre. We live in a time in which American academics kick out the highest achievements of culture in the name of increasing diversity and equality, but we will never achieve a high culture of diversity and equality if artists and writers don't stand on the greats of the past. And in the West, those greats of the past are dominated by those pesky dead white males. But when art goes out from the soul and becomes part of the soul of the world, well, the best of it is beyond considerations of gender or race. And the very finest is what we want to stand on. If we don't stand on tradition and the finest creations of the past, we are but spiders, spinning from our own limited guts.

Food, one must say something about Paris food, no? And I have now eaten ice cream at Berthillon--quite good but not up to the fabulous, weird, magic flavors of Emporio La Rosa in Santiago, Chile. I would hate to admit how many of those flavors I tried in a rather short span of time. Ceviche was better in Peru, but everything else edible in Paris was hard to beat. The food in cafes and restaurants the locals know more than the tourists was wonderfully imaginative. Fun to let them bring whatever they like in many small courses and be surprised. Fun also to visit a market like La Marché des Enfants Rouges and eat in a little rainy tent. Also, I definitely had a weakness for the layered sables and the small cakes at Bontemps in the Marais. (And we met interesting people at restaurants, including a Texan who fell in love with Paris and stayed, and who I now realize was Rick Odums of the Centre International de Danse.)

Paris myths... Perhaps it was the frequent rain and cold at fault, but Paris was not quite as fashionable as I expected it to be, particularly in Paris Fashion Week, though I did enjoy passing by shop windows and staring at clothes (and art and flowers and so on.) We did keep noticing that Asian tourists were wearing pale gray with pale shell pink in beautifully shaped wool coats. Unlike the myth, Parisians are not all mere fashionable sticks for clothes to hang on. They come in all size and shapes. Nor were they rude about a tourist jabbering at them in schoolgirl French, as I was led to expect, but were quite willing to engage, ever helpful and friendly. And now that it is blizzarding outside, I'm ready to return. Already two fresh feet of snow, falling fast, and set to snow into tomorrow...

photo by Chatsam, Cluny, CC via Wikipedia
Roman baths with capitals from the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés


Learning curve: just sent a Rollipoke News out today... And got a bunch of replies. And then replied to one to absolutely everybody enrolled. Sorry out there!

Sunday, March 12, 2017


I'm fresh back from Paris and promise to post soon--hope you have done something wonderful in the past week!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Small hurrah on Shrove Tuesday

Yesterday I finished the draft of a novel. For me, it is quite long--358 pages of text, plus the usual front matter and divisions. And it has a glossary. I'm not sure whether I'll include the glossary. It glosses dialect words and clears up some common misconceptions. Maybe I'll just post it.... I'll take a break from the manuscript, and then start to revise it and also do some  persnickety research to make sure there are no stray historical errors.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Rollipoke News, no. 1

Courtesy of Jenny W. of Honolulu,

For those of you who are waiting with the bated kind of breath: the first issue of The Rollipoke (a.k.a. The Rollipoke NewsThe Rollicking Rollipoke, etc.) will be launched into the interspace tomorrow. And I hope you enjoy the peculiar little newsletter that promises to give you the news about my books and doings before anybody else has it--news that either has not been posted online yet or, in some cases, will never be posted there.

Thank you, rollipokers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Don't be a nozzle!
Tiny Equus africanus asinus
Creative Commons Wikipedia
Note: It seems to me that Roderick Robinson's comments are more interesting than the post. So maybe you should read them!

I've been researching such interesting topics as  total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and so on, hanging with Calvin and the reformed tradition, hanging with Puritans and Separatists. All for the sake of my current novel.

Though in the past I've done lots of reading in seventeenth-century writings, this time I need to understand the theological underpinnings a bit better so I can understand worldview of characters. I'm finding my head a bit hard when it comes to Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, etc. vs. modern-day "Calvinism."

And I've also found lots of curious nuggets along the way. Some of my favorites are words.

How about nazzle?
A "ludicrous diminutive of ass."

Or niffle-naffle?
To trifle and play with one's work.

I like the old word for marzipan. March-pane or marchpane. A still-popular confection of sugar or honey and almond meal. “To make Marchpane to Ice and Gild, and garnish it according to Art. Take Almonds, and blanch them out of seething water, and beat them till they come to a fine paste in a stone Mortar, then take fine searsed sugar, and so beat it altogether till it come to a prefect paste, putting in now and then a spoonful of Rose-water, to keep it from oyling; then cover your Marchpane with a sheet of paper as big as a Charger, then cut it round by that Charger, and set an edge about it as about a Tart, then bottom it with Wafers, then bake it in an Oven, or in a Baking-pan, and when it is hard and dry, take it out of the Oven, and ice it with Rose-water and Sugar, and the white of an Egg, being as thick as butter, and spread it over thin with two or three feathers; and then put it into the Oven again, and when you see it rise high and white, take it out again and garnish it with some pretty conceit, and stick some long Comfits upright in it, so gild it, then strow Biskets and Carrawayes on it. If your Marchpane be Oyly in beating, then put to it as much Rose-water as will make it almost as thin as to ice.”  (A Queens Delight also has a recipe to make marchpane “look like Collops of Bacon.”) From A QUEENS Delight; OR, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. Never before Published. London, Printed by E. Tyler, and R. Holt, for Nath. Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the Royal Exchange. 1671.

Or how about lollop? To lounge about, to saunter (but heavily!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elecampane and pippin-pap

Public domain, Wikipedia.
Doman Hering: Judgement of Paris, c. 1529,
Solnhofen limestone, 22 x 19.7 cm;
Paris (the knight) is a portrait of Otto Henry, Elector Palatine,
Hera a portrait of his wife Susanna. Bode-Museum Berlin.

Well, it's not the admirable and most famous Snail Water, but it might come in handy on these cold winter nights...
An approved Conserve for a Cough or Consumption of the Lungs.

Take a pound of Elecampane Roots, draw out the pith, and boil them in
two waters till they be soft, when it is cold put to it the like
quantity of the pap of roasted Pippins, and three times their weight of
brown sugar-candy beaten to powder, stamp these in a Mortar to a
Conserve, whereof take every morning fasting as much as a Walnut for a
week or fortnight together, and afterwards but three times a week.
I wonder if that is the size of a walnut meat, an unopened walnut in its shell, or a great big green unhulled walnut. Whatever it is, the receipt comes from the marvelous A Queens Delight: The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also, A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. 
London: Printed by E. Tyler and R. Holt, for Nath.
Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the
Royal Exchange. 1671.
Elecampane? Inula helenium. A.k.a. elfdock and helenio. Horse-heal. It's in the same family as sunflowers, Asteraceae. Helenium refers to that most famous Helen, Helen of Troy. I've seen a number of accounts of her relation to elecampane. Her tears turned to Elecampane, according to one version. Not surprising, I suppose, as desirable young men and women themselves seem to have had a fatal tendency to turn into flowers or trees in the ancient world. But elecampane is enormous. She must have been surrounded by a whole jungle of the stuff; surely she could have wept, lost herself in eight-foot stems, and slipped away, saving a world of trouble. I have also read that she simply carried elecampane with her when she was abducted from Sparta by Paris. Why? Because we women, when abducted, like to carry gigantic flowers? I find such a bouquet rather unlikely, though in the legends of the ancient world, women appear to be vulnerable to abduction when picking flowers. It is a wonder any young women were ever tempted into a field, however pleasantly diapered with flowers.

According to (possibly innumerable and sometimes witchy) herbal web sites, all copying one another, elecampane is beloved of the fey. Then I expect elecampane stalks are fairy skyscrapers. Perhaps the fey linkage is why it's claimed that Celtic peoples saw elecampane as a sacred flower? If you are a lovelorn, superstitious sort and have some spare vervain and mistletoe lying about and some time to waste, evidently you may grind them up and mix them with elecampane flowers for a love potion. And if you have a bad scrying habit, well, elecampane flowers are said to be useful by the sort of people who dabble in witchery--that is, by witches, who suggest that you throw a few on the grill to increase your mystic powers. All this business with love and bewitchment and foretelling the future takes us straight back to Paris and Helen, and to Aphrodite promising Paris that she will make sure he steals away with Helen, wife of Menelaus, if only he declares her the most beautiful. Never mind that she fails to mention the little fleabite of the Trojan War.

Friday, February 03, 2017


Sign up for The Rollipoke News. 
An occasional newsletter--
"news of upcoming books (fiction and poetry by Marly Youmans, both new and reprints), 
public events, strange happenings, lost words, etc."
And the occasional interesting freebie. 

Rollipoke: a coarse hempen cloth once considered 
"fit to be used as bags or wrappers for rolls or bales of finer goods"
(Robert Forby, The Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830.)

Now I want you to pretend that the sign-up form is
on another page entirely because that's what savvy people do,
the ones who know what they are doing.
They hide the form, and for some strange psychological reason,
people prefer it to be hidden on a second page.
Therefore I bid you to pretend the form
is hidden beneath a rollipoke!

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p. s.
Here's a new "Women in Horror Month" post at Weird Fiction Review
"Drunk Bay" popping up again...
Nice to be in company with Leena Krohn, Kelly Link,
Edith Wharton, and more.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Stylish, heartfelt Stevenson

Stevenson's tomb on Mount Vaea, Western Samoa
Clip from a gorgeous letter by Robert Louis Stevenson: Lastly we come to those vocations which are at once decisive and precise; to the men who are born with the love of pigments, the passion of drawing, the gift of music, or the impulse to create with words, just as other and perhaps the same men are born with the love of hunting, or the sea, or horses, or the turning-lathe. These are predestined; if a man love the labour of any trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him. He may have the general vocation too: he may have a taste for all the arts, and I think he often has; but the mark of his calling is this laborious partiality for one, this inextinguishable zest in its technical successes, and (perhaps above all) a certain candour of mind to take his very trifling enterprise with a gravity that would befit the cares of empire, and to think the smallest improvement worth accomplishing at any expense of time and industry. The book, the statue, the sonata, must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING?—when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the bosom of the artist. Read the rest HERE.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Light and language

Candlemas Eve: no doubt this year we are all looking for more candles in the dark. For me, more light goes with clearer language and less jargon and less political correctness (a kind of jargon of thinking  and language together that obscures sight.)

I have been rereading colonial materials that I haven't read since graduate school, and marveling again how literate and bright the godly (as they sometimes called themselves) were. The level of literacy among Puritans was astonishing, and since the great migration of 40,000 souls to the Massachusetts Bay Colony (and more elsewhere) tended to leave out the very poor and the very rich, they possessed a greater harmony and order and agreement than one might have expected of so large a gathering in and spreading out through a wilderness. Like us, they held some convictions that have lasted but also some that were mistaken and put a kind of darkness in their eyes and brought many to grief. And this led to their own decline in power and to change. It's a lesson.

I'm still considering what I want to accomplish in words this year. I want to finish the novel that I'm working on, despite lots of travels away from family that will break up my time. And I will write "13 Way of Looking at Form," which I have promised for the Buechner workshops. I have some poetry manuscripts that will be looking for home, and I ought to finish up or tidy up some prose manuscripts that have been lying about, waiting for me. I have taken the path less traveled in recent years, weary of a literary world ruled by marketing, and in some ways that has been good for me and in some ways bad for the visibility of my books. I need to bend my mind to what I can do there. And I must eventually get to the matter of right reversions for prior books and reprints; I hold rights to a number of books and have been asked about reprinting them. But I want to do this myself, so that I can do exactly what I like with them. So far, I have not found the time, and I know that a mother of three young adults may frequently not have time. But I'm hoping to do something about the reprints before the next winter begins.

And there I am. Still wishing for more time and more light....

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thorn from Thaliad

Book illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Thaliad

Clive at the Artlog: When my friend, the writer Marly Youmans asked me how I’d define myself in relation to my collaborations with her, I unhesitatingly wrote back, partly in fun, ‘illuminator’.

Help Jordan Murray pick a cover

Want to help Jordan Murray with her very first book cover decision? Jordan is the daughter of a friend of mine, and we recently met to talk over first novel (a fantasy) and her decision about whether to submit to publishers or to strike out into the exciting wilderness of self-publishing. Now she has decided to self-publish and just asked me what I thought of her choices of cover. So now you can throw in your own two cents as well. Keep in mind that it needs to appeal to readers of fantasy.

Step one. Go to 99 Designs and look at her four potential covers by four different artists and decide which you like (and why, if you know why!) You can leave a message there. (Or you can click on these images to enlarge. Also, click on the names to see more work by each cover artist.)

Step two. And, if you like, come back here and see what I thought about which cover would be more effective in drawing readers.

And then step three. Tell me why I'm wrong or right.

Please don't read my comments first, as they'll affect your own thinking. After all, I'm no expert, just a writer who has sometimes had a little say over the cover artist used--and sometimes not. I have sometimes gotten to pick a cover in just this way, and I've always enjoyed the process.

Update: Now I realize that changes are possible, I might just change my mind! I'd be inclined to tweak any one of these quite a bit.

And if you are a fantasy fan or know someone who is, share! Jordan is a bright, lively young woman, and I'm curious to see what tale she has told. The book will be out soon.

#76 by  Alfie

1. I wish the figure was more detectable--it almost looks like tree roots in the smaller image, and even in the large one it takes seconds to read the image. That's not good, though I think this one has a certain charm (human beings always like a spiraling path, I find--the golden ratio at work?), and it looks pleasantly like pastels. It's absolutely clear what the genre is from the lettering and the image. Somehow the castle reminds me of a certain type of spider, so that's interesting but probably just me. I'm dimly wondering if some people will feel that the wagon looks too much like a Conestoga, so that you have two genre-thoughts clashing. Not sure. (p.s. Decimal in the wrong spot.)

#77 by  iMAGIngarCh+

2.  I fear this one is too all-around dark--the image is not easily readable, even when you blow it up to large size. For selling online, it seems hard to grasp. It's more elegant, but it's subdued, and I'm not sure that's what a writer wants for this genre. The image reminds me a bit of Arthur Rackham, a thing I like. On the cheesy-to-elegant fantasy scale, it's firmly not-cheesy, which I like, but it still strikes me as maybe not the best for hauling in reader-fish. Maybe not enough light-and-dark contrast between title and background? Maybe too busy and fussy? When cut down to small size online or in a catalogue, it might be too hard to discern its intent and elements.

#75 by B-Ro

3.  I like the way the "magic" element crosses. the spine. And the human figure is appealing to readers. (My agent criticized FSG's hardcover jacket for Catherwood as not having a human element at all--just forest, no figure in a story about a woman lost in forest. He liked some of the other versions better.) I think it may be a bit of a mistake to have a title with the word horn cover his crotch! On the other hand, given the nature of readers, maybe it's not! Never mind! Okay, I'd think about that issue, especially if you could get the cover artist to swap main title and your name. But now it's bothering me less. I would say that this one is much more modern-looking, and by that I mean the title font and color, the angled body and our angled viewpoint in looking down slantwise on the figure, and the abstracted (but magicky) background. Everything has good visibility, and the image and title would be readable in small size or in black and white. I tend to think this one fulfills what a jacket or cover is meant to do, but it may be too young. It probably would set up for future covers--she would be doing a main figure on the trilogy fronts, as in the Dillons' jackets and covers for the Garth Nix Abhorsen trilogy. But is it too y.a.?

#78 by  Sergey Gudz

4. This one has human beings in transformation (genre clarity there, and the lure of the human--and the faces are quite individualized) and also a lot of clarity on the nature of the book, and those things are valuable elements to consider. But the coloration strikes me as too muddy and murky for the author's purposes. The shadowy effect may or may not suit the story, but it surely makes reading the image a little more difficult for potential readers when seeing the cover at a smaller scale. But it is lighter behind the title.... If I were the author, I would shrink the image down to an inch or 3/4" and see what I saw--for that matter, I would try shrinking them all down and considering them in that way. Might be a help.

Upshot: I'd change the coloration of #4, make it less murky, go for more light and dark contrast and a different dominant color, make the copy more readable on the back. Right now it's not that readable. #3, I definitely would consider whether it is too young, though it does a lot of the things desired--clarity, balance of light and dark, etc. But if it's too young, yes, out. It does look y.a., the more I look at it. And #2 would have to be less dark and less detailed. And #1: I'm still thinking about the dratted wagon. And the guy who looks like tree roots at small scale. But it has some charm.

Painter Yolanda Sharpe votes for #4... And I'm more in favor of that one now that I know some changes can be made. I still don't think it's clear enough at the small scale we often meet online. And that remains important.

Just call me indecisive, I guess....

Postscript: A certain well known cover critic weighed in for #4, with a vote for a slightly modified #4, which he thought "dramatic and eye-catching at thumbnail size." That's the challenge now, I suppose, to have a cover that will stand up to being enlarged or shrunk down to postage-stamp size.