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 sxc.hu

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 yolandasharpe.com) 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, sxc.hu

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Seeing silence

Andrew Garfield and Yôsuke Kubozuka
Having seen Martin Scorcese's Silence (seeing silence--strange way of speaking) late Sunday night in Utica, I want to recommend it, and also this Alissa Wilkinson review, which I find more nuanced, attentive, and accurate than most of the reviews I have seen since.
The genius of Endō’s story and Scorsese’s adaptation is that it won’t characterize anyone as a saint, nor will it either fully condone or reject the colonialist impulses, the religious oppression, the apostasy, or the faltering faith of its characters. There is space within the story for every broken attempt to fix the world. Endō’s answer still lies in Christ, but his perception of Christ is radically different from what most people are familiar with — and even those who don’t identify with Christianity will find the film unnerving and haunting (Vox.)
Having mulled over the review, I would add that the hidden Christians, poor and dirty Japanese peasants, already know something important that the young, eager Rodrigues does not: that they will never be Christ but that they need Christ. By trampling the fumi-e to save five tortured Christians, Rodrigues fully enters into that knowledge for himself. The shift to a more removed voice-over narrative emphasizes this impression, as we observe the broken, reprobate priest from a Dutch Christian point of view, while the camera shows us what the narrator cannot know.

Now I expect an interesting thing to do would be to read Shūsaku Endō’s Silence and Makoto Fujimura's Silence and Beauty, both sitting on my shelves. (Mako is credited in the movie credits as advisor, and as an artist in the nihongan mode who grew up in Japan and the states, he is well placed to consider the complexities of the novel.)

p. s. Yes, Rodrigo Prieto received the only Oscar nomination for this movie. (That's only slightly worse than I expected.) Don't let that stop you.

p. p. s. Linnet Moss on the book and the movie here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cat exploded? Make good art.

Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Thaliad

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you are doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Do what only you can do best. Make good art.  --Neil Gaiman

Alternatively, spend some time with good art....

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2 at Mezzo Cammin

Two newish poems are up at Mezzo Cammin: the tetrameter "The Soul Considered as a Boat" and "The Thursday of Mysteries," an ekphrastic pentameter poem (after "Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles" by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475.) 

Kim Bridgford, poet and editor and more, with a comment on Facebook: Delighted to share the new issue of Mezzo Cammin! Thrilled to feature so many wonderful poets including Catherine Chandler, Rebekah Curry, Anna M. Evans, Nicole Caruso Garcia, Vernita Hall, Katie Hoerth, Michele Leavitt, Barbara Loots, Joan Cacciatore Mazza, Kathleen McClung, Becca Menon, Diane Moomey, Sally Nacker, Stella Nickerson, Samantha Pious, Monica Raymond, Jennifer Reeser, Jane Schulman, Katherine Barrett Swett, Paula Tatarunis (Featured Poet), Ann Thompson, Jo Vance, Lucy Wainger, Gail White, Cheryl Whitehead, Liza McAlister Williams, Sherraine Williams, and Marly Youmans. The featured visual artist is Alice Mizrachi, whose cover is based on a quote by Russell Goings. Wendy Videlock has written a beautiful essay on the work of Paula Tartarunis, our featured poet. For my own part, I was happy to spend some time with new books by Luann Landon and Alexandra Oliver, both of whom address issues of home. Thanks from the bottom of my heart, as always, to Anna M. Evans for all of her digital time and expertise, and to Pete Duval, my husband, who has provided technical time and support on every issue.

Postscript to "Precipitous slippage"

Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
 for Thaliad
I've really enjoyed the comments here and on Facebook about my "Precipitous slippage" post--the fun including meeting a poet I like and learning a lot more about other writer friends as well. And now look at this fine news about Thaliad, along with a wonderful, hopeful message about poetry from Phoenicia Publishing editor Beth Adams. Breaking the 400-mark was an initial dream goal for me, though it's often impossible for a poetry book. Truth to tell, I wasn't sure anyone would buy a wild, post-apocalyptic, book-length adventure in blank verse! So now I'm dreaming about 500, 600, more....

Beth Adams
Just for the record, sales of Thaliad are well over 400 copies - 425, in fact - and it continues to sell; it was the best seller at Phoenicia among our pre-2016 titles last year. This says to me that formalist poetry has lasting power in our time, and also it is well worthwhile to produce such books as the most beautifully designed and illustrated editions we can while making them affordable for ordinary readers.

Just before Christmas, I gave a copy to a friend who I thought might appreciate it. She ended up buying twelve copies to give to her own friends, and exclaimed over what an extraordinary work it is; she loved the edition and the artwork by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, but what struck her the most was the story Marly Youmans has told in the form of an epic poem for our time.

In other words, beautiful books with carefully wrought words and a timeless message are still sought out by certain readers, and we need to encourage their writing and making, because they will last.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Precipitous slippage

Once upon a time I was a new-made Associate Professor with tenure; my answer to that lovely promotion was to quit academia entirely because I wanted to be a poet and novelist, not an academic poet and novelist. I felt that I would be a stronger, better writer outside the land of ivory towers. What I did not grasp at the time was how completely the academy would take over the world of writing, particularly the realm of poetry, and make it into a near-monolithic enterprise. (Simultaneously, both poetry and literary fiction began to move toward being minor arts--well, poetry was already on the way.) This change has meant that academic writers support one another and give one another various helpful privileges.

Those of us outside the academy are somewhat in the cold, particularly if--as I do--the writer believes that the diminishing returns of Modernism are upon us, and that the way forward is back through tradition and form. Free verse and an obsession with originality (I don't see how that works, given that we're more than a century past modernism's birth--Modernism hasn't been modern for a long time) have become a kind of ideology in our university system. A large number of journals are associated with colleges or are founded by MFA graduates. Most of these are primarily interested in free verse. Meanwhile, I am not primarily interested in free verse, although I do have a recently-finished collection containing poems that derive from a foreign chant tradition that looks free but contains many rhetorical flourishes allied to that tradition.

Do I regret my decision about leaving the academy? No, I don't. I am a better writer because of that choice, and I also had the luxury of having three children, which I probably could not have managed if I had stayed in college settings as a writer and teacher. I find that it is hard to do three major things well, but two--well, you can give up a lot of things that are enjoyable but not essential and so make two big callings work.

I still have a few writer friends who are in the academy and make their living there; I think it's fine that they made the choice to stay in. Most people who gain a perch there do, after all. I just think that I made the right choice for me. What else can we do but try to make right choices? I admire people like poet-professor-mother Luisa Igloria who grasp after mastery in three realms. The late Doris Betts (professor, dean, writer, mother) comes to mind among novelists.

We live in a time when very few poetry books sell in reasonable numbers. I've talked to various editors about sales and found that some poetry books don't break the 50-mark. That's pretty sad, isn't it? I hear that Copper Canyon books sometimes make it to 600; those are the sorts of little numbers a poetry press depends on. (The funny thing about a poetry book is that it can become the sort of book that you return to again and again. So in that way it's a better bargain than most books.)

My picture of how my own poetry books are doing is a bit fuzzy. I know that Thaliad continues to trickle (or seep, maybe!) along in sales for Beth Adams's Phoenicia Publishing and is heading toward the 400-mark in combined paperback/hardcover. [Update: I was pleasantly wrong! 425 copies so far, as of January 19th.] The Foliate Head has sold out its first and second hardcover printings at UK's Stanza Press, though there are still a few copies available on line. I'm don't know the paperback or hardcover numbers at Mercer for The Throne of Psyche. Those are my three books that can be called "in print," though The Foliate Head is technically out of print.

Interior illustration by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for The Foliate Head
If you care about poetry, please consider buying books. While I would like you to support mine, I tend to be pleased when I see anybody buy a good poetry book. And I always remember the quote taped up on the poetry shelves at the Bull's Head Bookshop (UNC-Chapel Hill shop, now defunct) run by novelist Erica Eisdorfer: People who say they love poetry and never buy any are cheap sons of bitches. --Kenneth Rexroth. It's not polite, but it gets at something. I just looked it up online and found a different version that says, I’ve had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book. Maybe both are right, as Rexroth didn't hold back and may have been muttering variations on the theme for years!

Yes, poetry is rapidly losing its status. Yes, what was once an important art is now a minor one and in danger of going the way of lacemaking. Times change. Television and internet make inroads; well, that's just how it is, we say. What we add to culture changes culture.

But if you care about poetry, do more. In fact, all of us need to support what we love in a time when what is seen and praised and supported is heavily-marketed, commercially-validated books, film, visual arts, etc. And we need to remind ourselves over and over again that we can choose. We can choose roads less taken. It will make all the difference.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book notes, jig-by-jowl--

Alas for Aquila Rose

Well, I do like this new find! Printed by Benjamin Franklin when he was seventeen... The NYT claims for him "burning ambition and something of a punk-rock visual sensibility," a thought which might or might not have amused him--he was an amusing fellow--but is a silly one. The broadside looks like nothing so much as the slim, arch-topped, skull-and-often-hourglass-surmounted tombstones of early America. Benjamin Franklin doesn't need tarting up as a contemporary of ours, I say.

I love his Autobiography, its contradictions and buried humor. He can be quite grand and ambitious and make me laugh at the same time: "It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection." Of course, he soon finds out that he is incorrigible in a number of areas. Nevertheless, he has a tidy list of desired virtues, ending with "10. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates." Now that's funny. More funny than punk-rock Ben!

Clive's Hansel and Gretel, a picture book

In other news, I have my Clive Hicks-Jenkins Hansel and Gretel, and you should too. The graphics are strong (for that matter, Gretel grows strong!) and wondrous, full of cunning details and bursting with bold images that--by some peculiar Clivean spell--manage to charm and delight while also grasping for what is cruel and grotesque in the Grimms' tale. The lively color-separation pictures, including four fold-outs, are propulsive and thrust the story forward. It's not a book for a little child, but it does pay lovely homage to the tradition of the European children's picture book.

Buy it here. It is worth every little coin you might spend, and would make a fine present for anyone who loves story and powerful and beautiful images. To see more images, scroll down through Clive's posts on the making of the book. They'll give you a dose of respect for the labor behind the making of the book, too.

And the secret novel

And now I am going back to the abandoned-for-a-time novel (sometimes too many other demands happen--that's our life, of course), which I am reading and remembering and starting to write again. A curious thing I have learned this week so far: It is now thought that the Wampanoag Nation was decimated (before the arrival of the Mayflower) by rat-borne leptospirosis complicated by Weil's Syndrome, rather than by smallpox, bubonic plague, etc. Squanto or Tisquantum appears to have been a later victim of the disease. I'm impressed by how much European activity there was along the coast in the sixteenth century--fishermen and whalers and fur traders. Leptospirosis still afflicts people in various parts of the world, and it doesn't take much in the way of rat urine to make a person ill.

And I've discovered the word nabbity, applied to a small but full-grown woman. I myself am rather nabbity, having lost more than an inch of late. I also like ruttling, to make a harsh or rough sound in breathing. I am reading Robert Forby's The Vocabulary of East Anglia. Unfortunately, I have only the second volume... That was not clear when I ordered it. So I shall have to find the first. Oh, and jig-by-jowl? Close together.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reading Doña Quixote

Courtesy of Päivi Tiittanen, sxc.hu
"Catacombs in Suomenlinna"
Yesterday and this morning I read Leena Krohn's Doña Quixote and Other Citizens. Portrait: Tales of the citizens of an usual city, and this is what I have been for some hours: a room through which the narrator and Doña Quixote (the woman who is like a tree that murmurs and sometimes drops shriveled leaves proclaiming death, the woman who is a poet) come and go, talking of many things, and sometimes of what the shriveled leaves proclaim. And in those hours, the city is mine and in me with its green-shining towers of telephone booths and its moving rooms, and I am also a room that holds many objects whose meaning sometimes is profound and secret and sometimes falls away and is lost. In and out of the room of me come figures who are rooms also and who connect with me and whose connection then falls away unaccountably, perhaps to recur, perhaps to drift through the gate built in water and be lost or bob away across the sea and perhaps return to me, for there are many deaths in a life, many passings-away and sometimes returns.

Into the room of me comes Doña Quixote with the poetry of herself and the strange wisdom that makes me know, and her melancholy that is also a fabric in the room of me, that matches something in me. Like a trick chalice, I fill up, and then at once everything I have drains away. All things go. All rooms are pendulums, moving toward a time when they will be no more. In all the city of interlocking and moving rooms (some a lit bus with the moving figures inside), I am found, I am lost, as Doña Quixote is found and lost also.

And now and then I am arrested by the knowing of this: the most important thing about a thing is that it is beautiful, whether it is a mysterious narrow gate in the sea, a gorgeous, filmy-tailed goldfish, a dancer like a flower's corolla, or a silken peacock that trembles, unfurling its mighty fan of eyes while the snowflakes sift down before and behind and onto its glistening green and blue.

But even that knowing cannot be grasped and held until it always lights the room of me or the room that is Doña Quixote but drains away. The loss and passing of that knowledge of beauty is like a death, like passing through a gate built in water. "One doesn't get used to living."

And now I have shut the book, though the sense of myself as a room--a room filled with strange objects that do not give up their secrets--remains. And the sense of beauty also, for the book is still open beside me. And that I have written (carelessly? wisely?) that the book is both shut and open seems entirely right.  10 January 2017

"Peacock feather"
Courtesy of Sean Okihiro, sxc.hu
You may read this short novel (or is it an interrelated collection?), Doña Quixote and Other Citizens. Portrait: Tales of the citizens of an usual city, in that gigantic volume, Leena Krohn's Collected Fictions: A Career-Spanning Selection from Finland's Most Iconic Writer. (What long titles! And I wonder what Leena Krohn thinks about being iconic. I'm not even sure what they mean with that choice. Revered? Painted on a wooden surface? Semiotic-iconic? Flowering from tradition? All of these?)  I do, however, feel quite sure it is a publication from Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Cheeky Frawg Books (Tallahassee, FL, 2015.) Doña Quixote is translated by Hildi Hawkins.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Re-reading The Whitsun Weddings

Creative Commons, Wikipedia. Chichester Cathedral.
Monument to Richard Fitzalan III, 10th Earl of Arundel (c.1307-1376)
and Eleanor of Lancaster (d. 1372.) Unusual for the linked hands
and the wife's crossed legs and turn toward her husband.
By Nabokov at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
I do not love Philip Larkin; instead, I am fond of Charles Causley, the Cornish poet Larkin admired (as did Ted Hughes and Siegried Sassoon and many others, though he is still not as well known in the states as he ought to be.) Causley was a clerk, a playwright, a seasick sailor in war-time, an organist and all-round musician, a teacher of children, and more. I believe that I am fond of him as a person, not just a poet. They are related, Causley and Larkin, two sides of a coin, but I love Causley and am still trying to love Larkin.

Larkin, Larkin, what a trouble you are to me! I don't like the way you write about women, especially women "in specs," but I'll ignore all that for the sake of your lovely moments. But if I do, I still don't like the way you talk about the ordinary impulses toward more life--children and marriage, particularly, and the way you often see strangers in a rather loveless way. I am afraid that I picture you at dreary work with the in-box and "loaf-haired" secretary.

And yet, and yet... I see so many lines to admire, and it is no small thing to write a poem with a single moment worth remembering. I like "Sporting-house girls like circus tigers" and "spend all our life on imprecisions, / That when we start to die / Have no idea why" and "A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower / Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain." Listen to the sound of "dark-clothed children at play / Called after kings and queens" and "An immense slackening ache, / As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps, / Spreads slowly through them" and "dark towns heap up on the horizon." The "sudden scuttle on the drum" pleases me, and the billboard scene, where "A glass of milk stands in a meadow." Clive James describes the poet's "privileged duty" as "to be concerned with everything, in the hope of producing something--a poem, a stanza, even a single line--that will live on its own, in its own time" (Poetry Notebook, p. 77.) Larkin has plenty of special moments.

Larkin also has a good instinct for metrics. The line, "The herring-hawker's cry, dwindling, went" is a great example, starting with three strong iambic feet but in the last two feet giving us a reversed foot (so that it dwindles) and a dwindled monosyllabic foot. Or take a look at the thicket of accents in "And dark towns heap up on the horizon." Or try this line: "And the widening river's slow presence." It's almost as neat a combination of metrics and sense as Pope's "Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain, / Flies o'er th'unbending Corn, and skims along the Main." Those smooth iambic combined with "o'er" and "th'unbending" are speedy.) "And the widening river's slow presence" appears in the midst of established iambic pentameter lines but varies from them by giving us a ten-syllable tetrameter line, essentially widening out the expected first three feet by substituting extra slack syllables with two anapestic feet. That last trochaic foot is the perfect word for a river that is widening and slowing: no motion but merely presence.

See credits above.
When I come to the last poem in the book, there are tears in my eyes as I read of the earl and countess in stone fidelity on their Arundel tomb, their absurd little dogs at their feet (his is actually a small lion), while all the world whirls on and the people change around them. Time happens: "Snow fell, undated. Light / Each summer thronged the glass. A bright / Litter of birdcalls strewed the same / Bone-riddled ground...." Then I realize that the reason the poem moves me is that I identify not so much with the changed world of "endless altered people" but with Larkin's image of the faithful, clasped stone hands of the dead "to prove / Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love."

And think on this: in our time, doesn't Larkin's poem belong to that older world--the world where grace caught in iambic tetrameter meter and an abbcac rhyme scheme could be considered achievement? Julian Stannard writes, "Post-1945, English poetry, thanks to Larkin and the Movement and Philip Hobsbaum and the Group, distanced itself from international modernism, re-establishing the English line and privileging form and meaning." Nevertheless, we are neck deep in the diminishing rear-guard returns of Modernism (perhaps truly free verse can only be written by those who have experienced the shackles of form, as in early Modernism), where line and form and meaning are in abeyance. Do I need to say I don't object to free verse? I don't. I object to slackness and to being bored (that goes for my own poems, too, though sometimes I don't dislike them until they are already circulating, which is annoying.) Clive James calls our own time one in which "almost everyone writes poetry but scarcely anyone can write a poem" (Poetry Notebook, p. 66.)

All the same, the poem's little dogs at the feet of Richard and Eleanor make me think of Causley's "Eden Rock" portrait of his parents waiting for him on the other side of the Jordan with the little terrier Jack trembling at their feet, while the sky whitens as if from the light of three suns. "They beckon to me from the other bank; / I hear them call, See where the stream-path is! / Crossing is not as hard as you might think." Here comes a stanza break and then the final line: "I had not thought that it would be like this."

Ah, well, maybe I love Causley a lot but Larkin a little after all....

Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.