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Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Rollipoke flies again!

Sweet little birds
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
made as extra decorations
for French flaps

That peculiar little newsletter about my writings, The Rollipoke, went out this afternoon (no. 15: Surprises!) News about the upcoming novel, Charis in the World of Wonders (Ignatius Press), and about the new book of poems, The Book of the Red King (Phoenicia Publishing.)

Craving your very own Rollipoke? Fly here. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas thoughts on painting and symbol...

Detail, Zanobi Strozzi, c.1433.
(Perhaps with some figure work by Fra Angelico?)
Predella to an altarpiece.
Tempera with gold on wood.
Wikipedia Creative Commons licence.
Image donated to CC by the Met.

* * *
                                           Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
                                           Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger;
                                           Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
                                           To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger
                                                 --from George Herbert, "Christmas" (I), 1633

I've long been friends with painters, and I love wandering among drawings and paintings. I have a particular affection for medieval paintings, and for the iconography of that era. One thing I especially find intriguing about medieval religious paintings is that the images possessed a function that was far more vital than that of paintings today. A painter in our time often wishes to have his or her painting in a static or traveling group show or a solo show. The painter desires to have images appear in an article or review, and longs to achieve the status of seeing his or her own paintings housed permanently in a museum. I dearly love to visit museums and would never dismiss them. But a medieval painter's labors joined a great variety of other crafted works to beautify and inspire in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, shrines, and castles. Art meant skill to make significant, beautiful creations. And many an artisan felt himself to be such a maker, part of a great body of people crafting and incarnating a house or way-station for God. Afterward, the made things were intimately connected to the highest spiritual feelings of many people, and they became an essential part of worship. Paintings, carvings, and sculpted pieces have frequently ended up in our museum collections, where they now have a more limited existence, drained of prior life and power, but yet... they once had that earlier glory. The symbolism in medieval paintings and icons likewise held meaning and a living power, where for most viewers today it remains merely a colorful mystery. 

So here's my Christmas greeting, rife with symbol and beauty: an adoration scene with ox and ass portraying the yoking of clean and unclean, centered on the infant Jesus. This iconography is extra-biblical, though reflected in St. Peter's highly symbolic dream of a sheet of clean and unclean foods let down from heaven. Such yokings reflect the baby's bringing of clean (Jewish) and unclean (Gentile) peoples together under the rule of Christ. Meanwhile the baby who binds the earthly and divine is radiant and haloed in gold, the metal at the top of the medieval hierarchy of metals. Perhaps he is so nearly naked and so radiant because painters of the era were inspired by a mystical vision from the prior century. St. Bridget of Sweden saw the baby lying naked on the ground, transfigured by light. 

St. Bridget may also be the source of the portrayal of Mary in prayer--and of her oddly blonde hair as well. Meanwhile, Joseph is less important, smaller, set back, crossing his arms in the attitude of one receiving a blessing. Mary wears a robe of heavenly, royal blue that discloses red, the color linked to Pentecost and the influx of the Holy Spirit. In Joseph, the colors are reversed. I imagine that for a Medieval viewer, the link from red to blood and martyrdom would have been clear as well--the fact that this strange, surprising child is born to die a martyr's death. Mary and Joseph are both serious-faced, befitting their role as guardians of the Messiah and the womb-tomb suggestions of the picture. I'm a little puzzled about the angels, as eleven is a peculiar choice, given medieval numerology. But there is another medieval piece that gives us eleven angels, the wonderful Wilton Diptych (and it has been argued that its heavenly court parallels Joseph's dream with sun, moon, and eleven stars, with Joseph himself honored as the twelfth.)

As in many medieval portrayals of the Nativity, the scene takes place before the shelter of a cave. The visual link between womb and tomb runs back to certain Neolithic passage tombs, and probably earlier. The womb is a place of transformation leading to new birth; the Christian vision of the tomb is also one of transformation and rebirth. The image of the cave (a mix of natural and altered stone) also reminds the viewer of the placing of the body of Christ in the cave (rock-hewn) tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. A cave being a piercing of the hard substance of the world by an ethereal body of air, the shape also suggests the divine that has come to pierce through the material world, and to be pierced in turn. The two support poles before the cave and the single bole of a tree may well have suggested the three "trees" on Golgotha to a medieval man or woman versed in the symbolism of the time. The tree is flourishing, again emblematic of new life. Far in the background, seven (a number of fullness and completion) towers on a hill and points the way toward heaven.

So there you go--a medieval Christmas card.
Have a joyous Christmas Eve and Day.

The Met site states that this tempera painting was originally attributed to the marvelous Fra Angelico but is now thought to be by his pupil, Zanobi Strozzi. Strozzi is known for his illuminations.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Updatery: Red King news

Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for The Book of the Red King, 172 pp.
(Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2019)
Wee note to encourage the Fool, the Red King, and Precious Wentletrap: Writer Jessica Hooten Wilson (winner of the very big deal, tthe Hiett Prize in the Humanities) has published a review of The Book of the Red King in Fathom. I have updated the page for The Book of the Red King, which now contains an except from her article and helpful comments from: poet and novelist Fred Chappell; reviewer Dan Barnett; poet and novelist Kelly Cherry; longtime editor of Books and Culture, John Wilson; novelist Scott G. F. Bailey; poet and translator Michael Juster; poet and director of Poetry by the Sea, Kim Bridgford; poet Sally Thomas; poet Ray Oliver; poet and novelist Sebastian Doubinsky; and poet Jeffery Beam.

And that parade of names is bright and shiny, a good celebration for the Red King.

All posts about books are the little bottle in Alice's hand that says Drink Me. I hope you will. I promise that you, like Alice, can find that life is surprising and that you may, indeed, change in size, at least on the inside.

A few more images from Clive!
The book is available directly from Phoenicia Publishing 
in hardcover or paperback, and from (pb) Amazon, indies, etc. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Dream diary: "Birthday"

Last night several of my children were spending the night, and my daughter was cold in her room; I turned up the heat and about six in the morning had the most intricate writer's nightmare. I dreamed that I was young and in a class with John Gardner. (Why? The only person I know who has talked at length about what John Gardner meant to him as a teacher is Jeffrey Ford, so I don't know a lot about Gardner as a teacher other than what Jeff has said. And certainly not whether Gardner had an affinity to cats...)

We were to discuss a story called "Birthday." It seems we were at Brown, in a classroom in a nineteenth-century house. Gardner was seated behind a bullet-gray metal desk; he became threatening to the class as time passed, and kept opening the top right drawer in a way that made people uneasy. They seemed to feel that he might soon brandish a weapon. But I was sitting beside and oddly near the desk and kept craning to see what was inside. Neatly arranged boxes full of brightly colored pushpins, round-headed short pins, and other small shapes filled the drawer. It looked rather like some Modernist mosaic, but more complicated.

People began to get up and leave. Soon police surrounded the building. I was trying to comfort Gardner, who at some point (understandably so) transformed himself into a cat (a pleasant-looking Tenniel gray tiger) and curled up in what must have been the desire to protect himself from the world. I held him in my arms close to my face, and though he scratched at me several times in agitation, he did not attempt to flee away from me and hide. A single remaining classmate tried to call for help.

Noises came from below; perhaps some sort of rescue was beginning, but it made me strangely uneasy. I got up and began climbing upward through the house and took refuge on what I believe was the third floor, the cat still in my arms close to my face. I opened a closet and crept inside to lie down, my head and torso and the cat inside its shelter.

Robots were combing the house, spraying pesticide. The remaining classmate tried to call her mother on her cell phone, but could not get through. (Perhaps because there were no cell phones when Gardner was alive?) After a while, she lay down on the floor of the room and did not stir. The house was full of the stink of pesticide.

I told the cat a secret, that today was really and truly my birthday. Gardner-cat seemed quite interested and stirred and nosed at me, but of course he was a cat now, and not a talking Cheshire cat, so I was glad that he understood but knew that he could not tell me what moved in his mind.

A lady robot, also gun-metal gray but with shocking-pink eyes chartreuse neon hair, entered the room and began spraying the corners of the room. She rolled to the closet and began spraying the cat in my arms and me. Being a writer and a dreamer to boot, I was able to change my point of view to a more limited omniscient view and see the death of cat-Gardner and girl from above. A few classmates filtered into the building later on and announced (though ineffectually) their displeasure at what had happened. The room stank of cat piss. The girl and cat were still dead, but it was a sunny day without robots, though yellow tape and policemen were still outside.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

What writers do and do not want for Christmas etc.

Aiieee! Cowflop! This is 100-proof bogus nonsense. What writers want for Christmas or the holiday of their preference is for you to read one (or more!) of their books (preferably after buying, as numbers help them sell the next book to a publisher) and then to ramble around in their created worlds. Also, they want dratted Amazon etc. reviews because those things are helpful to the book, and writers are all about serving the book. What they do not want are things like mugs, literary insult charts, literary temporary tattoos, and storytelling card games. Well, maybe they want a nice fountain pen...

See some proper additions from other writers (some poets and writers of fiction and nonfiction) in the comments below.

Also, from novelist Midori Snyder (via twitter), this: "Time left alone, to lie on the couch and imagine plots." Dawdley, day-dreamy time, yes.

And writer Laura Argiri brings up one of my weaknesses on facebook: "They seem unaware that they can so easily score with the writer in question's favorite form of caffeine or chocolate. No need to order all this silly stuff that will go straight to the recipient's neighborhood thrift...." Chocolate!

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Event change

PLEASE NOTE NEW DATE                         
December 15 Sunday 3:00
Reading,  The Book of the Red King

22 Main Street
Downstairs meeting room 

Interior decoration at right by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

John Wilson's Year of Reading 2019

The Book of the Red King is on John Wilson's booklist at First Things. Hurrah! There's a good bit of poetry on the list, including new books by Jennifer Reeser (a poet I met long ago at the Westchester poetry conference), Aaron Belz, the late Brett Foster, Diane Glancy, Laurance Wieder, and Jane Tyson Clement, who died in 2000. And more in other genres...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Red King's Friends

Please drop by the page for The Book of the Red King, now with additional new and enticing comments from novelist Scott G. F. Bailey, poet Ray Oliver, much-laureled poet and novelist Fred Chappell, poet Sally Thomas, poet Jeffery Beam, and poet and novelist Sebastian Doubinsky. The last of these posted a review on my birthday yesterday: lovely gift!

At right: a precious wentletrap by Clive Hicks-Jenkins... The Fool's beloved is the lunar lady, Precious Wentletrap.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Monday, November 11, 2019

Some recent online poems

Reliquary Bust of Saint Margaret of Antioch.
Attributed to Nicolaus Gerhaert van Leyden
(act. in Germany, 1462 - 73),
Netherlandish. 1465-70.
Walnut with traces of polychromy.
Art Institute of Chicago.
Wikipedia Commons.
These poems work pretty well as a sort of group...

A poem up today at First Things: "An Icon of St. Margaret." And it is in good company with poems by Sally Thomas (fellow Carolina poet with a book forthcoming from Able Muse), Daniel Rattelle (grad student in writing at St. Andrews), poet and scholar James Matthew Wilson, and more.

* **

"The Secret from the Ground" in North American Anglican.

* * *

"Hydrangeas" in North American Anglican.


"Both Sides of the River" in Young Ravens Literary Review: A Biannual Online Literary Journal. The centering is the 'zine's choice.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Book of the Red King as Board Game?

Image pilfered from Paul Pastor's twitter page

A month back, writer Fred Chappell wrote me a long, curious letter about The Book of the Red King, and he suggested a way of looking at the book that I found interesting and enlightening. He talked about puns, sound play, musical language, and many other things, but it's his thoughts about board game and the book that I'm sharing here. I'll back up slightly so I don't miss what he says about the illuminatory accompaniment of Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Such lovely work deserves its accolades!

...the production is handsome, elegant and surprising. Mr. Hicks-Jenkins has done a grand job; his images and designs are in classy harmony with the spirit of the poems--as best as I can read them, anyhow.
I am content that he and [writer] Kelly [Cherry] have made better readings than I. She notes "a difficult and dangerous journey." I was not able to follow the progress of a journey--except through or over time, maybe. I read the volume as a nonsequential sequence and after some fanciful meditation thought of it as a sort of mystical, metaphysical board game with icon pieces: King, Fool, ideal Wentletrap, Alchemist, Flowers, Castle, Garden, and etc. as occasion required or suggested.
The game would be a little like chess and backgammon combined. Each poem is set in a new situation, the positioning of the pieces, their relationship to one another, determined by some shift of inner or outer circumstance. Each new situation requires on the part of Fool or King, a different new mode of perception--rather in the way that any movement of a piece on a chessboard generates and is contained by a new configuration of possible future moves. The Mere Fool sees things differently than does the Twelfth-night Fool; the Mere Fool is in quest of enlightenment; the Twelfth-night Fool experiences an epiphany which is not the result of his quest but which would be unavailable to him without that experience. The King of "Raptures" is very different indeed from the figure in "The Turret Stairs." And of course there are a number of poems in which both King and Fool appear and their perceptions / conceptions of the world are contrasted, though even in these the contrasts are not complete; often, in slant ways, they are complementary. King and Fool undertake very different ways of looking at the world and come (if they do) to very different conclusions, but these are not mutually exclusive--different but complementary, a little like logic and mathematics, perhaps. Although neither of them would be confused with a logician. 
Nor will I, if you have been trying to comprehend this letter.
I have from line to line enjoyed and admired it unflaggingly. For it is as if I traversed a long gallery of separate dramatic moments: stately, antic, thoughtful, gay, gravid, artful, decorative, spontaneous, ritualized, reverent, satiric, learned and almost always to some degree playful. At times I thought, This book is the product of a metaphysician writing a series of comedy sketches. At other times, This is what happens when Pierrot philosophizes as a culture critic.
When I say "decorative" I mean no disrespect. For me Wallace Stevens is a decorative poet but supremely serious also and I might say the same of the paintings of Paul Klee. A lightsome approach can be most revealing--when it is rendered by a deft and practiced hand.
...maybe you can gather some estimate of my admiration and towering respect. This many-colored Paean to Imagination is unmatchable.
I didn't need to put in a bit from the close, but I just love it, naturally enough!

Though I'm not sure where the Red King and the Fool came from, I have to admit that I was deeply influenced as a child by the Alice books. (Two slip-cased volumes were given to me in Louisiana when I was four. The Louisiana of my memory fits neatly with Wonderland.) And they certainly unite a board game and a Red King, and they introduce us to strange gardens, odd courtly figures, puns, and musical language. So Carroll and his strangeness may well (so to speak) be at the very bottom of the book, somehow, and at the bottom of my being. And surely an Alice-child is a sort of Fool, entering another world and trying to decipher it, directed by insufficient knowledge that yet grows as she goes. As a little girl who was made to move every few years all through childhood, I probably had some special affinity with the sensation of tumbling into another world and needing to navigate, and feeling quite, quite foolish.

Thinking about some of my fiction, I remember that I wrote a story about a Red King sleeping... And one of my early stories ends with a child in Collins, Georgia, reaching out her hand to a pier glass, still trusting that the mirror might dissolve under her touch. So: I am clearly guilty of Carroll influence!

As for Fred Chappell's view of a constant new positioning on a kind of metaphysical board, I have no trouble finding that view to be helpful: I always thought of the Red King as a being who was unpinned in meaning. I thought of the Fool as someone who is changing, changing--the book is punctuated by and structured to some degree by the alchemical colors that mark his transformation. And yes, I always felt that the book would be playful, sometimes even when it dealt with terrible things--and surely that links up with the board game idea, the metaphysician comedy, the Pierrot philosophy, and lightsome decoration.

While I can't say that I was pondering board games during the writing, on this very evening I have a date with my three children to play Arkham Horror, a board game set in H.P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The game has been spread down the length of the dining room table since the last Monday night, when we four (Michael being in India) left our heroes and heroines in a highly dangerous situation. Will we survive? Will we defeat the Ancient Ones? I, you may wish to know, am a man with a long and admirable beard, a seeker who gathers clues and a mystic who wards against evil. Wish me luck in helping to save the world, and be sure and consult The Book of the Red King for a metaphysician's comedy or a Pierrot's philosophy!

[Quotes used by permission.]

November 5th postscript for the curious and lovers of board games: It was a hard struggle, but the Ancient Ones destroyed the world last night.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Coming in 2020

 Detail from artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
cover for Charis in the World of Wonders

Marly Youmans' historic novel 'Charis in the World of Wonders' chronicles the journey of its protagonist on her horseback flight from destruction to sanctuary and from sanctuary to an unexpected madness that had me gnawing my knuckles as I read.

Marly is a peerless writer and at Ignatius she has an editor and team doing everything to ensure that the book's jacket and the illustrations within do justice to her illuminating narrative. Not for the first time with Marly I'm steeped in a world of early American folk art, of embroidered samplers and nature not yet crowded out by man. At its heart, Charis on her courageous Hortus, who must carry her to safety and a new life. The image here is just a tiny corner of the cover artwork. It has been, as it always is in the company of Marly, a revelatory journey.

                     --Clive Hicks Jenkins, pilfered from his page on  facebook

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Writer-readers on The Book of the Red King

Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales
Phoenicia Publishing, 2019

I continue to be grateful to novelist Scott G. F. Bailey for his ongoing and perceptive treatment of my work. As a reader, he always enters into a work with a free mind and writes engagingly of what he finds. Now he has written a long blog post about The Book of the Red King; you may read the whole thing HERE, at Six Words for a Hat. I include a few quotes below to entice you to visit.

* * *

"the coming night with its dying-deep 
but dazzling darkness"at Six Words for a Hat is an explication of the life and work of the artist (and possibly in this sense, Yeats' spirit also hovers over the book). Youmans is always powerful when she writes about art and artists, and The Book of the Red King strikes me as her most forceful (and possibly most personal) statement about art (and the artist's purpose) yet. Creativity, rebirth and transfiguration are the threads that stitch The Book of the Red King together...many of its pleasures are easily enjoyed just through the inventiveness of Youmans' characters and the angular, beautiful chemistry of her language.

. . .

He also creates beauty, points to beauty, loves and points to love, grieves and points to grief, is angry and points to anger, etc, all of this being the work of the artist. The Fool, I am telling you, is Marly Youmans (and Yeats and Shakespeare and Milton and let's say Matthew as well, why not). That's my theory; see the first paragraph of this increasingly-staggering little essay. You'll have to draw your own conclusions about the identity of the Red King. Youmans has said of him, "He is all the things he is at once, it seems."

. . .

Because Youmans always writes on a number of levels at once, this essay can only seem to diminish Youmans' artistry by so poorly describing it. I know that poetry has, even at the best of times, a limited audience, but The Book of the Red King deserves readers, and plucky Phoenicia Publishing deserves a reward for being brave enough to market collections that require thoughtful readers. A good deal of current American poetry is merely angry, woke, political, and shallow; or else it's merely pretty, saccharine, and shallow. And while Youmans' book could serve as a text for a contemporary course on the uses of beauty and empathy, she writes for the ages, which I think is in the long run a better idea. I don't know why Marly Youmans isn't much better known, for both her poetry and her novels. She always taps into the substrata of art and life.

* * *

"Marly - salutations" at Tone Deaf

Likewise, I need to thank writer Roderick Robinson for a post about the book at Tone Deaf, in which he offers some favorite quotes and says:

However in my sere, yellow and almost-dropping-off years I write verse. Marly’s good at that except hers is poetry. Red King may emerge as a narrative but in the interim I’m treating her poems as separate entities. Looking for what races my motor. Plenty does. It’s not exactly news but Marly loves words...

* * *

My gratitude, my delight

I'm especially grateful to both Roderick Robinson and Scott Bailey because they have said what they have to say. I've been happy to receive letters of praise for this book from older, better-known writers, but I am deeply grateful to people who talk about my books in public. Because I care deeply about the good of my book, the life of my book in the world. Word of mouth and reviews are precious to a book of poems--and to the Fool.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019


Photos by Laurie Kearns.
The Red King at the Green Toad.

UPCOMING: Clive Hicks-Jenkins has been showing me images for the next book, a novel, this week; he writes a bit about us, the book, and his other illumination work HERE.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Next reading: Oneonta - Green Toad

                    October 5 Saturday 2:00 p.m.
  Marly Youmans reading from The Book of the Red King
                     GREEN TOAD BOOKSTORE
                    198 Main St. Oneonta, NY 13820
                                  (607) 433-8898

I forgot to take any pictures at my North Carolina events for The Book of the Red King. But here's an article (thank you, Megan Pociask) about my reading at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro that has a teeny-weeny head of moi! There I am, talking away above a few giant heads...

One of many charming vignettes
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales,
maker of many beautiful things,
including the cover/jacket
and interior art
for The Book of the Red King

Friday, September 27, 2019

Hands across enchanted seas

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
vignette on Tomoe River paper
for Charis in the World of Wonders

Often I am asked about what it's like to work--I always think the verb should be dance--with artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins. He has illuminated and beautified my books for a long time now. I often thought of us as metaphysical twins (I can't remember who first came up with that thought) when we first tumbled into correspondence. The first year of exchanging letters was so inspiring! It's marvelous when you meet a person who inspires you and whom you inspire in turn.

But the image above relates to the sort of small, surprising occurrence that happens when I'm "with" Clive, even if he is across Atlantic in Wales. Sometimes we're walking around in our old houses--Clive's Ty Isaf and my Prentiss Cottage--and pondering each other's work. So magical! And odd things happen as a result. Unexpected elements coalesce. Some are tiny but curious. Like the bird in leaves. A few days ago I told Clive that I had a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign on my bedroom door as a child that reminded me so much of this piece. That's perhaps not wholly surprising, as Clive is using samplers as inspiration, and folk motifs often have some commonality. It seemed an interesting linkage since there is a thread and threat of witchcraft in Charis in the World of Wonders. So the book secretly holds an image that appears protective to me. Of Charis? Of the reader? Of me?

And when I stopped overnight in Middletown, VA on my way north from North Carolina, I had an evening adventure related to the image. I was staying at the 1797 Wayside Inn and went out for a ramble. I stopped by an antique shop that was a log house (built by German settlers who raised eight children there.) Although it was already late, the shop was open. I picked out a few gifts. Outside was a passionate, pleasantly unruly cottage garden, and I learned that there was a bigger garden with winding paths and night-blooming cereus plants and lilies and much more in the back. Though it was growing quite dark, I asked if Crystal (she credited her husband with the garden's design) would show me their garden. The paths were lovely, intermittently lit by solar lamps and huge open moonflowers. And there in the garden I was surprised by a hex sign exactly like the one that had hung on my bedroom door--an image I had not seen in decades--so that a sudden necklace of images flashed into my mind, its beads pilfered from Middletown, Virginia and Cullowhee, North Carolina and Aberystwyth, Wales.

And I guess that's one part of the half-hidden secret of why we like to dance together. Somehow when I'm in a Clivean-Marlyan mode, congruence seems to increase, and not just a congruence of minds. Surprise happens: things happen that suggest that the world is a more enchanted, spark-lit, symbolic place than we commonly know. It's as if we are turning around a hidden center, that we live in a place of abundance. And for moments I'm more congruent with the deep shapes and patterns of the world, and I feel heart-struck and tied in spirit to someone on the other side of the sea.

Log House Antiques and Collectibles in Middletown, Virginia

* * *

Novelist Midori Snyder asked me for "Praise for Dark Movements Toy Theatre" for the Journal of Mythic Arts. Although I write mostly formal poetry, I have a whole group of praise poems that draw on a Yoruban form and Hebrew parallelism, and this is one of that sequence. 

The poem has the Mari Lwyd flickering in thorn trees and Yeats in the form of a silver bird and the Starlight Torch and Book of Moon and two friends in a white tent and lots of cheeses! And pie. And of course we dance. Enjoy!

* * *


I've mentioned Charis, but I'm sure she wants you to be better acquainted with the Red King and the Fool and Precious Wentletrap! It's out there in our Wonderland with a BUY ME Alice-label tied around its pages. So why not skip lunch and support beautiful small presses like Phoenicia Publishing?



So strange to move quickly from summer lands to fall... Today the world looks even more symbolic and enchanted to me, a bright autumn sun streaming through dying red and yellow leaves as if through annealed glass. 

This glorious and transcendent place 
--George Herbert

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Red King dancing with Charis

Preparatory sketch 
Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from facebook: "A tiny and rough-ish drawing from my current project-book for Marly Youmans’ new novel ‘Charis in the World of Wonders’. The project-book contains several suggestions to the editorial board for the cover, one of which has now been selected and signed-off on, plus a stitchwork-inspired bestiary as a starting point for the planned fifteen chapter headings, tailpieces and vignettes, among which is this owl."

* * *

Now is the time of the King and the Fool, and to celebrate Clive's gorgeous art for that collection of poetry, but I could not resist sharing this little bit of next year's novel... A future vignette for a chapter heading. Below, a bit of the current book from Phoenicia Publishing. 

* * * * *

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cabins and ladyslippers

Here's a glimpse of where I've been... 
Back to blogging in about a week.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Sampler, The Book of the Red King

I'm offering a sampler of poems from the new book for anyone who sends me his or her email address. The collection is 150+ pages, so it'll be just a taste of an awfully big sequence. 

* * *

Most requests have come in via social media messaging, but if you would like a sampler, you can request in any of these ways: a twitter private message; a facebook private message; an email; and even a request left here. I can see your address and then not approve it to be posted, so that you remain private, or else you can use the sneaky anti-bot mode of  You [at] your site [dot] com.

* * *

The sampler is also available as part of the current newsletter. You may sign up for The Rollipoke in the right-hand column.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Fool and the Red King beyond pre-orders

Interior and hardcover jacket or paperback cover art
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales
* * *
Marly Youmans
The Book of the Red King
Montreal, Canada: Phoenicia Publishing (20 July 2019)
155 pages

Phoenicia Publishing hardcover and paperback pre-orders are officially over, though discount links are still up (love, frolics, and thank you to all who ordered!), and the poetry collection is now available via Amazon, bookstores, etc. Please think about supporting my poems and Phoenicia, a stellar small press, brainchild of Elizabeth Adams. We are properly and ecstatically grateful when you do... (And who wouldn't want a piece of Clivean illumination, too?)

Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing
155 pages
"Youmans (@marlyyoumans), who lives in upstate New York, has just published a stunning collection of poems that comprise “The Book Of The Red King" --"The Book Of The Red King’ a stunning collection of poems" | via Biblio File, from Dan Barnett, Book Columnist, Chico Enterprise-Record, 18 July 2019

"Marly Youmans is brilliant, perhaps a genius. Her poems tell a story, offering us a vision of, well, I would say the Trinity, but that is only one possible interpretation. After a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey, a Red King, a Fool, and Precious Wentletrap converge into one, a resurrection that is heavenly. Is it true, or is it fable or fairytale? "When I want to write a new book," she has said, "I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world." Her formal poems are impeccable and include sestinas, villanelles, rondels, rhyming schemes she may have invented, and perfect metrical patterns. Every poet can learn from this poet, and the reader—the reader will be spellbound." --Kelly Cherry, poet, novelist, and former Poet Laureate of Virginia

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Secret/poem + Induction weekend

a new blank verse poem up at The North American Anglican...
Take a look? You can even comment, it appears...

notes from the Saturday of Induction weekend
at The Baseball Hall of Fame...

Escaped to Glimmerglass State Park with Michael and child no. 3 for a break from Baseball Hall of Fame induction-weekend madness. We planned to paddle about in Otsego Lake. First though, we (i.e. the handy husband) started a big happy heap of briquets to grill steaks. How pleasant it all sounds!

Abruptly (such things are always so sudden!), the sky decided to change its colors, and a mighty horizontal torrent of wind (bearing rain so thick the grass looked streaked with white) decided to join our formerly-idyllic party. A brilliant, zappy electric storm broke the afternoon into pieces with blazing jolts and extravagant smashings of crockery. 

The Amish all got their horses and black buggies joined up and left us, clipping away at a fast pace, babes in arms and little children peering out the back windows.

We raced about and slung everything back in the truck except the fire. 

The big maple shading our picnic table snapped apart; half crashed downward and knocked over another tree. Impressive! How lucky we were to have the modicum of sense that sent us to the truck.

The rain slowed to a patter. Foolish, dauntless, and edged with optimism, we carted the picnic supplies back to our now wet and leaf-surrounded table. To try once more!

Then. The whole rackety ruckus started up again... 

We laughed. We tossed everything back in the truck once more. We abandoned our magnificent steak-pyre of burning charcoal that somehow had continued all its merry activity in spite of rain. What was left of the tree must have sheltered the grill.

After asome dithering and laughter, we drove home again. No rain. So we walked the length of Cooperstown's Main St., winding through the tourists in their striped baseball uniforms and baseball T-shirts and baseball hats and eating street food instead of steaks. I had a pizza slice from a portable brick oven that had rolled all the way from the New York City, and afterward an ice cream sandwich made by the ice cream fanatics at our Route 20 Dairyland under the willow trees. Saw many gawk-worthy tourists scenes. Saw many unfortunate small children of baseball fans plastered to their strollers by heat and entirely too much baseball. 

Child no. 3 ate six fried oreos for dessert and survived with no ill effects. This news seemed especially notable.

An unusually large number of police, state police, sheriff staff, and mysterious men in black-windowed vans were in evidence. And I noted a prodigious number of tourists who love sports but who evidently don't do any themselves. Or perhaps it was simply too many fried oreos...

So much for avoiding the crush! Happy induction weekend, y'all...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

First pre-pub review!

"Youmans (@marlyyoumans), who lives in upstate New York, has just published a stunning collection of poems that comprise “The Book Of The Red King” ($15.95 in paperback from Phoenicia Publishing,, illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins." --Dan Barnett, Book Columnist, Chico Enterprise-Record

Read the whole review HERE.

Also picked up by World News: HERE.

Pre-order discounts at Phoenicia Publishing end after tomorrow....

And The Rollipoke Newsletter, no. 12, is now O-U-T!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

5 more PP-preorder days--

Art by the great Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales.
Design by Elizabeth Adams.

Five days left to pre-order The Book of the Red King in hardcover or paperback from Phoenicia Publishing, nab a discount, and support the small press directly. (Hardcovers will only be available from the publisher; paperbacks will be available widely.)


"Marly Youmans is brilliant, perhaps a genius. Her poems tell a story, offering us a vision of, well, I would say the Trinity, but that is only one possible interpretation. After a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey, a Red King, a Fool, and Precious Wentletrap converge into one, a resurrection that is heavenly. Is it true, or is it fable or fairytale? "When I want to write a new book," she has said, "I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world." Her formal poems are impeccable and include sestinas, villanelles, rondels, rhyming schemes she may have invented, and perfect metrical patterns. Every poet can learn from this poet, and the reader—the reader will be spellbound."
--Kelly Cherry, poet, novelist, and former Poet Laureate of Virginia

"The Book of the Red King by Marly Youmans is an ambitious, magical book about the nature of power and language.  The Red King and the Fool, while they control different realms, make us consider whether it is better to rule on earth or in one’s imagination. In these gorgeous poems, Youmans makes the case for both.  Whatever side we take, Youmans reminds us of the paradox in each.  Even if we side with the Fool in this world of “hurt joy,” we are left with the realm of poetry.   It is not a bad trade.  For those who love well-formed poems and for those who love fantasy, this is a must-read and a distinctive, evocative voice. There is no one like Marly Youmans."
--Kim Bridgford, celebrated poet, editor, and director of the global conference, Poetry by the Sea

"Marly Youmans occupies an imaginative space that straddles both the present and the mythological past. It is the territory of Yeats and Tolkien, and Youmans shares not only a taste for primal imagery with these great poets, but also their love of rhyme, rhythm and sound."
--A. M. Juster, award-winning poet and translator


Clive with St. George, the dragon, maiden,
and his late, lamented little jackanapes...

Clive Hicks-Jenkins was born in Newport, south Wales, in 1951. The early part of his career was as a choreographer and stage director. In the 1990s he turned away from theatre to concentrate on painting. He has been praised by critics in The Independent, Modern Painters and Art Review. Simon Callow has called him ‘one of the most individual and complete artists of our time' and Nicholas Usherwood in Galleries has described his work as ‘reflective, expressive painting of the highest order.’

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Midsummer reads

Despite rushing-about, despite progeny, despite getting ready for The Book of the Red King, and despite celebrating the 4th of July over three days of barbecues and events and fireworks, I have been managing to do a little reading. And as it is feeling good, I thought to share the list. Please add your own midsummer list in the comments if you're reading something you like...

Irene McManus, Dreamscapes: The Art of Juan González (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1994.) I picked this up at The Village of Cooperstown Library and was so fascinated by the artist's symbology and concerns (a father who came out as gay and became HIV+ in the 1980's, a man obsessed by Catholic imagery from his Cuban childhood, a painter who shows theatricality and love of tiny stage sets and shrines in his paintings and drawings versus a strong meditative tendency, a master of trompe l'oeil, a reader with a love of poetry, particularly Garcia Lorca's poems, a myth-maker especially down to Narcissus--with mirrors and doublings--and Orpheus, a symbolist who is sometimes clear and sometimes hermetic, a visionary concerned with psychological and spiritual states) that I ordered my own copy. While it's clear that he was influenced by certain contemporaries and movements (his Minimalist-influenced pieces are surely my favorites from that particular corner of the art world), he is strongly drawn by European art made for cathedral and church settings and also by Vermeer and Rembrandt and other Dutch Golden Age painters.

And González has made me go back to Federico García Lorca, Collected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002). And as I always say, rereading is the best reading.

David Lyle Jeffrey, In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 2017.) I ordered this beautiful volume because of John Wilson's review, which is here: "David Lyle Jeffrey's Unpopular Project." I'm on page 25 and liking the book very much. And one thing I just learned that I like a lot is that the Hebrew word for artistic creativity is chokma-lev, or wise-heartedness. I'll have to aspire to that! Here's some praise from John Wilson: "Jeffrey is a scholar who could easily intimidate readers with his erudition: master of many languages, ancient and modern; equally knowledgeable about literature and the visual arts; and intimately familiar, above all, with Scripture. Open his book at random and read a few pages: You’ll be stunned by the sheer range of his learning. And yet, unlike many of his academic peers, he doesn’t employ a style designed to exclude all but a handful of readers fluent in this or that jargon."

Wow. Crack-stroke of lightning, almost simultaneous with the thunder... Where was I? Hmm. I'm doing my third book event for my women's group (a group focused on creating and attending events related to arts and religion for going-on-two years now.) And the next discussion is of readings from Kathleen Raine, Richard Wilbur, Charles Causley, and Elizabeth Jennings. So of course I am reading those four to get ready. (Past readings: Frederick Buechner's little masterpiece, Godric; and The Cloud of Unknowing in the new Carmen Acevedo Butcher translation from Shambhala.) Oh, and I've just reviewed a book of poems and a novel by Valerie Nieman for North Carolina Literary Review. And that was an interesting assignment for me, as those of us who write poetry and fiction are the in the minority, and an even smaller minority of us write either a book-length poem (see Poochigian below) or a book-length series of poems (Nieman's Leopard Lady, out from Press53 in Winston-Salem, 2018, and Jeffery Beam, below.) As I have done both (Thaliad and The Book of the Red King), I'm always glad to encounter new examples.

Thinking about an unusual book form in a current read...

Jeffery Beam has long been a devotee of beauty, and his Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements is one of the prettiest books to appear in recent years. This poetry collection is another in the realm of the book-length series of poems, and is also an addition to the world of ekphrastic poetry. It is a book of free verse responses to paintings--and since the art is intricately tied together in a series, naturally the poems are as well. And internally they are held together, elaborate parallelism often binding the lines, so there is a kind of macrocosmic and microcosmic structure in the form.

Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements display a different way of thinking about what a book of poetry is, and it strikes me that the book is determined to create its own audience--that is, to create the reader's understanding and sympathy for the project--through what is included. Short excerpts from Lindsay Clarke and Joseph Campbell serve as a kind of preface, nudging us in a desired direction. The poems and art form the core of the book, but they are followed by three essays about the poetry and the art. So the book itself teaches how to read it, and also how to look at the art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins... Then there's a whole other dimension to the book in which music and poems join in the CD. It's an interesting and rare way of looking at the making of a poetry collection, and one that must have taken a lot of love and care.

Here's a sample that goes with the weather outside...


Delicate thief!
I thought your roar something
children imagined in a storm
Instead you light up the night meteoric
I hear you flash
Then all quiet

Currently on the starlit nightstand of poetry:

Ned Balbo, 3 Nights of the Perseids 2018 Richard Wilbur Award
  (Evansville, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 2019)
Jeffery Beam, Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements (thank you to Jeffery)
   Higganum, CT: Kin Press, 2019
   Includes reproductions of art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. And a CD with poems and music!
Maryann Corbett, Mid Evil 2014 Richard Wilbur Award
     (Evansville, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 2014)
Jeanne Larsen, What Penelope Chooses (thank you to Jeanne) 2017 Cider Press Review Award
   (San Diego, CA: Cider Press Review, 2019)
Amit Majmudar, Dothead
   (New York: Borzoi Book, Knopf, 2016)
A. E. Stallings, Like (thank you to Ashley Cooper)
   (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018)
Aaron Poochigian, Mr. Either/Or 
   (Wilkes-Barre, PA: Etruscan Press, 2017)



sirens croon among birds: a small crane, twin
gulls wheeling. Out there on the mast Odysseus
hangs hog-roped, neck a twist, his chin wrenched down.
What binds him is inescapable, & white.
Oh the blue blues, oh naked women's sweet
bone-black hips, oh shoreline's flame-green flames.
Look: in a mirror that is & is not beyond
this hanging objet's frame, a mob. But with honey
-comb our great hearted man stopped up soft ears.
He'll make it to Ithaka, after all. A poem,
then, not about cosseting steep-walled shames. No threnody.
Poem of the trickster's survival. Poem of how
we do go forward. Of shuddering bodies, compassed.

It's always curious how certain threads coalesce in the world of letters. I'm still pondering the current combination on the loom of literary time, of which Jeanne Larsen's book is a part. Why re-think Homer now? Along with Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls, and Madeline Miller’s Circe, Jeanne Larsen's twisty, jazzy poems in What Penelope Chooses question (interrogate would be the hip critic's word) that composite, passed-down voice we call Homer. 

Even more than in Wilson's translation, which makes the Homeric line something different, more tense and compact by compression into iambic pentameter, Larsen's lines are tightened, broken, contemporary, full of frisky language play. Try these: nasty / sassy queasy peephole; beagle-brained square-jawed skull-thickener; poly-vocal fingers; sea dog, pollywog, old tarpaulin, / storm-scoured gob; blood-streaky, breached; nerve-zap yearning; clit / -whipped; PTSD blues; future snarled, blue-screened, timed-out. The poems question not just Homer but also form and what language is suited to a trickster--cheerfully tossing out not just the Homeric line but also pulling into new, wild shapes the sonnet form to which Larsen nods.

The freedom of time-leaping and the frolicsome language remind me a bit of Christopher Logue's unfinished versions--or "accounts," as he called them--of the Illiad, War Music. But as with Barker, Miller, and Wilson, a different sort of metamorphosis is underway. What was at the margins or not conceived to be worth sustained attention now gleams under a light: torn, ignored, or cast-off women; autistic (!) Polyphemus who loves his "nubbly" ram; a tapestry- and Homer-unweaving Penelope who may have had "a few brawly boys, a fickle maid" in her bed. What is at the margin takes stage, becomes center.