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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pete Candler's A New Decameron launches

Pete Candler's storytelling project--an edifice of words and images to be built during our time of pandemic, and glancing back to Boccaccio and the time of the Black Death--begins. Like Boccaccio's Decameron,  A New Decameron will rejoice in a multitude of narratives. Right now you'll find a trailer (including one of my poems as part of an introduction from Pete) and print versions (audio posted soon) of four poems of mine with art by Bruce Herman, who holds the ethereal, leafy Chair of Lothlórien at Gordon College.

Here's an excerpt from Pete's introduction, referencing the original Decameron:
I don’t know how many people are going to read Boccaccio these days, but I had a thought: why not recreate the Decameron for our time? I want to collect 100 stories to share online in written and audio form, to provide some of that common humanity Boccaccio’s characters found in their time. The only rule is that these stories should be as fully human as Boccaccio’s, and will be about anything except the coronavirus. The text versions will be posted here, accompanied by contributions from visual artists. The audio versions will be posted in podcast form and made available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and elsewhere.
Each day, for as long as our social isolation lasts (and possibly longer), we will post one new reading in the hopes of making something beautiful together out of our collective isolation, and, in the words of Boccaccio, “to offer some solace…to those who stand in need of it.” We may not have a lavish country estate to retire to wait out the contagion, as Boccaccio’s characters did, but we do have this, and that is not nothing. 
As Pete Candler is already the accomplished maker of the rich and challenging online project (films, still photographs, and stories) titled A Deeper South, I expect A New Decameron will be wondrous. If you haven't visited A Deeper South, go there too. "The vision of A Deeper South is rooted in the idea that the spiritual, political, and cultural health of a nation, region, city, town, or person depends upon an honest and unflinching memory; that the gravest danger to our cities and ourselves is a willful amnesia; that hope is to be found through the work of active remembrance, putting back together the fragments of personhood scattered by a culture of selective memory." Like A Deeper South, A New Decameron is ambitious and unifying in its goals.
To take pity on people in distress is a human quality which every man and woman should possess, but it is especially requisite in those who have once needed comfort, and found it in others. I number myself as one of these, because if ever anyone required or appreciated comfort, or indeed derived pleasure therefrom, I was that person. 
--Boccaccio, The Decameron

* * *
(Thanks to Artemis Journal and poetry editor Maurice Ferguson for permission to reprint two poems, and to Beth Adams for permission to reprint from her Annunciation anthology, which will be back in print from Phoenicia Publishing in July 2020.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Charis, Thalia, and the Red King on social media

Since most of the online responses to my books and even to blog-post commentary occur on social media, I thought I'd post a few of my favorite facebook posts and twitter tweets of the past days... Charis in the World of Wonders and The Book of the Red King are naturals to pop up now because one is out this week and the other is recent, but Thaliad has come in for some new love, as it deals with a sort of world-Kintsugi--world-rebuilding after disaster. It's not a pandemic that starts breakage, but the narrative does involve piecing together a broken world. You can click on "more" and see all of Clive's commentary, in which he talks about our books together and Thaliad, as well as The Book of the Red King. Thanks to the many tweeters (twits?) and facebookies who have been mentioning the shiny new book as well as the older ones.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Peacock-thoughts for a Pandemic Sunday

Peacock by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Charis in the World of Wonders
Ignatius Press, 26 March 2020

It's quiet in the village today. My amaryllis is silently, slowly opening. Though we're near the hospital, there is little traffic going by, and a good many Sunday villagers are or have been or will be snug in a comfy chair, watching the streaming services of their local church... or not, as they choose. 

At top, see a Clive Hicks-Jenkins peacock with its tail furled, one of the chapter division images for Charis in the World of Wonders. Peacocks have been a natural for symbolic bird since ancient times and for many cultures. Those eyes. The splendor of the shaking, unfurling fan. The rich, glitter of color. The piercing cry.

The early Christians adopted a belief of the ancient Greeks that the peacock was connected to immortality. Aristotle believed that the flesh of the peacock did not become corrupt after death. Perhaps ancient Greeks never let peacock leftovers last long enough to find out! But many years later, St. Augustine made experiment of the meat and agreed with Aristotle, finding that the flesh became only a little drier over time. Curiouser and curiouser!

Our modern image of a medieval royal table probably includes all sorts of weird, fantastic platters of food, including swans in plumage and peacocks with the great fan attached and spread. Desiring to have your own medieval feast, you might follow this advice:

A pecoke

Cut hym yn necke and skald hym 
cut of þe fete & hede 
cast hym on a spete 
bake hym well 
the sauce ys gynger.

That's a recipe from fifteenth-century England (Pepys MS 1047), by way of godecookery. The site also suggests that you not eat a peacock because it is tough and stringy. For myself, I would recommend that you not eat peacock because the peacock is beautiful and will give you a great deal more pleasure when rustling its tail of stars.

Nevertheless, godecookery offers a fourteenth-century sauce for your inedible peacock: poivre jaunet, from the 14th century Le Viandier de Taillevent. Grind up ginger, long pepper, saffron, an optional bit of cloves with verjuice, all toasted and then infused in vinegar or verjuice. Verjuice (Middle French "green juice") is a juice to pucker your mouth. Press some sour fruits like crabapples or grapes not yet ripe, and maybe even add some lemon or sorrel juice. 

Now you have it; take your scalded and spitted and stringy peacock and slather him in a sharp yellow pepper sauce. Tada! Here is the immortal flesh, preserved in acid and spice!

Paintings or mosaic work with peacocks appears as early as the third century A. D. in Roman catacombs. Part of this seems to be bound to the earlier idea that the flesh of the bird does not decay and holds some sort of immortality; that thought becomes a symbol wandering into regions of eternal life and resurrection. Part must be bound to the idea of leaving the earthly body and receiving a glorified body and soul, for the peacock in his fully revealed green and bronze and cobalt pomp and magnificence is an image of radiance and splendor. This sumptuousness finds its culmination in the peacock as symbol of Christ, who did not decay in the tomb and is transfigured and glorified.

 The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Carlo Crivelli, 1486
National Gallery.jpg (
Public domain Wikipedia)
I see a kind of triangle between the source of God-radiance in the sky,
the figure of Mary at prayer, and the peacock with its tail pointing toward Mary.

Flannery O'Connor was child-famous at the age of five for her backwards-walking chicken, a buff-colored Cochin Bantam, and later for her writing and her love of peacocks, kept on the farm at Andalusia. And given O'Connor's Catholic faith and the great fan of symbolic meanings associated with the peacock, that's not surprising. Her "Living with a Peacock" is a marvelous thing, and you should go and read it right now. The dressing ("A gray bantam named Colonel Eggbert wore a white piqué coat with a lace collar and two buttons in the back.") and addressing of chickens, the aloof habits of peacocks, and much more are delightful. Her first peacock arrives with no tail but "carried himself as if he not only had a train behind him but a retinue to attend it." Here, go! And if you need a nibble to entice, here is one:
When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing haloed suns. This is the moment when most people are silent.
“Amen! Amen!” an old Negro woman once cried when this happened and I have heard many similar remarks at this moment that show the inade­quacy of human speech. Some people whistle; a few, for once, are silent. A truck driver who was driving up with a load of hay and found a peacock turn­ing before him in the middle of our road shouted, “Get a load of that bas­tard!” and braked his truck to a shat­tering halt. I have never known a strut­ting peacock to budge a fraction of an inch for truck or tractor or automobile. It is up to the vehicle to get out of the way. No peafowl of mine has ever been run over, though one year one of them lost a foot in the mowing machine.
And doesn't this sound like an O'Connor encounter with strange grace from her stories?
An old man and five or six white-haired, barefooted children were piling out the back of the automobile as the bird approached. Catching sight of him, the children stopped in their tracks and stared, plainly hacked to find this superior figure blocking their path. There was silence as the bird re­garded them, his head drawn back at its most majestic angle, his folded train glittering behind him in the sunlight.
“Whut is thet thang?” one of the small boys asked finally in a sullen voice.
The old man had got out of the car and was gazing at the peacock with an astounded look of recognition. “I ain’t seen one of them since my grand­daddy’s day,” he said, respectfully re­moving his hat. “Folks used to have ’em, but they don’t no more.”
“Whut is it?” the child asked again in the same tone he had used before.
“Churren,” the old man said, “that’s the king of the birds!”
The children received this informa­tion in silence. After a minute they climbed back into the car and con­tinued from there to stare at the pea­cock, their expressions annoyed, as if they disliked catching the old man in the truth. 
What stops so many is that galaxy of eyes in the shivering fan of feathers. O'Connor's people, black and white, instinctively grasp what a medieval man or woman felt about the peacock. Awe in the presence of the utterly strange and beautiful knocks at their doors. Symbolically for the medieval Christian, the spread feathers expresses the overwhelming, beatific vision of God. For them, the feathers made an analogue to God's glory.

Further, the eyes suggested the all-knowing nature of God, who sees and fathoms both the depths of all things and even what we may regard as things of the surface and small like the death of a sparrow or the number of hairs currently residing on your head. Interestingly, the peacock is also the vanquisher of serpents in medieval bestiaries, and also a bird immune to poisons. That means that the peacock stands in relation to the serpent as Christ stands in relation to the devious snake in Eden's garden.

I found this shot of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (San Francisco)
on Pinterest, and can't seem to find the photographer...

The peacock still lingers in our world as a resplendent symbol of majesty, particularly in the Orthodox church. The rich double peacock image above shows the part of an Orthodox church called the Beautiful Gate, used by clergy, with its deacon doors or angel doors on each side. As is usual, Christ is on the right and the Theotokos on the left of the gate and doors.

I'll end with a poet who reached for the effulgence of the peacock and the preternatural nature of its cry. Here's a snip from a poem:
 And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
 The colors of their tails
 Were like the leaves themselves
 Turning in the wind,
 In the twilight wind.
 They swept over the room,
 Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
 Down to the ground.
 I heard them cry—the peacocks.
 Was it a cry against the twilight
 Or against the leaves themselves
 Turning in the wind,
 Turning as the flames
 Turned in the fire,
 Turning as the tails of the peacocks
 Turned in the loud fire,
 Loud as the hemlocks
 Full of the cry of the peacocks?
 Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?
In "Domination of Black," Wallace Stevens sweeps together darkness and autumn, deathly hemlocks, the gathering planets (so like the unfurling galaxy-tail of the peacock), and the idea of turning... all set against the memory of the preternatural cry of the peacocks. The otherworldliness of that stands opposed to dark and year's end, autumn and the hemlock, long associated (via funereal plantings and by the hemlock--not really the same hemlock as ours!--drink of Socrates) with death in the West. And this turning of autumn leaves in the wind, of flames in fire, of feathers in firelight is, not so surprisingly, a motion familiar to the peacock, who turns as he shivers his fantastical milky way of eyes.

And here's an image mixing peacock and leaves--
could not find peacocks in hemlocks!
Peacock in the Woods - 1907  (Public domain Wikipedia)
by Abbott Handerson Thayer (August 12, 1849 – May 29, 1921)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pilfered from Lady Word of Mouth: Book Launch

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Great Pandemic Book Launch and Frolic; otherwise known as the Marvelous, the Mystical, the Fantastical Saint Patrick's Day Book Party for Marly Youmans's Charis in the World of Wonders

Ethereal Reception to Follow
Place: In your airy, wondrous imagination
Book release date: 17 March 2020 St. Patrick's Day
Official pub date:  26 March  2020
Time: 12:01 a.m. - 11:59 p.m.
Book Party Saint: Patrick, naturellement!
* * *
available at indies and online outlets
Amazon and

* * *
Praise for 
Charis in the World of Wonders

Charis in the World of Wonders confirms once more Marly Youmans' place among the magi. There is indeed ‘a dark and amazing intricacy in the ways of Providence’, as this spellbinding novel attests.”
—John Wilson, Contributing Editor, Englewood Review of Books

“Charis is a prismatic grace journey that awakens our dulled senses and ignites our adventurous hearts. A seventeenth-century girl pilgrim, with dark shadows of Salem foreboding over her, begins a refractive journey as a faithful exile toward a golden sea.”
—Makoto Fujimura, Artist; Author of Culture Care and Silence and Beauty

“Imagine if William Faulkner had decided to rewrite Last of the Mohicans. What you would have is something like Charis in the World of Wonders—a wild adventure tale written with grace and insight.  Youmans' prose is fluid, sharply witty, and deeply rich in symbolism—the work of a master.”
—J. Augustine Wetta, OSB, Author of The Eighth Arrow and Humility Rules

“Youmans’ magnificent storyteller brings the early days of Europeans on the American continent vividly to life, in all their wonder and sorrow.”
—Emily Barton, Author of Brookland and The Book of Esther

“From the pen of an award-winning novelist and poet comes the story of Charis, a girl who loses everything and finds love and acceptance in an age of fear and uncertainty. This book is that rare thing, a novel containing characters who are both historically accurate and completely relatable.”
—Fiorella De Maria, Author of A Most Dangerous Innocence and The Sleeping Witness

A writer I greatly admire and have sometimes written about, Marly Youmans, has a new book coming late in March from Ignatius Press: Charis in the World of Wonders, with cover art and illustrations by the incomparable Clive Hicks-Jenkins. This novel, set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, should occasion a piece that tackles the whole sweep of Youmans’s work. She’s not part of any fashionable faction, and much as I would be delighted and surprised to see it receive generous attention in the New York Times Book Review and other such outlets, I am mainly hoping that First Things, Commonweal, Image, and other kindred publications will not let this opportunity pass.  
—John Wilson, "Desiderata," First Things 

* * *
from writers and artists on social media

James Artimus Owen, writer and artist: This book, written by my dear friend Marly and illuminated by one of my great inspirations, my friend Clive, is a great example of What Truly Matters in the world. What keeps me going in a world of seemingly ever increasing darkness? Shining lights. Just like this.

Makoto Fujimura, nihongan painter, cultural catalyst, writer: Ok. Cannot help to tweet. “Charis”, Marly’s next novel coming out, is one of the most beautifully wrought writings of the “burning bushes” all about us that I’ve encountered in recent times.  Absolutely mesmerizing novel. #kintsuginovel #culturecare

John Wilson, editor: Every writer is in a sense sui generis, but some to a greater degree than others--@marlyyoumans, for instance. 

Makoto Fujimura: What a stunning, beautiful story Charis is. I can’t stop thinking of it. Hortus continues to roam in my mind, bringing all of us to freedom.

* * *

“When I swung over that windowsill, everything changed for me. We are meant to go in and out of doors in civilized style, but my mother bade me climb into woodsy wildness and a darkness flushed with crimson light and torches…” 
Clambering into the branches of a tree, a young woman flees flaming arrows and massacre. She will need to struggle for survival: to scour the wilderness for shelter, to strive and seek for a new family and a setting where she can belong. Her unmarked way is costly, heroic, hard.
For Charis, the world outside the window of home is a maze of hazards. And even if she survives the wilds, it is no small, simple matter to discover and nest among her own kind—the godly, those called Puritans by others. She may be tugged by her desires for companionship, may even stumble into a sharp, intense love for a man, and may be made to try the strength of female heroism in ways no longer familiar to women in our century. 
Streams of darkness run through the seventeenth-century villages of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Occult fears have a way of creeping into the mind. And what young woman can be safe from the dangers of wilderness when its shadowy thickets spring up so easily in the soil of human hearts? 

* * *

A note from the illuminator:

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 facebook

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Sunny California

I had a wondrous time at Fujimura Institute with Joe Gallagher, Makoto Fujimura, Pete Candler, Jia Kim, Esther Meek, Curt Thompson, and Shann Ray. And some other in-residence Fujimura Fellows. Writers, filmmakers, philosopher, neuropsychiatrist, painter, cellist! Many chats, interviews, and a concert...

Most of all, thank you to Joe and Mako for inviting me. Thanks to writer Kristen Havens and actor Keisuke Hoashi for picking me up at LAX and taking me to dinner in Culver City and showing me their interesting life. Thanks to Dea Jenkins for a ride back to LAX. Thanks to Stephen Dudro for showing me around the Huntington and gardens on my first day before events began, and to Joe for taking me to the Norton Simon Museum in a free hour. Thanks to Eric Tai for the hand-drawn map, and to Julia for the kintsugi workshop.

And I flew home and caught a bug along the way, alas, but it does not seem to be The Bug.

Lady Word of Mouth

I am planning to pay more attention to my Lady Word of Mouth site in this time of launch and event cancellations, and hope you will as well. Just yesterday my keynote talk and workshops were canceled in Albany, and I am sure many such planned or tentatively planned events are simply not going to happen. Please give some extra love to writers, artists, and indie filmmakers in this peculiar time. Today a page for Sally Thomas's new book, Motherland, went up. Please take a look!

St. Patrick's Day Pandemic Book Launch

On facebook, I posted an imaginary book launch for Tuesday, when my novel, Charis in the World of Wonders, will be released. Ignatius has bumped up the pub date, and so perhaps they are hoping for the good interventions of the saint! That would surprise Charis, the Puritan girl, I expect...