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Saturday, December 11, 2021

"Starting with a Sentence by Aidan Hart"

As I've had to be away a great deal this year, I haven't posted much... but here's a poem that just emerged in First Things, in print and online.
Posting in the small hours with a wave to fellow insomniacs...

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

My Puritan story at CT...

Charis has clambered on top of the new-and-noteworthy reviews at Christianity Today. I'm very glad to have that attention, and happy for the words of reviewer and novelist Heather Cross

Charis in the World of Wonders

Marly Youmans (Ignatius Press)

Set in Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1690s, Charis in the World of Wonders plunges us into the mind, language, and worldview of a young woman struggling to survive yet finding grace in unexpected places. Youmans’s lush prose evokes a preindustrial, perilous, socially connected world in which the Divine has sovereign reign over outcomes both joyous and sorrowful. Reading it feels like traveling through time and space to experience reality laid bare: Life is fragile, humans need each other, and the created world is shot through with beauty, fear, mystery, and God.

Read more of the list HERE.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sun and Moon etc.

Sun and Moon.
Taken near the side door by Michael.


After returning from a six-day jaunt in West Virginia (and a bit of Virginia), where we pondered retirement possibilities for the still-distant future and met up with Progeny no. 3, I have been rather lukewarm about all things social media-ish and the blog. Also lazy about submitting anything.... and the only new publications are print-on-paper, so nothing to report and link to online.

Nevertheless, here I be!


You might like to read Aaron Belz's piece on Norm MacDonald at Front Porch Republic, HERE. Twain, comedy, manner-of-telling, death-mindedness, and more.
Norm Macdonald: You know, I think about my deathbed a lot.
Vulture: What do you think about it?
Macdonald: I think I never should have purchased a deathbed in the first place.


And I'm grateful to Paul Pastor for mentioning me along with some fancy names in a brand new interview from Michael Wright's Still Life newsletter.  Several mentions there could make me big-headed were it not for my Southern ancestors, who squashed humility into me when I was but a wee aspiring child poet. Suggestion: how about you read the interview and then (later this fall) go and buy his upcoming book, Bower Lodge, forthcoming from Fernwood Press?

More WV

If you're ever in Lewisburg, WV, don't forget to eat dinner at Stardust! What else did I find out in the Virginias? Well, I still like Lexington and Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry. And Bolivar and Charles Town are lovely. Also rambled around at Grandview in the New River Gorge National Park.

And just to bring up the tone, here's George Washington's bathtub from Berkeley Springs, WV... Actually most of it doesn't show--looks a bit like a watery stone grave. Just a tad creepy. Sadly, the presidential site turns out to be a fake--he did hang out in one of the stone tubs at the not-all-that-sizzling hot springs, but we don't really have his personal slot in stone. Be sure and bring a big ole bottle if you go to the state park, and maybe even your swimsuit.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Rabbits, Tavener, Poems


Thanks to Conor Sweetman and the staff of Ekstasis, who recently accepted a couple of poems of mine; the first can be found HERE. If you want to know more about the rabbits--hares, really-- you can see a Cornish tin miner's  badge here, an Alsace puzzle plate here, a Mogao Caves temple decoration here, a Jewish tombstone here... And there are many more examples, in many cultures.

In England and Europe, the three hares appear to have been adopted as a symbol of the Trinity, and certainly they are three-in-one in an Escheresque manner! Syncretic symbol? In part because rabbits are linked to fertility, I think of the also-fertile green man motif. I've never understood the reason academics don't see why Medieval churches adopted the image of the green man, often shown as vomiting leaves. Surely he is an emblem of new life and creation. Moreover, he speaks creation like the God of Genesis, who says, "Let there be light: and there was light." The green man is a rude thing, sure, but clearly bursting with life and its enchantment. I expect the Gawain poet with his Green Knight would've understood. The three hares seem a similar borrowing, an understanding that patterns underlie the nature of the world and are meaningful, even when they seem a bit homely and countrified. The three hares remind me of what composer John Taverner called images or verse of "primordial innocence," work that is simple and beautiful and childlike. For him, that's always connected with being open to revelation, ready to receive something from beyond.


Thinking of Taverner and beauty... 

His Three Holy Sonnets (inspired by Donne's "Spit in My Face," "Death Be Not Proud," and "I am a little world") were written when he was fifteen. And I'm still thinking about how Stravinsky looked at the score and wrote "I know" on it. So many possible reasons to write such a thing!

Interesting to have good work remaining from the teen years. I regret throwing away all my poems when I was twenty and graduated from college. They were fantastical and full of youth, whatever else they were. In love with sound and enchantment. And I should never have gone on to graduate school. It was not good for my poems. Unlearning took me a long time.


Though I've been doing too much travel and have too many strenuous things to accomplish this year (not bookish things!), I'm again thinking about writing another long poem, as I mentioned before. I've been surprised by how many people have read and liked Thaliad (that is, in the smaller scale numbers of poetry), but even more years of Western cultural decay have passed by since that poem was published, so that I find that I now have some doubt of readers picking up a long formal poem.

But I still might do it, at least for myself. I have a good deal of work I've never tried to publish, and not everything has to be sent out in the world. Still pondering.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Rain-poem, rumination, Russian

Poem at NAA: 

Woman, Tree, Rain

I'd forgotten this poem by the time it appeared. I've written stories with women in trees, and wrote a whole novel once that kept a woman high in a redwood. I've written poems that were self-portraits-as-dryad, and trees often invade my lines. So it wasn't surprising to reread and find that by the close I had found it worthwhile to communicate with a tree.

Thoreau crept in, who also loves trees, and also those wandering Walden-girls who pick up radiant leaves. I suppose the whole poem is a sort of gathered leaf that "improved the time." And who I am but one of those girls, grown older? A noticing sort of girl who picks up leaves.

And what does it mean to see the a tree as the axis mundi, the center of the turning world? The tree from that mountain garden of Eden, the knowledge of good and evil, turned by legend into the cross on the hill that drips blood onto the buried skull of Adam? I hadn't remembered the poem, and so was surprised that the leaves become a series of radiant words.

Well, it was pleasant to see it again. And to remember the moment of stopping to stare at the corner of Fair St. and Church St. That rain-slicked, brilliant tree! It seems a lonelier poem than I expected when I began to read. All that saying of logoi at the end, and yet the woman is alone, alone in her invisibly-walled, rainless room. Perhaps she had to be lonely to know that all things are speaking.

* * *

I've only been writing poems of late because some parts of life demand such large chunks of time devoted to family that it seems impossible to plan a novel. But I keep thinking of an idea for another long poem like Thaliad. Though I never thought about Thaliad before I woke up with the story in my head, ready to jump out onto the page. So maybe this one is not so urgent.

And maybe I"m done with novels. Who can say? The world isn't begging for one of mine, anyway, so there's no rush. And time always does tell...

* * *

I've started studying Russian--I had a wisp of it in college and have been doing Duolingo for a couple of weeks. Today I received in the mail a pared-down grammar, a book of conversations, and a book of easy stories. We'll see how long I can stick to it!

* * *

Here's a tree-ish thought, 
a pressing thought, 
a Russian thought for the day:

"To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots." --Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Friday, July 16, 2021

Poems, bridges, signs

Bouquet for 34 years, July 16


Some poems that the late poet, editor, and professor Kim Bridgford accepted for Mezzo Cammin are up--now re-accepted by editor Anna Evans. Thanks to her and the journal!

Here are titles and first lines to entice you to fly HERE...

The Maiden-Saint of France

While still a child I was a thing men fear,
The fire-struck one who has the ears to hear

The Watering Place

We wished the stream to be alive, as rinsed
And quick as a twisting blue rill of thought.

Far Away Long Ago

The world’s as rust as blood, as white
As sperm, as black as ebony—


The crown springs from his skull to say
That all his rule is flowering

"Far Away Long Ago" and "Stellate" are from "Seven Triolets for the King of Finisterre," a series written for painter Graham Ward, a friend in the U.K.  Here is his "King of Finisterre":

Graham Ward, "King of Finisterre"


Dimitry Shvidkovsky, Director of the Moscow Architectural Institute:
Our main goal now is to connect the time in which we live, to the years when the last churches [before the revolution.—Trans.] were built. The construction of such a bridge between the two epochs is very important: The times before the 1917 revolution seem to me to be a period of one of the highest manifestations of Russian Church architecture, which by no means was in decline, but on the contrary, it was on the rise and flourishing.*

A bridge between two epochs... 

Although this quote is from an interview about Orthodox church architecture, it's something I've thought about a lot. We have the return of figurative and narrative art in recent years, in great part banished by Modernism and Postmodernism and its aftershocks. We have, indeed, the return of painting itself. Private classical studios have done the work that art schools used to do, passing on the knowledge of painting in oils. Likewise, poetry has thrown a bridge back to the past while moving onto the future. Narrative has reappeared in poetry. Book-length poems have returned. A subset of writers embraced form, and that fascination has helped to push us away from the long, long dominance of the short lyric poem. 

*from an article by Dinara Gracheva, "Church Architecture Doesn’t have to have the Same Objectives as Secular Architecture; An Interview with the Director of the Moscow Architectural Institute, Dimitry Shvidkovsky," in Orthodox Arts Journal


Here's a couple of recent tweets of my own... measures of the times in the realm of making stories and poems. What is happening in the world of books is curious but unsurprising.
13 July: Novels aren't meant to be bowdlerized by agents and publishers and "sensitivity readers" who act like bossy committee members! May your friend stand strong and maintain the book as he dreamed it to be. As he made it to be. I send him good wishes, whoever he is...

9 July: I recently used Moby Dick as an example of why writers shouldn't use "beta readers." Just think what they would have done to that book! It is great and weirdly holy in both energies and essence.
If you're a maker, don't let others warp what you make to fit into the Procrustean box of the era. You can't help being of your era--that marks your work regardless. But you can make the thing you want to make by your own lights. There's a cost to that, but it is a cost worth paying. 

After rulers and the ruling passions of an age die in time, the arts remain. Homer remains. The wee fat Venus of Willendorf remains! The works of the Gawain poet remains. Making is good for the spirit, so why not aspire to make something that remains, or to experience the things that remain? 

Dostoyevsky to his brother after the firing squad, after the last-moment reprieve: "to be a man among people and remain a man forever, not to be downhearted nor to fall in whatever misfortunes may befall me—this is life; this is the task of life. I have realized this. This idea has entered into my flesh and into my blood." 

How splendid! Read the whole thing HERE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Stay cool! Winter poem. Gogol on art and transformation.


I got up at 7:00 a.m., coolest hour of the day, to pull the fans and shut the windows and curtains... 

Here's an image of this week's hot-weather picnic. Spanish tapas followed by homemade ice cream hiding little morsels of fresh cherries and dark chocolate.

If somebody has a secret weapon against Japanese knotweed (that green stuff in the background), let me know! Losing every battle here...

The weather was around 90F yesterday--not bad compared to what's happening elsewhere, but disturbing for many a Yankee villager. I'm rather glad to get hot out-of-doors, though I like to preserve the coolness in the house.


Brainchild of poet and publisher Karen Kelsay, The Orchards Poetry Journal popped up online today. Find it HERE

I see writers I e-know--Dan Sheehan, David Landrum, Katherine Hoerth, etc.--and one of my poems can be found on pp. 82-83. "Midnight Between the Water and the Air." It is set in winter, so good for mental cooling. You may take a vicarious walk on Lake Otsego aka James Fenimore Cooper's Glimmerglass.


Art reconciles us with life. Art is the introduction of order and harmony into the soul, not of trouble and disorder... If an artist does not accomplish the miracle of transforming the soul of the spectator into an attitude of love and forgiveness, then his art is only an ephemeral passion. --Nicholas Gogol

This is not how post-post-moderns think of art.

Gogol believed that art and life should fit together, that they must achieve a kind of friendship. In his view, art gifts us with the opposite of chaos--with order and resolution and consolation. But that's not always what the past century of art has sought to give us. Nor is it what most of our academies teach today, not after having passed through the wringer of the French critics. Many of our "best schools" show a marked disdain for works that sought after beauty and the harmony that comes with resolution of narrative or form. It's very old news that we can send a son or daughter to college for an English major and have them leave school without reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Lear or Jane Eyre or many another work of beauty and power.

And of course it is difficult to talk of what beauty can do for the human soul when so many think there is no element in us that could be named as soul. Dissect us, and the soul proves invisible, impossible to capture. We're materialists! Why not get rid of the past when its beauties can do nothing for a non-existent thing? And so if people never pick up Emily Dickinson's poems or Fielding's Tom Jones, well, there's just no finding out that perhaps works of arts do something strange and potent and stirring to an incorporeal, hard-to-pin part of them. 

Meanwhile, in a time of chaos and lack of unity between peoples, Gogol goes on telling us to reach for the highest possible thing in the realm of art. Imagine a making so strong and beautiful and full of energies that it leads to the transformation of all those who encounter it.


Picnic with no dessert? It took a while to freeze. But here's a 67-year-old woman with a bowl of homemade ice cream studded with fresh cherries and dark chocolate. 

Was it fantabulous? Yes. Made her a child again.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Late morning thoughts

Aside from tweaking yesterday's poem, I have managed to lay waste to the morning without much accomplishment. Unlike yesterday, when I was a weeding demon in the garden, and also cut down the leaves of autumn crocuses (croci!) that will magically return as flowers in the fall... What a weird emblem of resurrection they are! The big broad leaves of spring turn brown and die, and the the autumn ravishment comes, dreamy and floating and leafless. Spirit flowers...

Despite having wasted my precious time, today I am pleased with the thought that at 4:00 p.m. for approximately 30 minutes (if you believe the prophecies of the weather mages), it will hit 80 degrees. I do not really believe the online weather mages but am still pleased (being a Southerner not adjusted to Yankeedom despite all these years here) by the hope. 

And I am also idly, not particularly seriously, wondering if the world has changed so much that it's really not mine anymore, and so it's a good thing that I live a mostly unseen life in an obscure little village. Out there in the world, do people read books anymore? Do they read poetry? And if they do, do they read what's called free verse and / or formal poetry (the thing we used to call "poetry"?) 

Are poets and writers like modern-day lacemakers, addicted to making things of beauty and truth? Everybody loves the idea of beautiful handmade lace, but few have any. (What does it mean for lace to be truthful? Well-made, I suppose. Delicate but strong.) Maybe for a marriage? For a wedding dress? 

Except some of us elope and need no lace. 

I eloped.  

* * *
Святитель Феофан Затворник Вышенский, епископ Тамбовский (St. Theophan the Recluse of Vyshensky, Bishop of Tambov), known as Theophan the Recluse: 
Works of art are delightful not just for the beauty of inward composition, the intellectual-contemplative beauty, the ideal. Where do such visitors come from in the soul? They are visitors from another realm, from the realm of the spirit. 

Theophan the Recluse. Ivar the Boneless. Alexander the Great. Æþelræd / Æthelred the Unready. Samwise the Brave. Why don't we name people this way any longer? Well, I know why, but why don't we do it anyway, just for the fun of it? 

I had to look up Theophan, as I found that quote in Aidan Hart's Beauty Spirit Matter but, as often happens, knew... nothing. He's Saint Theophan of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bishop Theophan wrote a number of books on prayer and spiritual transformation and also translated the Philokalia from Church Slavonic into Russian, which must have been a mighty long job.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


Click HERE to find a Zoom invite for my CANO (Community Arts Network of Oneonta) reading on the 17th, tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. EST (It kicks off with a short open mike session followed by yours truly reading from THE BOOK OF THE RED KING (Phoenicia Publishing, 2019) and CHARIS IN THE WORLD OF WONDERS (Ignatius Press, 2020.) 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Formal frolics, just up--

Just home from four days in New Hampshire, and pleased to find people sharing two new poems of mine on social media... enjoy!

Self-portrait as Ruth the Moabite at Measure Review

Pilfered from Measure Review on Twitter: "Writing in a nonce form that's half-sestina and half-ghazal, #poet Marly Youmans (@marlyyoumans) has created a stunning and hopeful #poem worth remembering - and form worth trying yourself. Read it now at #measurereview" 

Seaside Pentina for a Chinese Painter at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily

"Editor’s Note: This delightful pentina uses lush imagery to draw the reader into a landscape that feels as ephemeral as a painting, but with a structure that perfectly encapsulates the concept of 'li'."

Monday, June 07, 2021

June, June, June

Home after five weeks on my mother's North Carolina mountaintop and a meet-in-Philly trip to celebrate my youngest child's birthday... noting my June events here. Evidently anyone can attend the CANO event, though a link is needed. And I think that'll be sent the week before.

June 17

CANO reading via Zoom
I'll read from
The Book of the Red King 
Charis in the World of Wonders
Community Arts Network of Oneonta - Writers Salon
(607) 432-2070

Coming soon!

June 2
Zoom with St. Francis Book Club
Charis in the World of Wonders
led by Fr. Mark Michael
St. Francis Episcopal Church
Potomac, Md

Thank you to the participants...
Loved this event--such interesting questions!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A singing bird for The Hidden Cathedral Poetry Celebration

A little nesting bird from The Cathedral of All Saints, Albany

If you liked the prior post with videos from The Hidden Cathedral Poetry Celebration, please sign up for emails from Cathedral Arts of The Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. Malcolm Guite and much more, including 24 videos from me. And I am also moving the videos to the public setting a few days after they appear at the Cathedral Arts sites, so you can also go HERE to find all the HCPC videos by me, eventually... as well as other videos about my poetry and fiction or made by me. A playlist will pop up for the 24 when the last one goes public.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Hidden Cathedral Poetry: the first 4 of my 24 tiny videos

The Hidden Cathedral Poetry Celebration has begun! 

To learn more about this April festival from Cathedral Arts of The Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York, go HERE. (And you can sign up to receive updates in your inbox...) Included will be some of my readings of poets you may not know, as well as a talk from Malcolm Guite and readings from Leonard A. Slade, Jr., Luke Stromberg, and Michael Joyce.


Another reason to hate the (usually useful) internet


                            To Whomever,

Kindly remove the abusive, illegal use of my name on your hosting server: that is, the site www[dot]marlyyoumans[dot]com. You have no right to use my name, and I do not wish to be associated with your slut-and-sex links. While I have legal counsel, I will be happy to refrain from using it if this website vanishes immediately.
With utmost sincerity, 
the Real Marly Youmans
If this happens to you, try ICANN-- find out what lovely organization did this to you.

    Thursday, April 08, 2021

    My poems in another's voice

    Dan Belton
    ("Writer, printer, painter, photographer, Hangman books, ex-stuckist")
    reads some of my poems. 
    Find him (even buy his art) here:

    Dan Belton reads "Blue Sky, Blue Tree"
    from The Book of the Red King

    Dan Belton reads "To Make Much of Time"
    from The Foliate Head

    Dan Belton reads "The Sheaf of Wheat"
    from The Foliate Head

    Dan Belton reads "Mirror Tree, Tree Mirror"
    from The Foliate Head

    Dan Belton reads "Puck in Spring"
    from The Foliate Head

    Sunday, April 04, 2021

    Celebrating Easter with three makers--

    To celebrate Easter, here are a few images from contemporary makers I have explored and admire, masters of religious art... None of these celebrated Easter earlier today, as they are all Eastern Orthodox congregants. While I am not Orthodox, I would say that I have leanings in that direction (particularly toward the beauty, the densely visual and narrative quality of their churches, and the love of early writers), and I was for a time on the board of an Orthodox contemplative center. I'll have to write about that some time...

    The first is a mosaic by Aidan Hart, a wonderful all-around maker of church furniture and decoration, and a writer whose book Beauty Spirit Matter: Icons in the Modern World is a splendid, ravishing thing. You may think it strange, but I have found his writing about church decoration to be generative for my writing--and that's a rare quality. I recently wrote a poem beginning with a line quoted from Aidan Hart, and another structured by his advice to iconographers. Writers, of course, are magpies, and pluck up glittering bits of inspiration where they will, sometimes in surprising places.

                                                                                 * * *
                                                    One of two new Aidan Hart mosaics for
    St George’s Orthodox Church, Houston, Texas
    Read about how they were designed and made

                Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
                Pleasant and long:
                Or since all music is but three parts vied
                And multiplied;
                O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
                And make up our defects with his sweet art.

                       from George Herbert (1593-1633), "Easter"

    Here's another image I like--a chandelier by the wonderful Orthodox architect, Andrew Gould, installed in his home church in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Long ago, I used to spend a good deal of time in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, and some day I'd like to do a Gould-tour of the area, jaunting about to see his clever churches and houses and the wonderfully imaginative wine store... 

    I love the way he nestles new homes into historic communities by creating a sort of narrative around them, establishing a place and time and story for each. In fact, I love the way narrative interpenetrates the work of all three makers here. It rises up naturally as a response to bedrock narratives and also to traditional ways of incorporating narrative into church buildings.

    Read about the image here: 
    New World Byzantine Studios, installed 
    at Holy Ascension Orthodox Church"

            Looke downe, thou spiest out Crosses in small things;
            Looke up, thou seest birds rais’d on crossed wings;
            All the Globes frame, and spheares, is nothing else
            But the Meridians crossing Parallels.
            Materiall Crosses then, good physicke bee,
            But yet spirituall have chiefe dignity.

                  from John Donne (1572-1631), "The Crosse"

    And here is an Old Testament prefiguration of the resurrection, the "sign of Jonah," as the now-a-tad-wiser ship's passenger returns to light and air from the belly of the fish. It's by the only North American practitioner of icon carving, Jonathan Pageau, who works in wood and stone but is also well known for his talks on how to read as symbolic events and scripture and the works of the church fathers. As that fits rather nicely into my own way of looking at the world, I find him interesting in several ways.

    * * *
    Take a visual ramble
    around Jonathan Pageau's gallery HERE

    For good company to go with the image of Jonah in those complicated waves, here's a crumb of Father Mapple's sermon from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, published in 1851 : “Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters--four yarns--is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah."

    All three of these makers have articles at Orthodox Art Journal, as well as online homes well worth exploring. (I have pilfered the images from OAJ and Pageau Carvings and have put some trust in kindly forbearance.)

    Aidan Hart articles at Orthodox Arts Journal
    Aidan Hart's online home, Aidan Hart Icons

    Andrew Gould articles at Orthodox Arts Journal
    Andrew Gould's online home, New World Byzantine

    Jonathan Pageau articles at Orthodox Arts Journal

    Happy Easter--

    Wednesday, March 31, 2021

    Jackson Center interview

    Though most people who keep up with me go to social media sites, I'm posting this for the wonderful dinosaurs who still follow blogs and don't follow facebook. It's a copy of the facebook interview from The Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins. Conducted by MFA student Lena Fultz. Thanks to her and to the Jackson Center!

    Hollins Creative Writing Alum Spotlight: Marly Youmans, M.A. ‘75 

    Marly Youmans describes herself as a “Carolinian astray in snowy upstate New York.” After graduating from Hollins in 1975, she has written across genres—novels, short stories, and poetry. Youmans returned to Hollins in 2010 to serve as a Writer in Residence for the Children’s Literature summer program. 

    Her work continues to win awards, with novels regularly appearing as finalists in ForeWord’s Book of the Year contest, among many others. John Wilson, editor at Books and Culture Magazine, describes Youmans as “the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. She writes like an angel—an angel who has learned what it is to be human.”

    Youmans spoke on her time at Hollins and her most recent (fifteenth!) novel, CHARIS IN THE WORLD OF WONDERS, with MFA student Lena Fultz.

    LF:  What was your experience at Hollins like? What did you take away from your time here?

    MY:  I wrote reams of poems at Hollins, and when I left at 20, I threw them all away—very much a young poet’s thing to do, though now I regret renouncing all those sparks of youth. Some years ago, Lee Smith told me that she found one of those old poems lying about the department and liked it: “The Magician’s Daughter.” 

    Some of the women who were entranced with poetry (and the beloved Richard Dillard) are still friends of mine, especially Mary Bullington, Robbi (Kellman) Nester, and Susan Hankla. Susan was at Brown with me as well (riotous days!), and my fifteenth book, CHARIS IN THE WORLD OF WONDERS, is dedicated to Richard and Susan.

    Amanda Cockrell invited me to be Writer in Residence at the summer Children’s Literature program some years back, and I enjoyed the return and still hear from some of the students. Just last fall, I had the decided pleasure of discussing Susan Hankla’s first full-length book, CLINCH RIVER, in THE HOLLINS CRITIC.  

    I suppose that many a young writer discovers a need to rebel against what she has been taught in school, and against the times. And so I have ended up bounding away from the vers libre of Modernism and its after-shock movements, and have embraced meter and sometimes rhyme as liberating and strengthening forces. I’ve gone back to older and larger definitions of what poetry can be and can include: narrative and long poem, as in THE THRONE OF PSYCHE; long sequence with repeating characters, as in THE BOOK OF THE RED KING; epic adventure, as in THALIAD. Falling into the land of stories helped, for I soon wanted my poems and fiction to be entirely different creatures.

    LF:  Your recent novel, CHARIS IN THE WORLD OF WONDERS, is set in Puritan New England. What does your research process look like for writing in a time before you were born? What is the biggest challenge?

    MY:  In the books where I’ve delved into the past, I’ve moved through regions of time where I felt comfortable: CATHERWOOD and CHARIS in the seventeenth century, THE WOLF PIT in the nineteenth, and A DEATH AT THE WHITE CAMELLIA ORPHANGE in the Depression. 

    I tend to consider fiction-time as a place rather than as an inaccessible era. Some of this is due to my extended family in Georgia. As a child, I spent some of my summer traveling-time at my maternal grandmother’s big Queen Anne house and property in Collins. My mother was the accidental ninth baby of a woman born in 1883; the home and our matriarch, Lila Eugenia Arnold Morris, felt Edwardian. And some of my vacation time was spent with my paternal grandparents; the sharecropper’s shack and farm are closely described in A DEATH AT THE WHITE CAMELLIA ORPHANAGE. Utilities were minimal, comforts sparse, mules stubborn, sun boiling. Tenant labors of ploughing in the fields, picking cotton and tobacco, preserving food, or making turpentine in the piney woods didn’t appear impossibly distant from the peasant’s vassal duties in a medieval and feudal world. My two Georgia family homes have been a blessing to me as settings for my imagination and as ways of understanding how to live and move in the past, as well as how to navigate a landscape of hardship, toil, and poverty. 

    (Here I should pause and thank my late father for the burning motivation that made him a teenage tailgunner on a B-17 in World War II and afterward a professor of analytical chemistry—one who bought his elderly parents a house in town. And thank you, America, for the G. I. bill.)

    For CHARIS IN THE WORLD OF WONDERS, I could skip over a lot of basic research because I had read so much colonial documentation and literature in earlier years. But I spent nine days at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, looking up specific things: occupations and titles in Massachusetts Bay Colony; accounts of Haverhill and Andover (now North Andover); letters; modes of address in England and the colonies; laws and punishment; differences between English and colonial goldsmiths; silver styles; contracts; marriage ways; recipes, etc.  

    Mainly, I didn’t want to tumble into the silly ways in which “the godly,” as they called themselves, have been depicted with black clothes (out of reach for most), buckles on hats, constant dreariness, and so on. The keys to writing a novel set in the past are few but essential: never put contemporary beliefs and contemporary characters into the past (unless, of course, you are writing a time-travel book!); show the same amount of “stuff” and landscape as you would in writing of your own place and time; don’t feel that you must prove (by over-reference to songs, politicians, scandals, etc.) that a character really and truly is in past time; and wear any historical research lightly, avoiding the dread info-dump.

    LF:  With the current state of the world right now, are you finding time and space to write? What does your writing routine (if you have one) look like?

    MY: A great deal of my adult life has been spent as a mother of three (one is still at home), and children have no need for a writer. They need a writer about as much as an octopus needs a party dress, and this is a good thing; it has kept me from ever accumulating any big-headed thoughts and forced me to be ingenious about scraps of time. So no, I never developed a routine; I seem to be fatally allergic to anything that smacks of over-organization, outlines, or the old-fashioned writer with wife who protects writing time. I do, however, have a husband who cooks and bakes wonderfully well, and for that I am grateful.

    Despite the pandemic, I am dividing my days between Cooperstown, New York, my home for the last 22 years, and Cullowhee, North Carolina, where I attended high school and where my mother lives. So, I’m sometimes shuttling back and forth along the Appalachian chain . . . Given my current situation, I’ve decided not to start a new novel until later, but I am writing poems.

    LF:  Any future projects or upcoming events we can look forward to? 

    MY:  I expect that the next book will be a poetry collection. Meanwhile, reviews and interviews and podcasts for CHARIS are still trickling out—it seems that I have an unfortunate tendency to have books launch during national disasters, but I’m hoping that readers will be kind enough to support pandemic books!

    Tuesday, March 30, 2021

    Charis, NCLR, and two poetry projects in Lent


    I've been grateful for the many good reviews of the novel, and now for a interestingly "mixed" review from "Editors' Picks" at Plough Quarterly. If you're wondering how this writer reacts to a mixed review, well, it's to say that all thoughtful attention helps the book--and here also to run through her mind why the pattern of a human being going through trials before finally winning home isn't proper as an appropriate and compelling narrative shape. Old as Homer. Older. But I'm pleased to have the consideration of the book all the same. So many thanks to Joy Clarkson... 

    Clip: conjure this premodern and enchanted way of encountering the world, where babies born on the Sabbath are cursed and moose are near-mythic creatures. Reading historical fiction can sometimes feel like a one-sided game of Trivial Pursuit, in which the author inflicts upon you every fact he or she ever learned about the time period. Not so with this book. Charis’ world is one in which I thoroughly believed, full of people I couldn’t help but care about. The archaic language felt natural, and its premodern mindset, full of assumptions alien to the modern experience, was revitalizing to inhabit.


    Pilfered just after it popped up on NCLR on facebook... "The Woman in the Walls."

    And no, it's not autobiographical, though there's a wisp of truth--did watch a wall being built with children, and the maker gave a broken trilobite to my daughter. That's somewhat rare for me, as I like to make up almost everything. when I write... Many writers like to write out of their own lives, but I find that material rather boring compared to the frolic and fireworks possible when I invent.


    In other word-news, approaching the end of a Lenten project of writing a formal poem every day. Almost there... Pentina, terza rima, otttava rima, sonnets, blank verse, and more. And a second Lenten project is almost complete--making videos of other people's poems for the Cathedral Arts program at The Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. More on that later!

    Monday, March 08, 2021

    Charis images on Sussex Lustreware

    A peek at the Sussex Lustreware "World of Wonders" line, with images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins from his illuminations for Charis in the World of Wonders. To see all, go  HERE.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2021

    This snowy, icy week...

    A few warm things... 

    Charis in the World of Wonders

    I've updated the Charis page, so please take a look--there is a great deal there now. This week I'm glad of a lovely long review of Charis in the World of Wonders by notable musician, teacher, and editor Lorraine Hale Robinson. And it's hosted at North Carolina Literary Review, edited by Margaret Bauer. To have four thoughtful pages in NCLR is something for which I am grateful! 

    You may find the digital version of the magazine HERE, or you may leap directly to the review HERE.

         Charis in the World of Wonders offers diverse sources of enjoyment—an exciting adventure saga, for example. Or, readers interested in the philosophical concepts of time and place, tracing the path of Charis’s adventure offers attractions. For readers interested in history, the book presents a vivid and engaging picture of “a world lit by fire.” Or for those of a metaphysical bent, there is the fascination of the bewildering “forests” of contradictions that drive Every Woman Charis’s interior, psychological journeys. For readers who relish the mot juste, there is delicate and nuanced writing craft and a sparkling use of kennings. My own recommendation is to read the book for all of its many wonders. --Lorraine Hale Robinson, “Homage to Hawthorne: A (New) Wonder Book,” North Carolina Literary Review, pp. 124-127. 11 February 2021.

    The Dreamer as Architect

    And HERE is "The Dreamer as Architect" at the digital version of First Things...  The second of two poems chosen by poet A. M. Juster in his brief time as poetry editor there, so I thank him. This one has received loads of lovely comments on twitter and facebook, so if you have not already seen it, perhaps you might like to peregrinate over that way... It's dedicated to novelist Midori Snyder.

    The start of  the poem, for a taste:

                                                  Last night in dreams, she lived a thousand years
                                                  And was the architect who made a house
                                                  That wandered from the mountains to the sea.

    Hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day, passers-by!