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Seren of the Wildwood 2023

March, 2023

Art from the fertile brain and adept hand of Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales

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Seren is born on the brink of Wildwood, realm of shadowy fays who listen and laugh–who sometimes bless and sometimes curse. As she grows into young womanhood, shaped by a familial tragedy tied to her conception, she is lured from home by a whispering mystery in Wildwood, where the supernatural roams freely through time and space. In riddling, often dangerous forests and mountains marked by fallen powers and holy women, oracles, hermits, and giants, Seren finds both violence and balm on a path arrowing toward transformation.

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Seren of the Wildwood is a magical book, a visionary journey through motherhood and the rebellious, unwieldy life-force of the universe. It includes equally magical cover art and interior illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who frequently illustrates Youmans's books. The publisher's web page says that "Wiseblood Books fosters works of fiction, poetry, and philosophy that find redemption in uncanny places and people." Indeed they do.  

--Amanda Cockrell, The Hollins Critic, Vol. LX, no. 2, April 2023.

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Youmans’ gift for creating primordial archetypal images that stir the gut and fascinate the eye of the mind places her among the best of the poets. If you’re a connoisseur, even a lapsed or dilatory one, of narrative poetry, buy Seren of the Wildwood and read it today...

What is particularly impressive about Youmans’ weaving is her ability to use such venerable archetypes freshly. Yes, I’ve met them all before, and given time I could tell you where... The same with the landmarks and inhabitants of Youmans’ Wildwood; they seem hauntingly familiar yet disconcertingly strange. Her power simultaneously to defamiliarize and reenchant is enviable and deliciously enjoyable...

My first encounter with Seren of the Wildwood brought to mind dozens of my favourite poems, poems that over the millennia people have taken the trouble to read, copy, annotate, memorise, and perform. Seren of the Wildwood reminded me of them by way of family resemblance; the poem is at home among the poems that last. It is a good poem. A very good poem.  --Seth Wright, Front Porch Republic, 10 April 2023; read the essay HERE

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Marly Youmans is a master enchanter whose visionary novels and poetry deserve, even demand, rereading and reading aloud. A poet and novelist, Youmans often teams up with artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins to create beautiful stories that long inhabit the mind afterward...  --Tessa Carman, "Testing and Transformation" at The Living Church (ECUSA/Anglican Communion) 19 February 2023, pp. 34-35: read the whole article HERE

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Marly Youmans, in Seren of the Wildwood, now available from Wiseblood Books, offers a vivid fantasy. I will call it that even though the word fantasy appears several times in the story in its meaning of something untrue, a hallucination or deceptive visionary experience. And well it might—although by the end we witness a wonderful transformation of the idea of fantasy—for deceptive visionary experience sets the plot in motion. An invisible creature whom the young girl Seren (Welsh for “star”) names Ariel lures her into the Wildwood, on whose border she lives with her parents. She had two older brothers, but they died just as Seren was born: it is suggested by the narrator a curse emanating from someone in the Wildwood sickened them. / Youmans’s command of the poetic form is masterful, and a superb choice for fantasy, invoking as it does one of the great medieval fantasists in English.  --Jonathan Geltner, "The Spirit of Fantasy and the Sense of Place," Slant Books, 6 March 2023: read the whole essay HERE

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...what’s moved me most is Marly Youmans latest “ Seren of the Wildwood “ handsomely published by Wiseblood Books. Marly’s fairytale ( beautifully illuminated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins) weaves a complexity of archetypes and sensations , one recalls the lays of Chrétien, Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, the psychoanalytic work of Melanie Klein. Youmans , in her telling this tale explained to me the ambivalence Grendel’s mother must have felt for her challenging offspring . It’s a rich story , one I recommend highly ; so rich in fact that I needed to place my impressions upon paper , which follows in the second image . Marly is a gifted visionary , her many published works reflect her unique talents , in “Seren” she presents a tale of no particular time or place , magical yet not absurdist , familiar yet surprising. Wiseblood Books has a convenient site to order from , a range of many attractive offerings ( which I’ve already been tempted and eagerly await arrival), to those liminally inclined, I suggest a visit , you will not be disappointed.     --Artist Leonard D. Greco of L.A. and Chicago

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...This is a story to read in one or two sittings, letting it carry you into its alternate-interior reality. Among many beautiful passages, I’ll quote these lines from the episode right after Seren gives birth to a red hellion of a boy who is one-third mortal and two-thirds god (like Gilgamesh in the ancient epic, alluded to in the book’s epigraphs). Seren dreams that she is staying in the garden of a magical woman or goddess figure called Greenmother:

To her it seemed she lived inside the walls
For days, and for the first time heard a tune
The lady sang, and saw the stars respond
And dance as though delighted by the pour
Of wordless notes, the pulse of mystery
That was the living current of a flood
That washed the garden with fertility.

She is hearing the song of creation, to which she has added her voice by giving birth.

At the end of the tale, having completed her journey, Seren like Greenmother has become a woman-poet ready to

sing her [own] tale
And be a mistress of the marvelous.

The writer Marly Youmans is a mistress of the marvelous herself, as she has shown us again in this marvelous book.   

--Poet, translator, essayist Andrew Frisardi: read the entire essay HERE

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I was given a review copy of Seren and couldn’t put it down. It’s lyrical and magical and offers a glimpse of the places usually seen only from the corner of the eye. --novelist Amanda Cockrell

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...The reader is struck by two things almost immediately. First, the sheer imagination of this work is marvelous. It’s an engaging, enthralling story, part epic, part fairy tale, part Iliad and part Odyssey. It’s the story of a girl who, through no fault of her own, finds herself an actor in an unexpected drama.

The second striking thing is the discipline that’s required to write a work like this. You don’t write 61 poems of 21 ten-syllable lines each followed by a five-line rhyming coda without determination, focus, the self-confidence that you’ll finish it, and even courage to undertake it in the first place.

Simply put, Seren of the Wildwood dazzles while it provokes fundamental questions. Is life simply what’s fated for us, or are we free agents? How do we deal with guilt? How do we accept the responsibilities thrust upon us? How do we live during this perilous journey called life?

...Seren of the Wildwood is one of the most imaginative works I’ve read, and especially in poetry. It’s the kind of work that you know is changing you as you read it, and you emerge from it as not quite the same person you were before. It’s not unlike what happens to Seren on her journey through the wildwood.  

--Novelist Glynn Young, "Marly Youmans has written a marvelous epic story.", 28 March 2023. Read more HERE.


A little girl dancing between the graves of her brothers, a body held suspended and starlit in a thorn tree.... Marly Youmans is a spinner of archetypal images that seem at once strange and strangely familiar. The poem's form, hybridizing the 'bob and wheel' of medieval poetry with the iambic pentameter narratives of the Romantic and Victorian era, conjures a time-frame outside time, perfectly suited to the story. This book is itself a 'Wildwood' where fey, elusive, illusory phenomena draw the protagonist--and the reader--deeper and deeper into mystery.
       --Amit Majmudar, author of What He Did in Solitary

“Into the darkness, mystery, and fate”: that’s where Seren of the Wildwood will take you; also into the light. The old verities are not an embarrassment to Marly Youmans, our “mistress of the marvelous.” For all that has changed in the world over the ages—and all that continues to change, even as we speak, as competing savants tell us this or that is what we must expect—we still gather around “A hearth and wildwood blaze / On nights in winter crowned / By the strange,striking lays / That hold mortals spellbound.” 
       —John Wilson, contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books 

“Seren, Seren, Seren,” this poem whispers to our fractured souls, and Marly Youmans invites us to a fantastical, and psychologically potent, adventure. As an artist, I am grateful for a poet who can paint luminous vistas with her prismatic words. Such holy incantation is now rare in American arts, giving grace to our mystery filled 'Wildwood' journeys.  Youmans is a gem in the American arts and Seren is an immense gift for the sanctification of our imaginations. 
        --Makoto Fujimura,  Artist, cultural catalyst,
           author of Art+Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press)


Cover and interior illuminations are by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

As in previous books by Youmans, this one is strikingly illustrated by the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, with color cover art and numerous black-and-white figures in the book’s interior. It is a lovely touch; no self-respecting fairy tale book would be pictureless. --Andrew Frisardi

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The work is illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, a Welsh artist/illustrator who’s worked with Youmans on all but one of her book covers. He’s illustrated several books for Simon Armitage, the current British Poet Laureate, and also the forthcoming translation of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney for the Folio Society. --Glynn Young,

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To begin with, the book, a stereotypical slim volume of poetry, is gorgeous. The work of illustrator Clive Hicks-Jenkins is fantastic—in the etymological and informal senses alike—in how he translates Youmans’ copious and varied imagination into a visual lexicon. The images interspersed through the text recall (inter alia) the doodles and illuminations of Irish monks, Greco-Roman sculptures, William Blake’s illustrations, and Van Gogh’s still-life paintings. Perfect harmony exists between text and image, even on the occasions when the image doesn’t obviously function as an illustration of some particular concept from the poem. --Seth Wright, Front Porch Republic


Marly at 69, under the thumb of time... 2023.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.