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The Book of the Red King 2019

Marly Youmans, The Book of the Red King
Hardcover and paperback, 172 pages.
Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal
Order directly from Phoenicia HERE
Available via Amazon, your local indies, and more.
The art in the book and on this page
See below for more information about Clive.


"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 (California)

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 (Virginia)

...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...

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.

--Fred Chappell, much-lauded poet and novelist, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Bollingen Award, the best foreign book prize of the Academie Fran├žaise, etc. (North Carolina)

I have followed the  writers because I enjoy the pursuit, but they are no help, in the sense that they do not explain the poems, no more than following the motifs of snow, mirrors, stars, games, leaves, or many others from poem to poem.  Stated plainly, they look so simple, but Youmans creates such complex patterns with them, or perhaps she scatters them about like seeds so her readers can create their own patterns.  I have noticed that readers have been reluctant to quickly interpret The Book of the Red King.  See Scott Bailey’s piece, please, or Fred Chappell’s metaphor of the book as “a mystical, metaphysical board game.”  It is a game with a large number of pieces.
...The Book of the Red King seems to me like a major work, if that is a term anyone still uses in the context of poetry.

--Wuthering Expectations, 3 February 2020

And, this past November, from a strong compulsion to find beauty in the midst of my chaotic schedule, I picked up Marly Youmans’s The Book of the Red King. I knew Youmans as a novelist, and her poetry collection shows her narrative flair. These poems switch perspectives between the Fool and the Red King, playing our ways of imagining foolishness, kingliness (“What does it mean to be a king?”), and God. The two characters play icons to one another. In the opening poem, the Red King calls out to the Fool, “My brother and my self, / My mirror, the crack inside my heart!” Reading these stories, one feels caught up in a love story, one that transcends time and space and place and all the limits of this world. There is such beauty in these verses and such fantasy, like strolling through a Chagall painting. In the title poem, the poet questions the book itself, the source of its existence:

And why is this the book of the Red King
When it was plainly written by a fool?
. . . The Fool has done nothing to earnt he book.
The Fool was given a gift, and that is all.

The poet asks the questions that we all ask of ourselves and of our own stories. To read this book is to not simply experience your life as a narrative but also as a poem.

--Jessica Hooten Wilson, author, winner of the 2019 Hiett Award in the Humanities, from "The Recommendation of an Avid Reader" in Fathom

There are books which teach us how to read them. On the writer’s part, there must be sufficient promise to make us patient; on our part, there must be a willingness to wander, to accept a degree of unknowing. This book-long sequence of poems offers just such an exchange, and you will be well rewarded if you’re ready to make that bargain. One clue: Instead of starting with the first poem, “The Starry Fool,” turn to page 17 and read “The Millet Seed” (which concludes on p. 18); then go to the beginning. Of course, there are many other paths you could take! And I haven’t even mentioned the magnificent illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

--John Wilson, "A Year of Reading: 2019" in First Things

I have read The Book of the Red King. It is an extraordinary work. It put me in mind of how much I enjoyed Yeats’s early fairyland poems. The poems remain steadfastly otherworldly. They transport the reader to an existence apart. I’m reminded of James’s definition of a romance vs. a novel. In the former the writer cuts the lines that tether the fiction to the earth. Seems to me you do, but there are occasional details that let us know that you know there’s a world below, one more familiar to us and one with real pain. --novelist Eugene Garber; full text here

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 (Pennsylvania)​

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 (Massachusetts) 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.
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.

--Scott G. F. Bailey, novelist, in "the coming night with its dying-deep but dazzling darkness" at Six Words for a Hat (Oregon)

...the most dazzling poems... She's a fairly formal poet. She works a lot in traditional forms or in her own forms that are really shaped by traditional forms. But she has her new book that's out right now; it's called The Book of the Red King, and it's almost like--it's not like straight narrative, but it's like a fairy tale in poems with these fairy tale characters, and this just unbelievably rich, beautiful language. Some of her phrases just take the top of my head off.

--Sally Thomas, poet, transcribed from The Literary Life Podcast, Episode 24 (North Carolina)

Sally also talks about my poems and The Book of the Red King, among many other interesting things, on Cody Kaufmann's The Poetry Piper Podcast: Poetry Appreciation with Sally Thomas Season 2: Episode 6. It's well worth a listen if you love poetry, or if you want to know more about poems. And the Red King comes on stage around 18:40.

I've read the Book of the Red King, and reread.  I've read a lot of poetry, but never such a feast of pure, sheer imagination, such a wealth of lush imagery.  You seem endlessly, I mean endlessly resourceful!  The Red King & The Fool are fine creations, deftly interwoven with each other.

--Raymond Oliver, poet, translator, retired UC-Berkeley professor, from correspondence / by permission (California)

This poetry collection by Marly Youmans is simply one of the most beautiful and haunting books I have read in a long time. Both a narrative collection and a series of loosely related "shards" as the author calls them, it is an initiatory travel on the lands of a mysterious and sometimes ominous Red King. We follow figures, such as The Fool, who could be the Tarot card itself, who wander not entirely aimlessly in astounding landscapes filled with wonder, delights and... danger. I cannot recommend this collection enough to all who appreciate symbolism and narrative poetry at their best. If you heard of "Le Roman de la Rose", this is definitely for you.

PS: Forgot to mention that the illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins are a treat to the eye and match the text perfectly.

--Seb Doubinsky, novelist and poet (Denmark)

With The Book of the Red King Marly Youmans adds to her illustrious shelf of magical characters and beings who move in and out of our consciousness into a reality here and yet. The Fool has his Beatrice in the Precious Wentletrap, his Christ in the Red King, and his troubled-out wisdoms of Self in one brilliant tour-de-force of formal song and felicitous language and story-telling. How does she do it? Her genius is of the moss bound mounds where fairy folk live, and in the Fool’s Don Quixotic travels through dream, landscape, desire, fantasy, and actualization into L-O-V-E. Only Marly Youmans can write as if she were the One True Apprentice to Merlin, Malory, Dusany, and Morris and yet so deliciously modernly that Helen Adam and Le Guin gasp and rise up to embrace her lovely bones from their dusty venerated graves. She utters words and images long thought spent and makes them new, shiny, and bright (and so many that most of us have never heard or read), while also summoning new words and contemporary ones as if they were from some venerated and exalted antique linqua franca. Other-wordly-worldly. One comes to a Marly work when she is in her fantasy domain with the wild-eyed wonder of a child, and the keen candor of the Seeker. She never fails either the child or the adult among her readers. Thank you Beth Adams for publishing this fabulous book.

--Jeffery Beam, poet and musical collaborator (North Carolina)

And thanks to Micah Mattix and The Prufrock News!

Video and music by Paul Digby
"The Birthday Roses" from The Book of the Red King

From Marly Youmans, author of the epic poem Thaliad (Phoenicia, 2012) comes the story of the mysterious Red King, the metamorphosing Fool, and the ethereal Precious Wentletrap, told in a series of connected poems of rare beauty. Whether read as fantasy, allegory, or simply poetry, the world Marly has created is a spellbinding place where we can glimpse truths about our own lives, and the world. The Book of the Red King is illustrated with drawings by the acclaimed Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Both hardcover (clothbound with a printed dust jacket) and paperback editions are available...directly from the publisher. 


"What does it mean to be a fool? / Is it to reel about the world / Like stars made out of icicles, / Dangerous and breakable?" Not knowing what he is or can be, the self-convicted Fool burrows in his bed of blackened leaves. In time, he answers the call to live a larger life. On his journey to the Red King's castle, he may learn something--sorrow? self? the urge to rise?--and begin to be changed, as if by alchemy.

And what is this, The Book of the Red King? The Fool hardly knows, though he wrote The Red Book himself--though he knows the pages that are his gift to the Red King, packed with tales and ruminations, love and grief, birthday hats and transformation. Perhaps the book begins with his arrival at the marketplace near the castle, when for him "language was a gold chrysanthemum / That burst with fountain-like abandonings / Of stories, fragments, anecdotes and jokes." Perhaps it begins when "The Red King left his tower under stars / And followed gold to make the Fool his fool."

Deep in mystery, in the distant lands of the Red King, the Fool suffers metamorphosis. He moves in a kind of dance with his friend the King, the wheeling court that surrounds them, and that princess who walks the moonbeam path on the sea, Precious Wentletrap: "He has the gift of fetching her. / He sings, wearing the fish-skin cloak / Under a crown of sparkling dust." And when her light is nearest him, "This glory makes the Fool a King." Out of quicksilver change, out of the dark forest and the moonbeam path, out of torment and joy, the Fool makes The Red Book for the Red King, and for us.


Novelist Howard Bahr writes, "When a person reads a Marly Youmans poem, all the spaces ‘round about fall silent. The busy world is hushed, and her words, each one perfect and pinned in its perfect place, rise into the silence and burst into light. I, a poor mortal, can explain her work in no other terms."

Marly Youmans is poet and novelist, author of five books of poetry and nine novels.  She has won national awards and many "best of the year" citations. Her fiction and poetry have been lauded by writers and critics. Greg Langley, former Books Editor of The Baton Rouge Advocate, says: "Youmans is a writer of rare ability whose works will one day be studied by serious students of poetry." John Wilson, longtime editor of Books and Culture, writes that "Youmans (pronounced like "yeoman" with an "s" added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. She writes like an angel--an angel who has learned what it is to be human."

A Southerner astray in upstate New York, she has lived for the past two decades within sight of Kingfisher Tower and the lake James Fenimore Cooper called Glimmerglass. No wonder she dreamed the Fool and the Red King and Princess Wentletrap.


Clive Hicks-Jenkins is an easel artist, stage director and illustrator who lives in Wales. He collaborates with a small, regular group of writers, and has recently completed two books for the poet -- and just-appointed Poet Laureate -- Simon Armitage: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for Faber and Faber, and Hansel and Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes for Design for Today. Before illustrating Hansel and Gretel, he directed and designed the UK national tour of the stage production for which Armitage's poem was the libretto. As an illustrator his most frequent collaborations have been with Marly Youmans, and The Book of the Red King is his second with her at Phoenicia Publishing, the first having been the epic, post-apocalyptic poem Thaliad.

Cover headshot


  1. So cool!! Can't wait to see these books out. I love the poems from the Red Kings that you have shared in the past.

    1. Midori, thank you, thank you! I think that one will be down your own little alley!

  2. How wonderful!! 2020 seems so far away when one in anticipating a new Youmans masterpiece - and now two. Be still my leaping heart/hart.

    1. Jeffery, thank you so much for remembering me when you have a brand new book out--and especially lovely-looking, too.

  3. Amazing. I am awaiting these beauties.

    1. Thanks, Robbi--I am looking forward to seeing them...

  4. A personal, perhaps even selfish experience for those who write. Two books to which nothing more may, or can, be added. The skin is sloughed, two pebbles removed from our footwear. No more nagging thoughts about that illusory goal of perfection.

    Of course other skins may be grown, other pebbles acquired, but never mind. Whoever thought that finality could be such a delicious and calming state of mind?

    1. Yes, it is good to feel completion, even though nothing is ever perfect. I had to cut the poetry ms. considerably, as it was gigantic... And I'll probably have another go-round on the novel after I get editorial comments, though people tend to say my mss. are "clean."

  5. A high school friend quoted a definition of "Yankee": outside the USA, somebody from the USA; In the USA, but outside the north, somebody from the north; within the north, someone from New England; within New England, someone from Maine or New Hampshire; within Maine and New Hampshire, someone who has pie for breakfast. (I'm not sure about the states in the last two steps--it has been a while since high school.) An odd breed, apparently, however one draws the boundaries. I heard this in Colorado. But my friend's parents were from Iowa, part of which maybe not theirs) is clearly Greater New England.

    Anyway, I trust that you will have figured the Yankees out. Quite a few natives and sojourners have tried, and found themselves disenchanted.

    1. Disenchanted... Well, I'm hoping for a little book enchantment along the way.

      I've heard some of that but not all. Sort of a matreshka series of definitions. I think it has to be pie with baked beans out of the same skillet to be properly Yankee!


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.