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The Throne of Psyche 2011

Mercer University Press, 2011
Cover image, Clive Hicks-Jenkins
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PRAISE for The Throne of Psyche:  

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.
--Howard Bahr, novelist

Youmans is a traditionalist in her use of forms, and her work will delight those who enjoy classical poetry with direction and structure, yet her strong and inventive metaphors and similes evoke an otherness that only Coleridge attained....wholly beautiful and brilliant. Youmans is a writer of rare ability whose works will one day be studied by serious students of poetry. 

--Greg Langley, Books editor, The Baton Rouge Advocate, October 2, 2011

When I think of Marly Youmans’ work, the word that comes to mind is “magic.” By this, I mean not only her language, but her evocation of mystery. Youmans’ poems always seem utterly new and startlingly familiar. Moreover, she has admirable range in terms of subject matter and tone. While I tend to favor her poems about the mythological, Youmans shows astonishing skill, whatever the subject. She is a poet working at the height of her powers.
--Kim Bridgford, poet, editor, Mezzo Cammin, and Director, West Chester University Poetry Conference

* * *


Marly reads poems from the book
on a group of four youtube videos by Paul Digby.

Prezi version of "Stones in the Wilderness" by Gary Dietz is here. If you don't know Prezi, you will have a surprise.

* * *


from artist Laura Murphy Frankstone:  Just closed the covers of Marly Youmans' gorgeous new book of poems, 'The Throne of Psyche,' and, gosh, it was hard coming to again, on this hot July day. Here there're no freshets, no dryads. No one here uses words like auroral or boreal or louse-pickage.Truth told here doesn't pack a smart punch like Marly's. Ineffable, here, hardly ever happens. But there... oh, yes. I only meant to dip into the book for now, but once in, there was no way out but through. My advice to you: buy this book and read it. Poetry, in THIS world, needs all the support it can get. And, oh, that Clive HIcks-Jenkins cover---a brooding mix of Ucello, Thomas Hart Benton, and Chagall. Sublime.

from Luisa A. Igloria, Oyster Boy Review:  Marly Youmans' most recent book of poems, The Throne of Psyche, is an ambitious work which inquires into the nature of the soul, into the nature of work and time, of love and ardent pursuits (including poetry and art)--and in so doing, simultaneously courts danger and the sublime . . . the poet meets these challenges with a hand sure of its craft, in lines whose tempered and beautiful cadences provide fitting context for the exploration of subject matter that is almost unavoidably metaphysical. She grounds these questions against the core narrative of Psyche and Eros, in the lapidary poem sequence from which the book draws its title.

from Randy Hoyt, Mythprint, a publication of The Mythopoeic Society, November 8, 2011:  Even though many of the creatures and characters have been gathered from various traditions, the stories Youmans tells are primarily her own. I found many of these original narratives quite powerful and compelling, with moments from them now firmly impressed in my imagination: Hephaestus limping through the market, the young girl riding on the dragon through the sky, the woman gazing at the Northern Lights, and the bard toiling and singing alone on the forgotten shore. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in both imaginative fiction and poetry. 

from Ben Steelman, The Wilmington Star, Bookmarks: Youmans is rather the classicist in outlook; some of her poems actually rhyme. The long title piece is a meditation on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, narrated by some of the characters. (It’s interesting to compare this piece to “Till We Have Faces,” C.S. Lewis’ only non-Christian novel — and considered by many to be his best work of fiction.)Youmans is a nature poet, given to the darker forms of wildness Her poem “A Fire in Ice” — a “riposte” to Billy Collins’ “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” — concludes “Here waits the sphinx whose secret power / In riddles found her finest flower.”


              To have one love for all your life
                 And it as dear as breath;
              To lose the shape of what you loved
                In distance, then in death:

              Yes, what a funny world it is,
                 Where this is not the worst
              That can happen--and daily does.
                 The mouth that did not thirst

              For yours is dust, and you are not.
                 Yet heedless of all doom
              The children shout immortal joys;
                 Again the roses bloom.

* * *


Praise from novelist, poet, and essayist Philip Lee Williams, to whom the book is dedicated, excerpted from a longer appreciation on his blog, The Divine Comics:Her new book of poetry, The Throne of Psyche, just out from Mercer University Press, is, in a word, magnificent. In fact, if you wanted one book that most accurately deals with Marly's interests and obsessions as a writer, this is one to buy. More, it is a book of such power and depth, such richness and wisdom, that you will be reading it forever with gratitude and joy.

Marly's writing, at its core, deals at times with being human in ways possible in the real world and at other times with a world of pure imagination, tied into a deep knowledge of mythology, fantasy, and a profound understanding of her Christian faith. Her work is rarely "easy," though in a few poems of this collection she uses forms that on the surface are simple but on re-reading are anything but.

But if it is rarely simple, her work is consistently beautiful, both in terms of her absolute mastery of language and her deeply insightful knowledge of pain, suffering, and pleasures of daily life. It is a book whose manifest beauties are not easily gained and whose lines often can be read so many ways that spending time with them is like trying to decode what makes love lovely. I come away not so much with answers as with clouds of rhythm and insight that wrap me in places both venturesome and somehow eternally verdant.

* * *

In The Throne of Psyche, Marly Youmans sweeps back and forth between what is human and what is other, binding the two together or crossing the thresholds between them. A prize-winning writer of stories and novels, she pursues tales both otherworldly and earthy with passion and formal power in this eighth book, her second collection of poetry (following Claire, from LSU).

The title poem’s narrative governs the entire collection in its yoking of Eros to Psyche.  Psyche is the young girl brought in fear to a marriage chamber that transforms into forest as “The little stars” go “shrieking through the wood” and her childhood innocence is “struck asunder.” But she is more than mortal as she passes in and out of time: the child who hears a dryad prophesy, the goddess who sits on a throne or plays “in the arms of Love / As starlight steadies in his perfect flesh,” the figure of meditation and grief who walks along the broken palace walls of home, the bold adventurer who has been to hell and drunk the blood of memory in the place where all she once loved is now shadow.

Elsewhere in these poems are other potent narratives and revelations where mortal flesh slams into death and transformation:  a woman dances with God, the poet speaks in the form of a dryad, a sister transforms into a fish and swims away, a doll is cast out from home and overtaken by a demon, the otherworldly infiltrates the leastmost dust, and a new mother walks with Death in his forest.

Such metamorphoses and broodings on the door ajar between human and other remind us that editor John Wilson (Books and Culture) claims Marly 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."



Reprinted with permission of The Sylva Herald
"Youmans discusses writing, family, new poetry book"  May 12, 2011

Tonight (Thursday) at City Lights Bookstore, author Marly Youmans will read from her new collection of poetry – “The Throne of Psyche” – at 7 p.m. Her new poems examine the boundaries between what is human and what is not, between the earthly world and the otherwordly.

The title poem “The Throne of Psyche” tells the story of the union of Eros, the Greek god of love, and Psyche, a mortal girl.

Stories of transformations and metamorphoses are a constant in the collection, and Youmans’ delicate language gives her poems a certain seriousness.

Youmans, who grew up in Cullowhee, is the daughter of Mary Youmans of Cullowhee and the late Hubert Youmans. She now lives in Cooperstown, N.Y., with her husband and three children.

She’s written several dozen other books[Note: not unless you count all the editions or else anthologies--this is her 8th book, and five are forthcoming], which include novellas and short stories, including “Claire,” “The Wolf Pit,” “Catherwood,” “Ingledove,” “Little Jordan,” and “Curse of the Raven Mocker.”

The Herald caught up with Youmans before tonight’s reading to get her views on poetry, writing and family – and how she balances all three.

Herald: Why did you choose the title poem? Is the story of Psyche special to you?

Youmans: The story of Psyche is wonderful to work with because it takes place in a highly colored, physical world, and yet it also is the story of the progress of a soul. The tale is dramatic and moves from Earth to hell to paradise. It is a great adventure that is always ready for transformation.

Herald: Are you looking forward to reading your work in Sylva?

Youmans: I’m always pleased to read in Sylva, though this time I have hardly had a chance to think about it because I am in Wales and for the next three days will be participating in some very big events. I’ll get to Cullowhee and have a day to get over being jet-lagged, so I may be a bit wired.

Herald: What’s your favorite part about visiting the mountains?

Youmans: My mother is a fascinating though overly modest woman who is always up to something interesting in her gardening or weaving. And my eldest son is at Mars Hill College, so I get to bring him to Cullowhee. I love eating Southern food and seeing shadbush or sourwood, pink shell or flame azalea in bloom. I always feel glad driving South when the land begins to rise.

Herald: Can you describe your style of poetry?

Youmans: My poems are formal – by that I mean that I take advantage of all the tools of poetry. I write metrical poetry, and I am not adverse to rhyme. I like a singing quality and “swing” in poetry. Since I also write short stories and novels, I am keen for my poetry to be as unlike fiction as possible; that’s one reason that I am drawn to form. Another reason is that I feel comfortable and happy pushing words around into formal, muscular shapes. I don’t ask other poets to do likewise, but it is my way.

Herald: Was there ever a time when you wrote for recognition or fame?

Youmans: I’m afraid that “recognition and fame” are qualities that sit uneasily with English-language poetry in the 21st century. I never think about such things because humility toward the art and toward the written work of the past is the proper stance for a writer, as I see it.

My concern is never for what praise it may find, though I am always happy when people like my work and it receives the tribute of some honor. But real honor lies in being true to the work.

Herald: Does poetry satisfy something that fiction doesn’t? Do you have different audiences for your different types of writing?

Youmans: My feeling about fiction versus poetry is that all my writing comes from the same fount but flows into different shapes. That said, the lyric gush of short poetry is a lovely sensation.

Herald: What does poetry do for the reader?

Youmans: It is not useful; it is not a tool to better oneself. At its best, a poem is a portal to what Chaucer called “larger life” and is a means to joy. It is possible to become lost in a poem, to be transformed, if only momentarily. It is a kind of fruitful self-forgetfulness, good for the soul.

Herald: How early did you begin writing?

Youmans: My mother says that she knew I would be a writer when I was in second grade; that is, the year I turned 6.

Herald: Do you keep a tight work schedule?

Youmans: No, I do not keep a regular, rigid schedule. I doubt that any writer who is the mother of three can do so. I write whenever I can. I have several useful qualities that help me get work done: I have an ability to get back into a piece very quickly, and I have an unusually good capacity for concentration.

Herald: Where do you do your writing?

Youmans: I write wherever and whenever I can. Because my life is complicated, I cannot afford to be fussy about such things, or to insist on having special comforts around me when I write. Again, I can’t be a mother of three and be particular about my when and where.

Herald: Do you ever go back and reread your books and short stories?

Youmans: I do not reread my fiction once it is published unless I am revising for inclusion in an anthology. Occasionally I reread a poem, but one rereads so much while revising; when it is out in the world, it is gone – given away to the people who read it.

Herald: How about your husband. Is he supportive? What is the secret to the longevity of your relationship?

Youmans: My husband cooks dinner most nights, and that is a huge gift to a woman who is a writer. He is also a father who helps with children, who goes on Scout trips and teaches Sunday School. We have many common tastes and see the world in similar ways.

Herald: How are you able to write so much?

Youmans: Writing is a great joy to me. The act of bringing something new into the world brings pleasure.

Herald: Do you write for an ideal reader or a particular audience?

Youmans: I’ve never quite understood questions about the reader one writes for – when something new pours out, I am not considering my reader. I am caught up and lost in the stream of words. If I lose myself in them, what I write will find its proper readers.

* * *

Youmans has written in every genre and does it all with joy and lyricism. --Maggie Tobias, The Sylva Herald, 5 May 2011


  1. Marly, I have really enjoyed your poetry on this e-journey on the Poetry Train... You have taken me to new poetic worlds, and I have to say, I am very impressed, so I truly Salute you...

    John E. WordSlinger (Poetry E Train)

  2. Hi John--

    Thanks for all the support and links on Poetry E Train! I am grateful for your interest and help in spreading the word...


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.