Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.

--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NPM5: I give you sphinx and snow cats--

April, national poetry month, no. 5

Here's one I may have posted before--certainly I have posted Paul Digby's video of the poem earlier. It's an iambic tetrameter poem in couplets, so it resolutely rejoices in rhythm and rhyme. I thought of this one because I read it at the Fenimore Art Museum on Monday, and somehow people always think it very funny that a poem should reprove a popular poet for removing Emily Dickinson's clothes. All those tiny buttons...

The poem appeared in TheThrone of Psyche (Mercer, 2011), available in hardcover and paperback. Both have a cover drawn from a detail of a Clive Hicks-Jenkins painting, and beautiful design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt. It was originally published in an issue of Raintown Review guest edited by Joseph Salemi.

***

FIRE IN ICE
A riposte to Billy Collins, “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” 


Don’t think because her words are wild
That Dickinson’s a sylphine child

For your undressings—don’t rend the haze
Of veils that shields you from her blaze.

Her hands are capable and know
The ways of burning—how sparks blow

When flames are jostled by a bold
Adept, her fingers tipped with cold.

And though in after-hours she threads
The dew she plucks from spiderwebs,

Or answers Who? to midnight’s owls,
Or strokes the cats, returned from prowls—

Or takes to skipping to and fro
With moonlit maidens made of snow,

She’ll freeze, inviolate and meek,
If you so much as try to speak.

Shove off—avoid those brazen wings:
She’s not for your unbuttonings.

The polished stone above her head
Declares her state among the dead:

Here waits that sphinx whose secret power
In riddles found her finest flower.

***

Here is Paul Digby's video of the poem. You may find seven of his videos of my poems here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

NPM4: I give you water-devil whirligigs--

April, national poetry month, no. 4

Image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
 from the back of The Foliate Head
"I Heard Their Wings Like the Sound of Many Waters,"
The Foliate Head (hardcover from Stanza Press, 2012)

*
I like bigness in a poem, and this one started with a phrase that has a cosmic largeness to it. I also like mystery in a poem, and don't think all that much of a poem that exhausts all its mystery in short order, so I hope this one retains both largeness and mystery. It first appeared in the qarrtsiluni here.


*

"I Heard Their Wings Like the Sound of Many Waters"

In the dark, in the deeps of the night that are
Crevasses of a sea, I heard their wings.
I heard the trickling of tiny feathers
With their hairs out like milkweed parachutes
Floating idly on the summer air,
I heard the curl and splash, the thunderbolts
Of pinions, the rapids and rattle of shafts—
Heard Niagara sweep the barreled woman
And shove her under water for three days,
I heard a jar of fragrance spill its waves
As a lone figure poured out all she could,
Heard the sky’s bronze-colored raindrops scatter
On corrugated roofs and tops of wells,
I heard the water-devil whirligigs,
I heard an awesome silence when the wings
Held still, upright as flowers in a vase,
And when I turned to see why they had stilled,
Then what I saw was likenesses to star
Imprisoned in a form of marble flesh,
With a face like lightning-fires and aura
Trembling like a rainbow on the shoulders,
But all the else I saw was unlikeness
That bent me like a bow until my brow
Was pressed against the minerals of earth,
And when I gasped at air, I tasted gold.

Interior division page with art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
The Foliate Head book design by Andrew Wakelin


Thursday, April 23, 2015

NPR3: I give you the feathered snake--

Jacket art, detail from Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt
April, national poetry month, 3

Here's a blank verse passage from the title poem of The Throne of Psyche (Mercer, 2011.) We've had harpies and grief for April-the-cruelest-month in the first two selections; here is Eros bedding Psyche, love and the soul forcibly entwined.

Available in hardcover and paperback. Originally published in Mezzo Cammin.

III. THE MARRIAGE BED

And if the palace seemed bewitching, how
Much more the bed, a marvel of the gods—
Like nothing for an earthly king and queen,
A lustrous treasure box packed up in silks,
Four-legged, each leg a tree of ebony.
As shadows slid across the windowsills,
Collecting in the corners of the room,
The trees began to send out wands and leaves,
Darkening the air with gleaming branches.
Whoever saw such freedom from the laws
Of earth? I stared, forgot to tremble in
My wonder as new tendrils wove a maze
Above a bed that glistened, beetle-black.
Unseen hands drew dusk across the portal
And windows, carried off the glowing lamp,
And strewed fresh petals on the inlaid floor.
If this was how my promised husband’s house
Received his bride, perhaps the feathered snake
—for so Apollo’s oracle foretold—
Could be more beautiful than I had dreamed,
If flying terror could be beautiful.
Shade took the room until I could not see.
A mimic springtime blossomed on each branch
As tiny stars shone out, began to crawl
And sometimes blink like phosphorescent bugs.

I fell asleep and shinned the olive tree
That waxed inside my mother’s garden walls
And heard a crinkling of the leaves that spoke
Oracular to me of love and fate,
But where was dream and where the waking world
I hardly knew, and when the feathered snake
Came wooing with eternal promises,
I let him hold me in his arms that seemed
More like a man’s than like a serpent’s grasp.
Yet fear is strange: at times he seemed all scales
That snagged against the linen of my gown,
At times he seemed as yielding as a child.
I woke to find that what I dreamed was true—
The rustle of his wings was like the leaves,
The arms that pinned me close were like a man’s,
Although no man could emanate such fire,
A darkness glowing in the chamber’s pitch.
But what did I, long sheltered in my home,
Know of the ways of monsters or of men?
A tree of nerves sprang into trembling life
Inside this body that the world desired
But never knew—the starry insects swarmed
Among the maze of limbs and multiplied
Until the dark was pricked with flecks of light
That gave no seeing to my open eyes.
The snake kept winding on the tree of me—
I flashed with nervous fire from root to leaf
And shivered as my gown was tugged aside.
A rush of wood: new saplings broke the floor
And forested the chamber, wild with growth.
The room dissolved as floor was changed to earth
And roof transformed to sky and swarming stars.
In midnight’s wilderness my lover struck
Asunder all my childhood’s innocence—
The little stars went shrieking through the wood
As jet-black trees contracted, splintered, fell.

I lay within a nest of shattered twigs.
A shape with wings was sobbing on my breast,
Some wall between us battered down to dust.
I touched the face invisible to me.
His serpent pinions beat convulsively.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

NPM2: I give you crazy epic adventure

April, national poetry month, no. 2

All art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design by Elizabeth Adams
Yesterday, harpies. Today? Murder! Invasion! Grief! Loss! Even a happy ending of sorts... Here's a snip from late in the long-poem Thaliad, at the end of the 21st chapter, a point in which Something Terrible has happened, and death has paid a demanding call. Thalia is attempting to comfort Samuel, but she ends up being rather blunt in her truth-telling. (This bit is also a bit of an homage to Cavafy, and if you are a fan, no doubt you will be able to see how my tip of the hat works.)

Then Samuel in sorrow vowed to her,
Now I will leave and find another place,
A village where my heart is not in earth,
And Thalia replied to him with truth:
There is no other village, is no place
To find where your dead heart is not in earth.
And still he moaned his lot, exclaimed with tears,
I want to go where ground is not a waste,
And where my life is not a ruined town.
And Thalia with mercy said to him,
In time you will begin to heal your heart
And all that seems a waste will bloom once more.
But he went on in anger, blaming God,
The strangers who had maundered into town,
The grave that meant a stone around his neck,
Until she spoke in haste against his words:
For you there is only this blood-drenched ground,
The murdered life that is your freight of guilt,
Also the murdered life that is your own,
The world that you create by how you act
Or see or how you dream the world to be,
Your world that's ruined everywhere like this,
Which you yourself have caused to be a waste,
Which you yourself have scorched with inner fire.

The sample is a good example of how the poem crosses epic with novel to make a hybrid, because the blank verse poem manages to make room for drama, dialogue, character confrontation, even in this small space.
Happily, there’s a fantastic inter-textual rationale behind this book’s title and its neo-classical form. The narrator (and supposed writer) of Thaliad, Emma, is speaking 60 years after the events she describes, and learnt her trade as a poet-historian by salvaging what books she could (presumably the Classics) from the ruined world’s libraries. So Thaliad, then, fictionalises the story of its own creation; the book itself is supposedly a piece of history, written as a record of the first years following ‘The Fire’. -Tom Atherton
This is a brilliant and imaginative work. It's a writer stretching and doing something creative and different. And Youmans is poet enough to pull it off beautifully... Verdict: I loved this. Who the hell writes a post-apocalyptic ...novella in blank verse? Obviously, someone inspired by a non-commercial muse. Thaliad is beautiful and touching and deserves a wider audience. Highly recommended!" --Inverarity 24 October 2013
I would be remiss if I did not point out that the book is beautifully produced by Elizabeth Adams and Phoenicia Publishing, with profuse decoration by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Clive and I are proud of our collaborations on books, and Thaliad is as beautiful as yesterday's book, The Foliate Head.

Available in hardcover and paperback. If you want to see more of what people say about the narrative--and there is, I must say, some stellar commentary from poets and fiction writers and critics--go here.  If you're interested in a copy of your own, you can order via Amazon or Barnes and Noble or indie bookstores, though if you want a hardcover, you'll need to go straight to Phoenicia Publishing. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NPM: I give you harpies

April, national poetry month, no. 1 

I am finally getting around to celebrating national poetry month. Last year I did a giveaway; this year I'm just going to give everybody a few poems. Here's one about harpies because everyone loves to spot some harpies except the people who are persecuted by them. Those unfortunate people would be men, mostly. Sometimes it is way beyond first-rate to be a woman.

"That Which Snatches" (blank verse) is the fourth poem in the opening Powers section of The Foliate Head, a hardcover book now in second printing from Stanza Press in the UK. The poem originally appeared in that wonderful online magazine, Mezzo Cammin, edited by poet Kim Bridgford. (It can be ordered from Amazon, or by special order through indies and other bookstores.) You can read more poems from the book here. 

The gorgeous art in The Foliate Head
is by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Book design by Andrew Wakelin.

THAT WHICH SNATCHES

Vulture-like, the harpies wheel on updrafts
Or settle in the grove of wind-whipped trees,
Their small, secretive faces looking out
Without sign of interest or passion,
As pinched and harsh as soul heads on a stone
Propped up by mourning Puritans on land
Unused to buried bone: winged skulls that glare.
One is singing, Turn away, my bonnie,
Turn away home, and yet there is nowhere
To turn, no home when such weird sisters sing.
In Cretan caves they hang like ungroomed bats,
Letting locks hang, letting the lice parade,
Their molting feathers like some nightmare bed
Where no man fancies lying—that’s a truth
That galls, for only breeze that glances here
And there and then is gone could bear to kiss
Their shriveled, wicked purse of privacies.

Bedraggled, murderous, entirely foul . . .
If they had hands, the fingers would be small,
As leathery as paws for throwing scat
At queens or prophets. No respect, no cheer,
No proper sentiment for the flawless
Horses of Achilles, their own offspring,
That wept to smell the battle-scent of death.
No sisterly devotion to Iris
Tricked out in sunstruck iridescent drops.

They’ll shriek the dawn awake and howl for flesh,
Heraldic frights so ignorant of evil
They could be us—so self-absorbed, so free.
On branches in the bleeding wood of souls,
They shift their talons, sigh in sleep like doves,
Dreaming of men like birds of paradise,
Of leaf-winged forests tumbling in a storm,
The phoenix burning on her nest of myrrh
Who found this harpied world worth dying for.

More from Clive...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Word soup

Reconnecting with Beauty
for our Common Life.
Poems in the world

I've been a bit lazy about submissions but have poems out or coming out in print journals Artemis ("The Dawn Horse," a poem about Leonora Carrington) and Trinacria ("God and the Mandrake Root," the weird biography of a mandrake root.) Thanks again to editor Joseph Salemi for a Pushcart nod for "The Nuba Christians," which he describes as "a blank-verse lament, in the voice of a displaced refugee, over the Islamic Sudanese government's campaign of genocide."

Thanks, Cooperstown museums--

Thank you to Sue de Bruijn for a lovely lunch today. I was a surprise guest for the Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers Museum shops staff, and I had the privilege of talking about my life and books, as well as reading some snips of poetry and fiction.

American stories in the news

Like many, I recall "duck and cover" in third grade and a sick childhood fear of Russia's bombs. Now the emerging tales of what went in Wisconsin with police home invasions, material seizures, and families with scared children awakened by armed police standing over their beds gives me the same frisson of unrest that I felt as a little girl, crouched under my desk. How anguished would any of us feel, herded into a room with our little children at night? This sad series of narratives is not about right and left but about right and wrong, and it grieves me that representatives of the people in my own country should have done such things to families and children.

We have had too many terrible stories lately, too much overreaching of power, too much destruction of the innocent. Let us bare the truth and bear the truth of these and other recent tales, and let us also strive to have better stories told of us and of our public servants soon. The world is listening to our stories.

At Cairn in June

Evidently I will be serving as Fujimura Institute Fellow and poet-in-residence for the day at Cairn's culture care conference in Philly in June. I'll be doing readings and talking about some of the ideas that have been leafing out from Makoto Fujimura's initial seed of thought--the desire to care for culture and produce beauty, generative work that is worthy of enduring in time. I'll post more about events later on.

Copia

--from Joseph S. Salemi, "The Rebirth of Copia" (Trinacria, Fall 2014)

Copia means abundance. In classical rhetoric, it is the capacity of a writer to fill his work up with plenty of words, usually via repetition and variation, but also by judicious manipulation of tropes and figures, and the expansion of his sentences into colonic subordination....

Every ancient rhetorician, whether Greek or Roman, knew that copia was an essential tool of literary composition, and more crucially, that it was the manifestation of one's command of language. Once you were trained in it, you were never tongue-tied. That peculiarly modern problem, writer's block, was unknown or rare. Can you imagine Cicero or St. Augustine or Thomas Nashe not being able to crank out prose at will?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

On the boundaries


clips from Tom Atherton's review at Strange Horizons 

It’s brilliantly well-written, shockingly raw, and transportingly—sometimes confusingly (but not in a bad way)—weird.

Glimmerglass shimmers on the boundaries of the real and the unreal, of poetry and prose, of the ordinary and the fantastic. It’s down to the caprice of the individual reader, therefore, to decide exactly what sort of story it’s trying to tell.

It’s difficult to overstate the emotional effect that Glimmerglass has had on me. This is a beautiful, complex, moving book. Marly Youmans’s prose flows like clear water, and every image is, as Cynthia observes, “full of meaning” (p. 39).

Read the complete review here.