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

--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Pause

detail, jacket image for Maze of Blood. Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

I'm on my second round of the second pass galleys of Maze of Blood. Meanwhile, everything else in my life seems to be hopping up and down, demanding attention. Two children are heading toward graduation (one from high school, one from The Center for Cartoon Studies), with all the frenetic events and activity that precede such life markers, and a third is returning to New York for a new job. Wild times! I'll meet you back here in a few days. If you miss me, ramble around in the blog or read one of my books! I'll meet you there too. Maybe even more so...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Desire in a time of chaos:

To be whole and make whole art in the midst of a broken culture.

Makoto Fujimura, Golden Fire II
Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada 89x132"
"Fujimura continues the theme of "Fires of destruction and sanctification" that he began with Water Flames." 

Monday, April 27, 2015

NPM6: I give you the fool

"The King and the Fool" by Mary Bullington
April, national poetry month, no. 6

The poem below is from The Book of the Red King, and was originally published here in Mezzo Cammin, along with some others from the series. The king and fool poems are very many, and some day they will be a beautiful hardcover book and a paperback and maybe something else, all with art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. We haven't quite worked out how publication will work, as most presses that publish poetry don't publish such very long books of poetry or books with a lot of art, but it will happen eventually. It is a project we have dreamed about for a long time.

It's curious, but there is already art (even a sequence of three related pictures by Kim Vanderheiden) made about these as yet uncollected poems. They seem to appeal to painters, and I look forward to seeing the various ways the figures of the Fool, the King, and their friends manifest in the world, even before they appear as parts of a book. Shown here is a piece by my old friend Mary Bullington. It now hangs on the wall in my house. Perhaps I'll get permission to show some of the others... If they keep producing pictures, I think it would be wonderful to have a king and fool show some day.

Why the king, why the fool? A poet in our world is always the fool, occasionally a king.


The Starry Fool


In a shivering of bells
The Fool comes shining, shimmering
Unseen along the moonshine way.

Little fir trees sprinkle his path
With needles, lift their limbs and point
To the bright whirligigs of stars.

And the crack in the Fool's heart is for once
Mended, as if without a seam:
He shakes his bell-branched staff at the stars.

So cold, no one plays the watchman,
But in the tower called The Spear 
The Red King rules the chiming hour.

There he will spy the moon-washed Fool
Skittling like a toy top through the city.
He will run outside to greet him,

Calling, My brother and my self, 
My mirror, the crack inside my heart!

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.