Friday, March 9, 2012
On Creativity (featuring Marly Youmans)
Marly Youmans is a prolific writer of both poetry and prose. I’ve long admired her work (here is a poem of hers that I love, from Qarrtsiluni) and collaborations with all types of artists.
Her new novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer University Press) will be available on March 30 (more info about the book after the Q & A), and tells the story of a Pip Tatnall, a road kid wandering America during the Depression.
My question for Marly:
When you write, what does it feel like? Is there a different mode or experience for fiction vs. poetry?
I am afraid that I must be a rather secretive writer because I don’t want to answer the first question. The answer seems as secret as the answer to a question asking what happened to Tam Lin while he was with the Queen of Faery. However, I will admit that my sense is that my poetry and fiction come from the same springs, though my “feelings” as I write are as variable as they are about any other repeated activity.
Nevertheless, I’m with Tom Disch on his remark in The Castle of Indolence (hat tip there to James Thomson) that nothing in the realm of writing feels better than “the lyric gush.” But even in a novel or a very long poem, where one could not possibly rely on a sort of lyric uprising, there are portions that seem to have that same sense of outpouring and rightness during composition. In A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, the first two chapters streamed out very easily, and it was not till I passed that mark that any of the writing moved more slowly.
In both prose and poetry, a writer—well, my kind of writer--hopes to be always ready for a waterfall of words that feels as if it sweeps to us and through us from some higher, more powerful realm. But with each, there is the work of grinding and polishing—and with prose, sometimes a good bit of patching and gap-crossing and some practical moving-characters-about-a-setting writing is needed. The differences between the two may be obvious, but what is less obvious to readers is that both call for the writer to abandon self and get lost. Yet when I do, somehow I feel more myself and more in my rightful place than before.
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is the winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Ron Rash calls it “a vividly realized, panoramic novel of survival during The Great Depression. There is poetry in Youmans' writing, but she also knows how to tell a riveting story.” For more information, visit Marly’s blog, The Palace at 2 AM.