Friday, March 9, 2012

On Creativity (featuring Marly Youmans)

In this series of posts (which I’ll occasionally post on Fridays), I will feature an artist, writer, blogger, singer, or thinker. I’ll include a little information about them, and their answer to a question about creativity.

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?

Her response:
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.


  1. What a great feature to include.

  2. What a delight! Enjoyed the lyric gush and waterfall of words release!!

  3. Wonderful post, that delves into the mysteries of making words into something more better than most I've seen.

  4. So nice to see you here, Marly! And yes, we do love that lyric gush.

  5. "Lyric gush." That's one for my notebook. Enjoyed this post, Hannah. Thank you.

  6. Thank you, again, Hannah--and all passers-by as well!

  7. Thank you so much! Love the new feature, and the introduction to a new (for me) poet.

  8. I like the idea of a writer needing to get lost to make discoveries.

    Delighted to see this new feature.

  9. Yes, the waterfall and the grinding. Such a great way of putting it. I find the polishing to be fairly exhilarating. There are so many things to discover at that point, things that just need to be unpacked a little.

  10. Thanks to all the commenters--glad that you found something of interest--more interviews up soon.

  11. Hi Hannah,

    I enjoyed this feature. I always like reading about the creative process and how it feels for each writer. And even though Marly didn't answer it directly, she answered it in this way: "... 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." Writing is like that for me. When it flows, I feel totally myself; and I think that applies to all forms of creativity. And of course, with revision, we clarify, expand and improve. Thank you also, for the links.


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