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Thaliad Paperback – November 21, 2012
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Thaliad is a marvelous work, an exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin for a society born of a clutch of children who survive a nuclear war.--Caustic Cover Critic
...the Thaliad, which really is an epic: a rapidly running, easy-to-follow narrative poem. --poet Dale Favier, Koshtra (blogspot)
Thaliad is an extraordinary, deeply moving and fiercely intelligent poem...--Tomcat in the Red Room: a blog about books (UK)
This is a beautiful and powerful book--worth owning, worth reading and rereading.--poet Rachel Barenblat, "Marly Youmans' Thaliad," from Velveteen Rabbi
Favorite Books of 2012, Books and Culture Magazine
Eerie and beautiful... If they're willing to take a chance, fantasy and science-fiction fans and even the "young adult" crowd might all find much to love here. The Thaliad is rare proof that verse need not be difficult or obscure--and that even now, narrative poetry can still leave readers, like Thalian children eyeing strangers in their orchard, "[e]nchanted into stillness by surprise." -Jeff Sypeck, Quid plura? quidplura.com
Thaliad is a marvelous work, an exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin for a society born of a clutch of children who survive a nuclear war. --Caustic Cover Critic
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
One hundred pages of mesmerising iambic pentameter surge and swell, plunge and soar the journeying through the children's grief and the rotting remains of what was our civilisation until at last (very) few of the seven triumph over danger and lingering evil and grow into adulthood to parent a new, post-apocalyptic future for humankind. Blank verse on grand scale, heroic imagery --Karin Schimke, at Not now, darling...
Marly Youmans came to the wider attention of the SFF community with the publication of the brilliant and harrowing Thaliad (2012), a narrative epic poem about a group of children attempting to survive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event referred to as "The Fire."
Aside from being a work of long-form science fiction poetry, Thaliad is notable for the sometimes playful, sometimes even profound ways it interacts with literary history. Not only does its title invoke Classical epics, but its structure echoes that of The Iliad, and the poem itself is replete with nods to Greek tragic drama in its plotting, its wordplay, and the frequent allusions to masks. Added to this are references to myriad other writers, from Ovid and Marvell to William Golding and Diana Wynne Jones.
The rationale behind all of this is that the poem's narrator--living many years after the events she describes--has learned her trade as a poet-historian by plundering what remains of the world's ruined libraries, supposedly giving herself a sort of potted knowledge of literature. Thaliad, then, addresses the problem of overcoming the apocalypse through an act of textual, rather than material, salvage; the world's history is reconstructed via this filter of Classical literature, and our pre-apocalyptic civilization is mythologized and made strange. The result is that the tired science fictional staple of the post-apocalyptic narrative is re-imagined by Youmans in terms of a much older literary tradition, and as such is reinvigorated. This generates some fantastic tensions between, for example, the forward-looking future setting, and Youmans's New Formalist approach to traditional poetic metre. It's a remarkable achievement.
From the Author
Thaliad is a particularly beautiful object, having been produced in collaboration with stellar designer Elizabeth Adams and major artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Clive and I also worked together on the poetry collection, The Foliate Head, and his work has appeared on the covers of some of my other books, both poetry and fiction.) The physical book pleases me enormously as a memento of friendship and time spent with other artists, joined from three countries by the magic of the internet.
I hope that people who love poetry will find Thaliad, but I do not think this tale bars those who are primarily readers of fiction. The narrative is written in iambic pentameter, or blank verse, and English speakers tend to talk in a way that is roughly iambic. So I hope that people who love grand, epic adventures and stories in which much (tragic, joyful, vigorous, and surprising) happens and a world is transformed will discover Thaliad and then share it with others. Should you be one of those who does so, Lady Word of Mouth and I will frisk and be grateful!
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"I want to go where the ground is not a waste,
and my life is not a ruined town."
Thaliad is a slender volume, just over a hundred pages. It is, obviously, a sort of modern-day Iliad. The wayfarers in this tale are seven middle school children, sheltered in an underground cave during a field trip when the apocalyptic fire comes. Nearly the sole survivors in the world, they travel far and then settle in a lakeshore town, and in all the years covered in this tale, they are almost alone.
This isn't a post-apocalyptic epic with cannibals and mutants and bandit warlords. It's a quieter End Times. Which makes the losses all the more poignant, because these are children, and they make mistakes, in a world that no longer forgives mistakes.
It would be pleasant then to fancy years
Unspooled in calm without more suffering
That all the children had to do was breathe
And work in sweet contentment and merriment
That comes despite the losses in a life;
I'd rather sing that changeless dream of peace...
In a hundred pages of poetry, there are only those seven children (and a handful of other encounters), yet the poet makes each of them a person who squeezes your heart. This is what good poetry does - more characterization and reader investment in a few lines than many novels manage in a hundred pages.
Thaliad is actually about coming of age and leadership and the need for community and motherhood. The titular main character, Thalia, though the youngest of the seven children, becomes their spiritual leader. She tries to keep them morally grounded, and when she loses members of her little tribe, she rages against God.
The chapter "The Face of Light" has obvious literary antecedents — Job and Odysseus were not the first tested by cruel deities, Thalia is not the last. Like all of her predecessors, Thalia makes a compelling if human argument:
But I am only human and a child
(Or would be child in different days than these —
Now I am something stranger than a child,
A sort of woman, child alert too soon,
And am responsible for much — too much
For humankind to manage and endure),
While You, if You exist, are God of this
And every other world and universe,
The fused creative force of artistry
That tossed this ball of Earth and fretted it
With fjord and lake and jagged rock and cloud...
And gets an answer.
Remember in the shadow of despair
What you have known; the messenger of fire
Who burned with syllables on water's skin,
For God is otherwise than what you dream
And knew your secret name before the shear
Of light, explosive kiss that birthed the stars
And juggled planets in their whirling course —
He calls your glowing name and bids you rise,
No matter if the universe is scorched
Right to the root a thousand thousand times,
For you must still be phoenix to the world.
There is definitely a religious vibe to Thaliad, but it's not an explicitly Christian fable, nor was the allegory abrasive to this atheist reader. Because in the tale of Thalia and her charge to be "phoenix to the world" there is still adventure, beauty, and, because it's the end of the world, tragedy. The world may look calm and placid, like a lake, but the world bites.
This is a beautiful work, probably destined to be obscure and underappreciated, though it should be in classrooms around the country as an example of modern and relevant poetry. So please buy it and read it. It's one of those occasional treasures you are only likely to stumble upon by chance.
"Thaliad" tells a compelling story as a literal epic scrolled out in blank verse--a tour de force in itself. But within that structure, Youmans plays with other traditional forms (or perhaps I should say, she plays other traditional forms--as musical instruments). Perhaps most notable among these are a Beowulfian elegy and a gorgeous epithalamium, a wedding celebration that takes place in a church but ends in a shimmering burst of global pollination.
In Youmans' hands, these poems are not archaic exercises, but stunning performances within the gorgeous cathedral of a poem peopled with characters we've come to know and love. In the online journal Inverarity, a reviewer of the book, writes, with admiration, "Who the hell writes a post-apocalyptic . . . novella in blank verse?" Amen! As a whole, Thaliad is a wildly crazy venture--Youmans dares reimagine modern-day America as a ruin to be resurrected and recreated in heroic, even Homeric terms, as seen through the eyes of resourceful children coming gradually into their own powers as young adults.
Most recent customer reviews
Fantastic. I felt that I was reading a novel that just happened to have rhythm and pace.Read more