The Book of the Phoenix

The Book of the Phoenix, 1: 1-40: The Prophet Fed by a Raven

In my last post I engaged in a conversation with Marly Youmans that continued into the comment box. Replying to what she’d said about the post, I confessed to just how much I love The Book of the Phoenix, 1: 1-40: The Prophet Fed by a Raven, written for her chapter in the monograph about my work published by Lund Humphries in 2011. That made me think about where it might be read by Artloggers, given that I don’t think it’s seen the light of day anywhere save in the pages of the monograph. So here, for those of you who don’t have a copy of that and haven’t therefore read Marly’s response to my painting of The Prophet Fed by a Raven, is her beautiful poem.


1    Behold! I am the raven who is phoenix,
2      The reusrrection bird,
3    And I will feed you like a mother,
4      I who am also the resurrection man,
5    Who brings wine in a cup and bread –
6      The bread and red wine of my body I give you,
7    And the cup of wine that will become yours,
8      The fifth cup saved for Elijah at Passover seder.
9    Would you sit reflective in red and blue,
10    An icon claiming heaven’s colours?
11   Not for you is the songbird settled in a nest:
12     For you is the slow burn and the car of fire.
13   Would you dally here with the bread
14     And the wine, elements of me?
15   Eat and drink; go
16     Into the rough elements of wilderness –
17   Go! Thrust yourself
18     Into the world where the children of Israel
19   Crouch before fireless Baalzebub.
20     Don’t linger on this stage-set of a window
21   Where a painter might lay out the mug
22     – With dots that might be sheep or clouds –
23   Next to a carved pelican or nautilus shell
24     Or a girl balancing the candle’s flame on her head –
25   No, no comfort’s for you, Baal-battler, fire-bringer,
26     Actor on hardest boards, foe of Ahab and Jezebel!
27   See that backdrop of uptilted green
28     With the sprinkling of cloud-fleece above,
29   With the scattered sheep of a flock? My flock!
30     They do not know what to make of you,
31   Orphan of the wilderness, nestless Elijah –
32     They wonder and name you no mortal man
33   But an angel green and wick with life:
34     So green you crackle in the fire of me.
35   Three things I promise you:
36     When I lend you my phoenix fire,
37   You shall drag a man out of Death.
38     Your words shall burn down centuries.
39   You shall, at the close, go up in flame.
40     Selah.



Marly Youmans. 2011


9 thoughts on “The Book of the Phoenix

  1. Pingback: The Restless Prophet and his Raven | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. I am having a hard time keeping up these days, Clive, and there is so much to see here. I wanted to at least drop a line of appreciation for your work lately. I greatly enjoyed Marly Youmans poem and of course Elijah. And the Glimmerglass cover looks fantastic. Congratulations.

    • Oh my gosh, no need to apologise. I know what a busy life you have there, and am happy to hear from you when you can drop by. For my own part I love to see what you’re getting up to as well, and I regularly call though don’t always comment.

      Glad that you liked the Elijah poem, and Marly will be too.

  3. Pingback: the lost prophet | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  4. I am all sweaty from walking in my weight vest, but I need to clean up and go look and see if I really made a portmanteau out of Baal and Beelzebub…. (And yes, I really did forget this poem. I ought to go inspect that chapter again!)

    The one that really sticks in my head is the piece with you and Cocteau in the garden with pollen and curious guests. Or maybe the tower piece. Such fun! Though of course I was supposed to be scholarly and was not. Naughty. It’s hard to be scholarly when you throw away your tenure, I guess–just don’t want to go there!

    • ‘Baalzebub’ is what’s in the published version (page 117), and knowing how thoroughly all that was proofed by us and by you… many, many times… I’m pretty sure it must be right. I recall that you and the Wakelin brothers endlessly checked your chapter. I think you three have the same proof-reading gene!

      No-one briefed you to be scholarly. We had an excellent scholarly piece from the curator at Christchurch Picture Gallery, Jaqcqueline Thalmann. It’s all quite a while ago now, but I’m pretty certain I’d hoped for something rather unusual from you, and you didn’t disappoint. I love your chapter. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate here, it was as though you opened a little door into the back of my head and had a leisurely stroll around in there while making notes! If there’s a better account than yours of what the thinking process of a painter is, then I haven’t read it. The engagement with the past, the imagined conversations with heroes, the unfolding of ideas during walks around the garden and the ever-present sense of fragmented narratives coalescing into compositional form, all were captured by you. We never discussed those things, and I had no idea what you were up to until the finished draft arrived. I recall reading it at the kitchen-table in a state of wonder and elation. Peter, Dave and Philippa were there, and I remember spluttering and trying to explain to them what I was reading. I was like Howard Carter peering through a crack into the boy-king’s tomb, answering Lord Carnarvon’s query of ‘Can you see anything?” with “Yes, wonderful things!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s