Payday Poetry: “The City of Joseph” by Clinton Larson

10.16.09 | | 5 comments

This is the first official Payday Poetry post (the prior one was more to set the stage) so it seems only fitting to feature something by Clinton F. Larson. Yes, something by Eliza R. Snow or Emmeline B. Wells would also be in order, but I’m going with Larson since he is one of the major, early figures in the modern era of Mormon letters which is AMV’s main focus.

Title: The City of Joseph

Poet: Clinton F. Larson

Publication Info: Ensign, 1984

Submitted by: William Morris

Why?: Because it exhibits Larson’s best and worst (or most difficult) tendencies. Because it’s such a core Mormon theme. Because of phrases like “in the spell of prophecy” and “the whisper of the wagon wheels” and “if not Zarahemla, Deseret.”

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5 comments: “Payday Poetry: “The City of Joseph” by Clinton Larson

  1. Bradly Baird

    Couldn’t even make it through the first twenty lines before my gag reflex kicked in.

  2. William Morris Post author

    Heh. He’s an acquired taste, for sure. I don’t know what to think about the whole latter half of the poem.

  3. Tyler

    While this is obviously meant as inspirational verse (especially considering its venue of publication), I don’t find it sentimental or “gag”-worthy in any way, as you suggest Brady. In fact, the language and imagery and the way Larson binds them together in his poetic vision are quite striking, quite accomplished. In fact, I think seeing it as a tightly-crafted vision of a poet-seer is one way to make sense of the whole.

    To begin with, it incorporates a sweeping sense of Mormon history (specifically) and natural history (in general), of human presence in the world and the West, of the Mormon movement from east to west as directed by the Morning and Evening Stars. It opens with what I read as an allusion to the First Vision, with Joseph and his influence on a chaotic world at the center, as represented by “light” and “whiteness” rippling outward from the “meadows” over “the places where Joseph came / To find his Zion” as moved by and “in the spell of prophecy,” beginning with the grove he knelt in that Spring morning, then moving to the city he planned and helped build, then to the Saints’ movement West, and finally to the valley where he knew they would establish themselves, could make their home and further influence the world “because,” as Margaret’s mother says, “we believe” in Joseph’s vision and words and in the “harvest” to come.

    The idea that poetic seership is at work also arises in the repetition of “vision/s” (five times) and the repeated occurrence of “eyes,” “seen/saw,” and the passage of “time,” which, the poet confesses, “elides antiquity and the nearby years,” suppressing history in immediacy, something the poet strikes out to remedy by following Mormon history from “morning” to “evening” and by drawing together Earth’s glacial prehistory (ever-present in the “moraine[s]”) with a specific woman’s (archetypal) progeny, a group of “children” who stand “on a hill”—“a holy place”—and consider their ancestral path, an act that sounds very much like temple worship (“devotion”) to me.

    In fact that may be another fruitful way to consider the poem: as an endowment-like ritual through which certain images and key-words are meant to bring us together as the family of God, meant to bind us together in “gray cirques of vision” that will eventually clarify in the Dawn of Christ’s return.

    But I’ll cut myself off there and say that I like this poem and think it worthy of reading again.

  4. William Morris Post author

    I think you’ve pulled out the best bits, Tyler. Thanks.

    Even after a re-read, I’m still uncertain about the whole Margaret section. It would probably help if I knew the biographical context (I’m sure there is one).

  5. Bradly Baird

    I appreciate the analysis, Tyler. My gag reflex was over word choice and style, much more than structure; which was fine and no doubt “accomplished.”

    I am really a child of the century into which I was born, and that sensibility extends to the literature I read, particularly poetry (except for the shakespeare sonnets, go figure). I like a plain, direct style and have never been a big fan of this romantical sweeping style. Give me Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams, Neruda, Marianne Moore, or Charles Bukowski anyday.

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