Preach on, Sister Meyer. Preach on.

7.5.11 | | 9 comments

(No, not that Sister Meyer. This Sister Meyer)

I’ve just finished reading “Would that All God’s Children Were Poets” by Casualene Meyer (follow the link and scroll down to p. 173), poetry editor for BYU Studies. In this short article she reflects on her responsibility for choosing what poems to publish in the journal and which poems to award prizes in the journal’s annual poetry contest. She touches on what I think are some powerful ideas about the relationship between poetry (and the human aesthetic experience in general), religion, and service to others. I won’t explore these thoughts today, but I’ve invited them into my ruminations about poetry and my writing of poetry, my own editorial responsibilities, and the virtue of words (also here), so I may return to them more in depth later.

For now, however, as a means to open a conversation, here’s Casualene:

As poetry editor, I would do well to assume that all poetry I receive is a valiant effort in verse, so how, given so much desire on the part of the poets, could I choose a “winner,” especially if poetry is a matter of the heart and of preference, and it would be quite heartless and preferential to say some poems are worthy and others are not? The reality is that sincerity of heart does not equal quality of art, and sometimes bad poetry happens to good people. [Note: I love that line!]

If one draws a parallel between poems and “spirits,” a verse from the Book of Abraham helps illustrate in some degree why all poetry exists in a hierarchy, and that some can and even should be deemed noble and great, or prize-worthy: “And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19). The task, then, of the poetry editor for BYU Studies is to try to discern among all the poems received which are the stronger, and even the strongest, and recommend them for prizes and publication. All poetry is not created equal, so it is not just a matter of granting open admission to a poetry pantheon for any verse that exists; some poetry should be not only appreciated but actually admired, and like the criterion that “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11), the best poetry serves readers with the greatest substance and purity. Good poems may touch us, and earnest readers, like the woman who touched the border of Christ’s garment, instinctively seek them out and touch them. In turn, the good poems give us a portion of their power and virtue, leaving us healed.

Eternal intelligence and the workings of language. Editorial practice as discernment. Poetry (and language) as service. Poetry (and language) as possessors and expressions of power and virtue with the potential to heal.

Thoughts?

9 comments: “Preach on, Sister Meyer. Preach on.

  1. SilverRain

    I used to write a great deal of poetry, none of it terribly good, but it was a catharsis for me. For a long time, I found myself unable to write at all, especially poetry, and it felt like something was missing from me.

    But I fully agree with Sister Meyer, not all poetry is created equal. No matter how cathartic or earnest, published poetry is about the message being sent. Unfortunately, most people think that if it rhymes, it’s good poetry.

  2. Adam G.

    I love reading poetry (middlebrow stuff — Longfellow and Vincent Benet, like that) and I love writing it too, but is it humanly possible to really reflect on poetry without sounding like a Zeppelin of pretension? I’ve tried and think it just cannot be done.

  3. Tyler Chadwick

    is it humanly possible to really reflect on poetry without sounding like a Zeppelin of pretension?

    I think I catch your meaning, Adam, but please do explain…

  4. Adam G.

    With respect, I decline the opportunity to make my meaning more clear.

  5. Laura

    The problem for me, as both a reader and writer of (sometimes very immature/bad)poetry, is that poetry is a fairly subjective reading experience. Prose has all its genres (not to mention higher wordcounts) within which to function. Not to mention the fact that prose has very little stigma to work around; prose is largely viewed as accessible whereas poetry is viewed as difficult and out of date. All those words and genres and discussion group guides sort of democratize the field. Poetry is far too often just clumped into one big ridiculously oversimplified “poetry” section. The result is that you get Neruda and Wordsworth and Beowulf being pedaled as the same product. I may not love any of those poets but that doesn’t mean I don’t like poetry.

    I fear I’m rambling. . .

    Let me simplify: yes, some poems are clearer and show more polish and skill, but we consumers and produces of poetry need to be careful that we don’t further shrink an already shrinking form.

    For me the real question is how to encourage better craft without squelching individualism and style.

  6. Wm Morris

    That’s a good point, Laura. I bet there are poetry genres (or forms) that I would like, but I have no idea what they are.

  7. Laura

    I wish I knew what to recommend for you Wm.

    Poetry is so subjective it’s always a hard sell.

    A lot of twenty/thiry-somethings like slam poetry, but I don’t know if that would be your style. Maybe someone who is better versed than I would be able to recommend something.

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