Author Archives: Tyler

Notes on How to Read a Poem

4.3.14 | | 3 comments

National Poetry Month 2014
(Poster design: Chip Kidd)
Click image for PDF copy of the poster.

I’m of two minds about National Poetry Month.

In one sense, I appreciate the effort (initiated by the Academy of American Poets and institutionalized in April 1996 by President Clinton’s administration) “to highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets; [to] introduce Americans to the pleasures and benefits of reading poetry; [to] bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways; [and to] make poetry an important part of our children’s education” (ref). Even if this official celebration of poets and poetry only happens one month out of twelve and even if people binge on poems during that month but never read another poem all year, at least poetry is being celebrated, right? I can’t complain about that.

In another sense, though, I see poetry as something worth engaging every day. If America can set aside one month a year to advocate for poetry as something that can enhance and enrich “the lives of all Americans” and that “affects every aspect of life in America today, including education, the economy, and community pride and development” (ref), we should be able to make a place (no matter how small) for poetry in our everyday lives, shouldn’t we? Of course, I say this as someone deeply invested in reading and writing and writing about and advocating for poetry. So I may be a little biased.

Whatever the case, and whatever your mind is about poetry and National Poetry Month (prominent poet and critic Richard Howard once called it “the worst thing to have happened to poetry since the advent of the camera and the internal combustion engine,” two contraptions that distanced us from the beauty and rhythms of the earth), I thought I’d share some reflections on how to read a poem, whenever and however often you read one.

The following essay appears as the prologue in my book, Field Notes on Language on Kinship. My ideas (in the essay and in the book) are informed to a great degree by Patricia’s thinking on language and were sparked by her gorgeous poem “Introduction to the Mysteries (or How to Read a Poem).” (Listen to Laura’s stunning performance of Patricia’s poem here.)

* * *

Notes on How to Read a Poem

Some years ago during an undergraduate literature course, a classmate confessed the first time our reading assignment included some poems that “Interpreting poetry is not my forte.” The student’s confession still catches my ear. I hear her/him repeating it poetically in my mind, giving it a lyric ring that comes out more when I write the sentence as if writing a poem, splitting the line after syllable seven:

    Interpreting poetry
    is not my forte.

more

The Makar, Making, and Mormonism: Tyler’s 2014 AML Conference Proposal

3.11.14 | | 3 comments
Muta Poesis

Muta Poesis, from Le vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti moderni by Giovanni Bellori (Rome, 1672)

Each year, my wife and I look forward to making a pilgrimage to Orem, Utah to attend the annual Association for Mormon Letters Conference. I’ve also made it an annual practice to share my conference proposal once I’ve submitted it. In 2012, I proposed and presented “Situating Sonosophy: De/constructing Alex Caldiero’s ‘Poetarium’” and in 2013 I proposed “Performative Poesis and the (Un)Making of the World,” although my presentation was eventually titled “The Tongue as Tree of Life: Meditations on Words and the Word and the Making of the World.”

This year the conference, which will be held April 11-12 at UVU, is titled “New Faces of Mormonism: Are We Changing the Way We See Ourselves?” (*) Yesterday I submitted the following proposal, which is relevant to the Church’s recently released statement on what it means to become like God:

Alex Caldiero’s Performative Poesis: The Makar, Making, and Mormonism

Alex Caldiero’s work emerges from a rich performance ecology that consists of many different influences. One of these is the figure of the pre-modern bard, whom Caldiero calls a makar (mah-ker). Makar is the Middle English antecedent of maker, although makar is still active in the Scots language where it’s used in reference to a poet or bard [see here, especially]. Caldiero may have assumed the title in an attempt to establish kinship with a primitive (prime-itive) culture, its language, and its poetics. He may have also taken the name to skirt around the social and cultural limitations related to calling oneself a poet, including the stigma attached to practicing an art that some say is dead and that others associate with greeting card sentimentalism or the horrors of high school English. By moving to avoid these limitations (albeit at the cost of having to endure others [like being what Scott Carrier calls a "categorical conundrum"]), Caldiero becomes better able to critique common conceptions of poetry while he at the same time foregrounds the term’s origins: the word poetry derives from the Greek concept of poesis, which signifies the process of making.

Caldiero’s self-affiliation with Mormonism brings an additional level of signification to his focus on making. In particular, his poetics seem to be in conversation with Mormon theology’s teachings about Deity; these include the following:

  • First, that the Gods are Makers: they create and they procreate.
  • Second, that God isn’t a singular Entity acting as lone Creator but is part of a coterie of creative Beings acting in concert, a Community of Gods.
  • Third, that the Makers have created and peopled not just this world, this universe, but many worlds and many universes.
  • Fourth, that Creation doesn’t occur ex nihilo: rather the Makers build things from materials extant in expansive cosmos.
  • Fifth, that Creation unfolds in an eternal round: the Makers’ creative acts occur in the present progressive tense, that these Beings haven’t just created, they are creating.
  • Sixth, that humans are the Makers’ offspring; as such we have the making gene in us and by virtue of heredity and training, we can emulate our Parents and become Makers ourselves.

My paper will explore the relationships among Caldiero’s performative poesis (which he calls sonosophy) and the figures/ideas I’ve described above: the makar (the pre-modern bard), poetry as the process of making, and Gods as Makers.

(Cross-posted here.)

Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory

2.12.14 | | 10 comments

Last week Kent asked AMV readers to consider what would make a Mormon theory of literature different. I could be wrong, but I’m assuming that his points of comparison—his different than—are general theories of literature as well as the theories of literature practiced in the Mormon Letters community. In response to Kent’s query, to the responses it received, and to some other things that have been written in the past two years or so about the relationship among Mormons, Mormonism, literature, and theory, I’m developing some ideas on this relationship and the ways it has been theorized by members of the Mormon letters community; as I develop them, I’ll further address some things that I think are vital to this relationship and how it functions as a critical apparatus. I offer the incipient thoughts that make up this post in earnest of the more thorough treatment I’m composing. My primary focus in this brief discussion is to outline the ways theory and Mormonism get talked about in Kent’s post and its thread of responses (at least those made up to Jonathan’s 2/10/14 reply).

I see reference to at least three kinds of theory in the discussion: theories of Mormon literature, theories of Mormons and literature, and Mormon theories of literature. While I plan to elaborate more on these kinds of theory as I develop a more extensive response, for now here’s how I distinguish among them: more

Wrapping up the #MormonPoetrySlam

12.17.13 | | no comments

In case you haven’t been following the Mormon Poetry Slam at home and have an interest in Mormon poetry (I mean, who doesn’t, right?), here’s an update (which I initially posted here):

The final performance in the slam—which I’ve been hosting on FireinthePasture.org and which as far as I know is the first online competition of its kind—posted last Friday. (You can find the event archive here). Now it’s time to determine the winner of the Audience Choice Award and we need your help with that because, well, the participants need the audience to vote. So, if you would: Take several minutes to consider the slam performances, then vote for your favorite before Wednesday’s end (voting rules are outlined below). For your consideration and reviewing pleasure, here are the fourteen entries, listed in order of appearance: more

News from Your Friendly Nayborhood Sonosopher

10.23.13 | | no comments

Over the past couple weeks I’ve received two emails from Alex Caldiero announcing projects he’s involved with. The first is a Kickstarter campaign, the second a new book.

First: the Kickstarter campaign.

As a native of Sicily, Alex spent his childhood in the shadow of Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Using the funds to be raised by their Kickstarter campaign—titled “Living with Etna”—Alex hopes to return to Sicily as the tour guide for emerging filmmakers Laura Kisana and Isaac Caldiero (Alex’s son), who hope to document the relationship between the mountain and the people who inhabit its slopes.

When I first watched their project video and read through their proposal, I recalled the instruction God gave to Joseph Smith in March 1833 that those involved with building his kingdom ought to make it their “business and mission” to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” There are, of course, many ways to fulfill this counsel. One of them may include supporting (however we’re willing and however we can) projects like the one Alex and Co. hope to undertake with this trip and the documentary that would flow from it. more

Listening Closely to James Goldberg’s “In the Beginning”

10.22.13 | | 3 comments

"In the Beginning" on Everyday Mormon Writer

“In the Beginning” on Everyday Mormon Writer (click to enlarge)

(Cross-posted here.)

James Goldberg’s poem “In the Beginning”* exults in orality. It begins, “When he was young, / they read the books / out loud.” But the poet doesn’t revel simply by stating that his experience with language is grounded in the spoken word. He also alludes to the revel-atory power of speech with his title, which echoes John the Beloved’s (later the Revelator’s) witness that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). What we read as “the Word” is here translated from the Greek term logos, which according to Strong means “something said.” So John’s “Word” refers to something spoken, an idea mirrored in the additive, parallel structure of his opening statement, whose coordinate structure (“. . . and . . . and . . .”) parallels the rhythms of spoken language. When translated with the article, as it is in John, “the Word” refers especially to “the Divine Expression,” who is Christ, who was—who existed—“in the beginning,” before taking on flesh, and who did so “with God” and who “was God.” Through this witness of Christ, when heard in conjunction with what we now have as John 1:2–5, it becomes clear that Christ is the Father’s deepest, most creative, most transformative expression to humanity. He is the Father’s promise of salvation spoken through the very structures of the cosmos.

James calls upon these associations from the beginning of his poem with its title and its subject matter, both of which suggest that the sounded word has a transformative effect on those with ears to hear (see Alma 31:5). And he deepens these associations with word-power through the additive, parallel structures of the poem, which mark its essential orality. These structures are evident especially in the repetition of “When he was young”; in the poet’s simple language; in his use of the second person mode of address, which suggests a face-to-face conversation (“You could still. . .”); and in the additive phrasing of the second and third stanzas: “And . . . so . . . and . . . . Then.” more

Margaret Young’s Pater Noster

10.4.13 | | 2 comments

Or, Some Reflections Made upon Having Translated a Blog Post into a Persona Poem

For various reasons I haven’t written much poetry lately. I’ve written a lot about poetry, but not much poetry. Because of this, I was excited the other day when I felt a poem welling up as I read Margaret Young’s meditation, “My Prayer upon Opening the Internet,” which she posted on The Welcome Table, her blog at Patheos. Margaret’s been catching flak since she posted some thoughts on the Ordain Women movement and I can only imagine what effect the sometimes vitriolic response has had on her soul. From what I know of her, she’s a very empathetic person, something that I’m sure has been magnified and made raw by her father’s failing health, especially as she walks with him his path through the valley of the shadow of death. I sense this desire to understand and to connect with others in “Prayer.” more