When Mormon Literature folk think of Orson F. Whitney, it is usually in regard to his 1886 talk that predicted that Mormonism would yet have “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” But in 1926, after two decades as an Apostle, Whitney was still writing about literature and the role it would play in Mormonism. That year Whitney penned a five-part article for the Improvement Era in which he explored the question of literature and Mormonism, and in doing so came closer than any previous author to a Mormon theory of literature.
While I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me 3 months to get back to this series, I’m pleased to pick it up again and hope that it is warmly received. I’ve also updated my list of these posts and discovered that I’ve already produced 77 (including the present number) and, more importantly, have enough material to continue for quite a while.
Nor have I quite finished with the writ and wisdom of Whitney. In the preface to his 1889 poetry collection, Poetical Writings, he recognizes the aversion of some readers to religious poetry, apparently because critics found so much of it of low quality. Whitney, of course, disagreed: more
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
I’m indulging in some shameless self-promotion, but only because what I’m promoting is a fruit of my work on Fire in the Pasture and speaks to the publication of Mormon literature (especially via collaborative effort) and my continued promotion of Mormon poets, poetries, and poetics.
Yesterday morning via his Mormon Artists Group e-newsletter, Glimpses, Glen Nelson announced the publication of my single-author book. Here’s what he said:
Field Notes on Language and Kinshipby Tyler Chadwick
artworks by Susan Krueger-Barber
A landmark publication appeared in 2011, an anthology of contemporary Mormon poetry. It was an ambitious undertaking that, it can be argued, is among the most important books on Mormonism to appear in the first years of the century. Unknown to many, even inside the Church, Mormon poets have recently become regular contributors to the leading poetry publications in the country. Their poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, Slate, The Southern Review, among many, many others. The award-winning anthology, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, presented 82 poets’ new works in its 522 pages.
The editor for Fire in the Pasture was Tyler Chadwick, a young scholar and poet from Idaho. After the publication of the anthology, Mormon Artists Group approached Chadwick to write a book to answer a simple question: Why does poetry matter to you? He responded with Field Notes on Language and Kinship. It is Mormon Artists Group’s 24th project.
The book is a direct response to the works in Fire in the Pasture. Chadwick reacts to them in several ways, as a scholar, memoirist, essayist, and poet. Field Notes on Language and Kinship is published as a two-volume edition. The anthology, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, is rebound in hardcover; and Chadwick’s original volume is bound as a companion work, covered with hand-pounded amate barkskin papers from Mexico’s Otomi Indians and brown Japanese Asahi silk. The two are presented in a slipcase. A commercial paperback is also available from Amazon.com.
One of Chadwick’s sources of inspiration is visual art, and Field Notes on Language and Kinship includes eight artworks created especially for this project by Susan Krueger-Barber. Just as Chadwick’s text brings multiple disciplines of literature to bear, Krueger-Barber’s works are multi-disciplinary, mixed media works. Each of them combines photography, painting, and collage (using fragments torn from a copy of Fire in the Pasture). The publication is limited to 25 copies, signed by the artists and numbered.
Today is the anniversary of Paul Swenson’s birth. If my calculations are correct, he was born in 1935 and would have turned 78 this year. I’ve thought about him off and on since he passed, mostly because I know that at the time of his death he was working with Dream Garden Press to publish his second poetry collection. According to the bio note he passed along for inclusion in Fire in the Pasture the book was to be titled In Sleep and he was planning for its release in late 2011. I’m sure, among other things, his poor health pushed back the release, but his passing delayed it indefinitely. I’m not sure what’s happening with his literary estate now. But if anyone within the sound of this post does know what’s in store for the work Paul left behind (both published and unpublished), let me know. I’m interested in doing what I can to help archive, to sustain, and to promote his literary legacy. (You can contact me here.)
With that in mind, I wanted to commemorate Paul on his birthday by posting a couple clips of him reading his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online, but I did have some stored away on a jump drive in a collection of recordings I downloaded a few years ago from Sunstone’s Symposium archive when it still contained audio from past events. The two clips I’m sharing today were snipped from a session recording made during the 1997 Sunstone Symposium held 6-9 August at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. The session was titled “Too Much Stuff Gone Down, Baby: Performance Poets at Play” and included readings by Paul, Alex Caldiero, Lin Ostler, Stefene Russell, and Laraine Wilkins. Paul read both of the following poems near the end of his set. The first is “Strange Gods,” which was originally published in Sunstone and later appeared in Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake; and the second, “Nothing Has Changed Since You Left,” is, as far as I can tell, unpublished. more
I submitted two proposals for this year’s AML Conference, both poetry-centered, of course. Here they are:
Proposal 1: Live Poetry Anthology: Mormon Poets Read (Two full sessions)
Based on the success of the two poetry reading panels I organized for last year’s AML Conference, I approached my poet friends to see if there was any interest in organizing more readings for this year’s conference. I have around twenty poets* who said, “Heck, yeah! We’d love to read at AML in 2013.” So this proposal is for two (2) sessions (preferably back-to-back sessions) filled with poetry read by a range of Mormon poets. Each session would include approximately ten poets reading for around five to six minutes each. Michael Hicks has called this event format “a live poetry anthology” because it allows space for many poets to voice their poems and shows how the community of poets so involved is a living community whose canon of texts is constantly expanding.
*As of right now, my list of definites includes the following: Alan Mitchell, Alex Caldiero, Amber Ellis, Brian Brown, Doug Talley, Elaine Craig, Elizabeth Pinborough, Jim Richards, Jonathon Penny, Laura Baxter, Laura Stott, Lisa Fillerup, Mark Bennion, Michael Hicks, N. Colwell Snell, Rachel Noorda, Sarah Duffy, Sarah Jenkins, Susan Howe, and Terresa Wellborn.
Proposal 2: Performative Poesis and the (Un)Making of the World
In the days following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, I came across or remembered several texts that were composed in response to this event and to other violent events in contemporary America, including 9/11 and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. The first text I encountered was an article published by The Onion, satirical online news rag, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. The article, “F*** Everything, Nation Reports,” is short—it comes in at only 456 words. But as the title suggests, its language is potent: of the many profanities included, 16 are the f-word. The second text was a poem called “In the Loop” by Bob Hicok, who explores with the poem a response many people had to the Virginia Tech shooting: to say “how horrible it was, how little / there was to say about how horrible it was.” The third was Alex Caldiero’s “Poetry is Wanted Here!,” a poem dedicated to his friend “Bob Heman, in New York, Oct. 2001 re. 9/11.” And the fourth was a poem by Shane Koyczan: “People are Getting Better.” Unlike the other three texts, Koyczan’s poem isn’t a response to a specific event; but it does reference “kids who turned their school into a shooting range,” kids who “play Russian Roulette with guns . . . they found on their playground,” and “airlines [that] plummet from the skies.”
Beyond similarities in subject matter—all reference violent events that have received national, even global, attention—the one thing that connects these texts in my mind is the way each shows how four very different writers turned to words in response to violence as a way to mediate the ongoing effects of violence. These movements toward language in the face of destruction jibe with the understanding I’ve developed as a Latter-day Saint that words are an act of faith and have a profound, creative influence on the world. As noted in the Lectures on Faith, faith works by words; indeed, faith’s mightiest works have been and will be performed with words. These works, of course, include God’s eternal performance as World-Maker (his poesis), which proceeds through his Word, who is Christ. Through personal and scholarly reflections on the texts cited above, this paper explores my LDS-informed view of words and the Word, especially in terms of how we mirror the World-Makers’ creative performance in our own word-making.
(Also posted here.)
This past Saturday, my review copy of Susan Elizabeth Howe‘s new book, Salt, arrived. I’ll be reviewing it for AMV and expect to have my essay completed and posted sometime in the next month or two, but in the meantime I wanted to post my initial response to the collection.
While I haven’t yet read beyond the first poem, I’m anxious to sit down and keep company with Susan’s words, in part because of the first poem. As all stories arguably do, Salt‘s narrative begins with Adam and Eve—or at least with a revision thereof: his name is “Bob,” while she remains nameless. In the collection opener, “Python Killed to Save Woman,” Eve (I’ll call her) wrestles with a snake: “Lucy, / short for Lucifer,” the couple’s “pet python,” which they let “slither about [their] bedroom.” Probably not the smartest idea, as you can imagine, something Eve realizes the night she wakes because Lucy has “wrapped around [her]” like the snake would live meat. Which, of course, the woman is—at least to a hungry snake. Sensing the struggle beside him, Bob wakes and grabs his “Swiss army knife” to take care of the snake, but instead he gets “enmeshed” in the wrestling match, though not so much that he can’t grab the phone and call for help.
And that’s where this allegory of a poem leaves the pair: struggling for life in Lucifer’s tightening squeeze, Eve wondering “whose death” will come first, although the poem’s title is a clue as to who wins. Little matter, though, because in the end, of this poem as of life, death gets the last word (until Christ speaks up, that is).
Death: the heritage of a world fallen away from Paradise, the proper end of that system’s decomposition. By beginning Salt with Eden’s end, Susan reminds readers of their mortality, which was made possible by the Fall, and opens the way to explore the impact of death on life and language. Salt‘s opening poem, then, is a memento mori in a poetry collection that positions itself as a preservative—salt is, after all, essential to animal life. As such, it’s pretty valuable thing to have around. Hence Christ to his disciples: You are the salt of the earth—your presence here should preserve and thus extend the principles of Life. Hence Paul to early Christians: Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt—let your language tend toward preservation of the principles of life. Hence the implication of Susan’s title: here are some words dear to me as salt. May they preserve you as they have preserved me.
Got messages of deep feeling you’d like to send someone, or maybe to the world at large? Starting February 1st, Wilderness Interface Zone will launch its traditional month-long celebration of love and the natural world, Love of Nature Nature of Love Month.
We’re issuing a call for nature-themed love stuff: original poetry, essays, blocks of fiction, art, music (mp3s), videos or other media that address the subject of love while making references to nature. We’ll take the other side of the coin of affection, too: We’ll publish work about nature spun up with themes of love.
If you have a sweet song or sonnet you’ve written to someone beloved–or perhaps a video Valentine or an essay avowing your love for people, natural critters or spaces near and dear–please consider sending it to WIZ. Click here for submissions guidelines.
Our fondest hopes for LONNOL Month: Putting into the currents of language flowing around the world some of the deepest, most passionate, freeze-thawingest words that we can find. And if things work out, we’ll also be running one of WIZ’s DVD giveaways, a Pre-Hays Code movie, King of the Jungle, starring loincloth-clad Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man.
We hope you’ll join our month-long celebration combining two of the most potent natural forces on the face of the planet–love and language.