Cowleys and Cowpers of Our Own

If you only read the headlines, history is propelled by exceptions—world-historical figures who bent nations and empires to their will. And they all have the same last name: “The Great”: Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Pompey the Great, Charles the Great (Charlemagne), Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. It’s great turtles all the way down.

Nearly absent from the historical headlines are the people who did most of the work: Peter the Pretty Good, Charles the OK, Helga the High-Side-of-Mediocre, Gilbert the Good-Enough-for-Government-Work. Most of the history that really matters was produced by people whom history has judged as something less than “the Great” but who toiled away with competence and dedication to their jobs. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, October 9, 2017

This month a feature film, Mitch Davis’ family film The Stray, and BYUtv’s science fiction series Extinct were released. Among the new novels are Claire Åkebrand’s Mormon literary novel The Field Is White, and Josi Kilpack’s All that Makes Life Bright, about Harriet Beecher Stowe. There were two notable YA debuts, McKelle George’s Speak Easy, Speak Love, and Caitlin Sangster’s Last Star Burning. Two notable Middle Grade novels are Elaine Vickers’s Paper Chains and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown’s Mustaches for Maddie. This month two multi-author anthologies will be released. Shelah Mastny Miner and Sandra Clark Jorgensen edited Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition from the Writers of Segullah, a collection of essays. Stephen Carter edited Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death, which includes essays, fiction, poetry, and a play. Several of the works were previously published in Sunstone. Speeches given at the Mormon Arts Center Festival have been collected in The Kimball Challenge at Fifty: Mormon Arts Center Essays. Please send updates to mormonlitATgmailDOTcom.

In Memoiram

Elouise M. Bell, one of the greats of Mormon literature, education, and feminism, passed away on September 30, 2017.  Bell taught in the BYU English Department from 1963 to 1994. She authored hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper collumns. Here most well known collection is Only When I Laugh (Signature, 1990). She married Nancy Jefferis in 2015. You can read the obituary that I wrote, and this memorial article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which includes quotes by friends like Susan Elizabeth Howe and Robert Kirby. Continue Reading →

In Memoriam: Elouise M. Bell

We note with great sorrow the passing of Elouise Mildred Bell, one of the greats of Mormon literature, education, and feminism, on September 30, 2017. Elouise was born on September 10, 1935, in Scranton Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Alexander Hurlow and Esther Myra (Beppler) Bell. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and journalism at the University of Arizona in 1957, graduating magna cum laude, and earned her master’s degree at Brigham Young University in 1959. She served an LDS mission in Paris, France in the very early 1960s.

Bell taught in the BYU English Department from 1963 through 1994. She served as composition coordinator and also received the Karl G. Maeser Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 1986, she received BYU’s Alcuin Award for excellence in teaching, and in 1990, she was awarded a General Education Professorship for contributions to the university’s general education curriculum. She eventually became Associate Dean of General and Honors Education. On various sabbaticals, she taught at the University of Arizona, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Berzenyi College in Hungary. Continue Reading →

In Tents #81: A Note on Hermeneutics

Hermes was the messenger of the gods, so the branch of philosophy dealing with how to interpret messages from God, and interpretation generally, bears his name.

When Jonathan Langford asked me to do a column I thought it would be an exercise in re-interpreting the stories of Jesus’s debates with the Pharisees, an opportunity to point out things like Mark’s first mention of the Pharisees. They ask three questions, and Jesus answers them without rebuke. The first question is not addressed to Jesus, but to his disciples:

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
–Mark 2:16-17

It’s a charming answer, especially since the story doesn’t say he was preaching to his dinner companions, or calling them to repentance.

Continue Reading →

in verse # 21 : unblank verse

The imp of the perverse — a constant companion — suggested as a title for this installment “blankety-blank verse,” but as its topic is the Elizabethan sonnet, the title above presented itself as an amiable contrast to my last installment.  You will recall from my last post [link] that both the English sonnet and blank verse were inventions of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47).  However, The new Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics credits Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) with bringing the sonnet from Italy and adapting it, “showing an immediate preference … for a closing couplet in the sestet,”[i] as in this sonnet which he translated from the Italian of Petrarch:

The long love that in my thought doth harbor,
and in my heart doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretense
And there encampeth, spreading his banner
She that me learns to love and suffer
And wills that my trust and lust’s negligence
Be reined by reason, shame and reverence
With his hardiness takes displeasure.
Wherewithal unto the heart’s forest he flieth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth, and not appeareth.
What may I do, when my master feareth,
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.[ii]

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet features an octave rhymed abbaabba (or, in Anthony Burgess’s hands, an invocation, Abba Abba[iii]) Continue Reading →

What Does The Book of Laman Think It’s Doing?

Michael Austin is a board member of BCC Press.

Mette Harrison’s The Book of Laman, published in July by BCC Press, is the sort of book that is almost always misunderstood badly by people who haven’t bothered to read it. This is because it looks like it is doing things that it is not actually doing, and the things it is doing are so unexpected that you pretty much have to read the whole thing to understand them. I  want to talk about what those things are, but first, let’s spend a few minutes talking about what they aren’t. 

First, this is not a work of satire, There have been other books published with the same premise–the early portions of the Book of Mormon told from Laman’s perspective–that have been satirical, and the idea of telling a story from an antagonist’s point of view seems to lend itself to an ironic treatment. But this is not what Harrison is doing. She is taking the Book of Mormon and its characters extremely seriously throughout. Continue Reading →

in verse #80 : goodly feres

Because of a project I’m working on right now, I looked up Ezra Pound’s “Ballad of the Goodly Fere,” which I had accused him, in December 2016’s post,  of employing “the kind of fake folk style that John Mason Neale abused in his carol Good King Wenceslas” in its writing.  I still think there’s a fakeness to the poem, in that I find it nearly impossible to read aloud while honoring all of Pound’s elisions and abbreviations — which I should be able to do in a poem from the oral tradition.  But it’s such a fine poem.  Here — give it a try, aloud:

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion.[i]

Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see, Continue Reading →

Review of Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book

Reviewed by Hillary Stirling

Photo by Emily Bawden Drew

In Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book; or the History of William Shakespeare, Part Last, I felt as though I was watching a play the English-speaking world has been waiting 400 years for. Though William Shakespeare became so famous, we have precious little knowledge about his life. We’re not even entirely sure about the order his plays were written in. We have a handful of facts: names of family members, when they were born, when they died, and a few documents beyond Shakespeare’s literary works. Much has been made of his will and the fact that he left his “second-best bed” to his wife. From these bare threads of William Shakespeare’s known history,  Stewart weaves a rich tapestry that even The Bard would delight in. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, Late August 2017

This month we mourn the passing of author Rulon T. Burton, anticipate a new Stephen Peck novel, and look forward to a new Mahonri Stewart play. There is also a slew of new nationally published novels, and a well-reviewed movie, We Love You, Sally Carmichael!, made largely by Mormons, which gently satirizes Utah culture and the Twilight phenomenon. And a Mormon filmmaker gets jail time. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Also, we are looking for more people to write for the blog, including essays and book reviews. Please send your writing or ideas to that address.

In Memoriam

We note with sadness the passing of Rulon T. Burton, on Monday, July 24, 2017, at age 91, in Draper, Utah. Burton, a lawyer, authored six novels and nine non-fiction works. Most were self-published, usually at Tabernacle Books, an imprint run by his son Gideon Burton. The books include:

We Believe: Doctrines and Principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tabernacle Books, 1994. Continue Reading →

Tagless

By Emily Bleeker

I took all of my kids with me to Target today. Yeah, you all know what that is like–lots of requests, lots of “where is your brother?” and plenty of forgotten items on my list. As I was checking out, there was a woman ahead of me on the phone, clearly in a hurry, and the cashier wasn’t moving fast enough for her. She rolled her eyes, first to herself and then she looked at me as though I was going to play along with her “can you believe this” game. I gave her a smile and a shrug as I managed my kiddos who were blissfully unaware of the drama ahead of us and placed my last items on the belt. Then the woman slammed on the counter, making us all jump, and said “COME ON!!!! Push the button!”

The cashier was a young woman with dark, curly hair and adorable glasses and looked vaguely familiar. When the woman slammed on the counter, she jumped and turned around, confused. Then taking it all in she said, “I’m deaf!” and pointed to a small handwritten sign on her register that said: HELLO, I’m deaf.

The angry woman didn’t seem to care. She rolled her eyes at me again, and this time I looked at my feet. The cashier also looked to me with tears in her eyes, and I tried to give her a little okay sign and smile. I wish I’d done or said more. When the woman snatched her receipt and walked off in a huff, I took my place in front of the register. The young woman looked at me and mouthed, “I forgot my badge today. Everyone keeps getting mad. That’s why I made the sign.”

I remembered why she looked familiar. She’d checked me out before but with a little tag under her name that said: “I’m Deaf.”

I felt terrible about the way she’d been treated and tried to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. I tried to find a way to show her that she was doing a good job, but I don’t know that I helped much. We were both shook up, and I’m sure she went home feeling heavier that day. Continue Reading →

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