in verse #74 : verse wants to be free?

Consider this quotation from Amy Lowell:

The definition of Vers libre is: a verse-formal based upon cadence. To understand vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. Or, to put it another way, unrhymed cadence is “built upon ‘organic rhythm,’ or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system. Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules; it would not be ‘free’ if it had.”[i]

Photograph of Amy Lowell at Sevenels, by Bachrach, ca. 1916.

The academic tone of this definition matches her tone in the quote from last month’s post on “The Poet’s Trade”.  Lowell “never attended college because her family did not consider it proper for a woman to do so,”[ii] and this definition speaks in the tone of the auto-didact in its statement that “One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.”  As long-time readers of these posts will know, I don’t disagree with the primacy that statement gives to reading verse aloud.  It’s the overall tone, the insistence on an “intelligent reader,” that betrays a certain in-group knowingness I associate with auto-didactism.

I would argue that the better part of that definition is what is quoted in the end, and I haven’t been able to find who is being quoted there, or whether Lowell is quoting herself; but the reliance on “the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing” fits better my understanding of English meter, with its Anglo-Saxon heritage of stress harnessed with its French insistence on a metrical foot, than the first part of the definition.  And the statement “Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules” is perfectly descriptive of most of the verse of my contemporaries that Continue Reading →

Peculiarly Liminal


William Morris’s Dark Watch is a peculiar (in all positive senses) collection of work. While utterly focused on lived Mormon life, it finds absurd variety in executing its theme, reaching from the recent past to the distant future. Its breadth made it difficult for me to find a way into this review until I read Jonathan Langford’s in a recent Dialogue. Here’s a paragraph from him:

What all (or nearly all) of these stories have in common is that they are concerned with what it means to be Mormon and, in particular, the tension between the requirements of Mormon faith and competing identities and demands, whether of the academic world, middle school social hierarchy, or a post-apocalyptic “confederation” where Mormon belief must be explicitly renounced. All of the stories are about liminal experiences—except that the focus is not on moving into or out of Mormonism but on maintaining a sometimes-precarious position of holding on to both identities.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this—and it would make a terrible advertising angle—but the word that spoke loudest to me in that passage was liminal. But that’s exactly right. Dark Watch is story after story after story about how being Mormon is being between. Between middle-school cool and YM/YW righteous, between academic hobnobbing and lifelong moral boundaries, between, if you like, Babylon and Zion.

Many of the pieces included here are bitesize (in part because some of them first appeared as part of Mormon Lit Blitz—see The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop, The ReActivator, and Release) which appropriately allows them to fit between the moments of our own lives, into the nooks and crannies we intend to devote to art.

Morris has boldly subtitled his collection Mormon-American stories, daring anyone to use that as an excuse to reject him. And people will, of course, because a prophet hath no honour in his own country and no one is more swift to reject Mormon artists than Mormon who, like, really appreciate good art.

But I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to judge the art. Going back to those linked-to short-shorts, let’s contrast “The Reactivator” and “Release” as works exploring the liminal. Briefly. I know you have better things to do than learn what there is for man to enjoy.

“The ReActivator” is about a night out with an overzealous elders quorum president and his first counselor who has “a hard time going after the lost sheep. In my experience, there’s a reason they’ve left the fold.”

But you’ll note I already tipped my hand. I typed overzealous as if over is the correct reading of the man’s enthusiasm. And so I, like the narrator, will sit through an amazing experience only to “[share] his joy. And [mourn] my inability to share it fully.”

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

The story is perhaps too accurate in reflecting my own image.

“Release,” like 37.5% of the titles in Dark Watch, takes place in the future. This particular version of the future is so dystopian that members are only able to communicate with and care for each other through subliminal communication done via pheromones and such. It’s a beautiful story set in a confusing and frightening world, and, after its positive vibes fade, it will leave you with a troubling set of questions about the natures of agency and faith.

If I had to pick favorites from the collection I probably wouldn’t choose either of these, but they are freely available and I believe that once you have partaken of them you will be desirous to partake of more.

Besides. Do you know what ol’ Brother Morris intends to do with your three dollars? He’ll use it to fund future projects like the soon-to-be-available States of Deseret, which features eight stories (some of which are pretty dang meta) exploring alternate Mormon histories.

(And by “fund” I mean “pay the writers.”)

So Dark Watch isn’t just stories about us. It itself is a story. Do we believe enough in our own voices to engage with and support our own art?

Or are we going to look severely over our reading glasses and just feed our souls Jonathan Lethem instead?

Greg Kofford Books – A profile of a Mormon studies publisher

Greg Kofford Books has become a significant player in Mormon studies publishing. Greg Kofford, a Utah-based investor, created the company in 2000. It was originally known for producing just a few books a year about Mormon theology and history. In the last six years it has significantly increased the number of books it produces, and has published a wider variety, including more literary works. The ideological content of the books covers a wide range of positions, and the company is seen as occupying a middle ground in terms of orthodoxy and scholarship. This profile will look at the origins of the company, its place in the wider world of Mormon studies publishing, and solicit the opinion of authors who have worked with the publisher.

Greg Kofford and the origins of Greg Kofford Books

Greg Kofford is the son of LDS business owner Lewis Kofford. The elder Kofford bought Covenant Recordings, a small LDS tape recording business in 1977 and eventually turned it into a publisher, Covenant Communications. Lewis Kofford also created his own chain of bookstores, Seagull Books & Tape, in 1987.

Image taken from Financial Review.

Greg Kofford received a BS from the University of Utah and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became a financial manager, specializing in the capital markets, hedge funds and private family office investing. He founded the corporate finance group at the Salt Lake City broker Wilson Davis. In 1990 he was brought in by his father to become the President and CEO of Seagull Books & Tape. Continue Reading →

Children’s Lit Corner: It’s All about Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! For some time now an idea or theory has been ripening in my mind. It has to do, of course, with children’s literature because as a children’s librarian I spend the greater part of my days surrounded by books and stories and children. One of the great joys of my life is connecting those children with the books I love and I know they will also learn to cherish. I was thinking about the books, new and old, that make an impression on children and add richness to their lives. These are the books that never grow old, the books that continue to be checked out and read and loved year after year after year. They are also the new books that somehow spring to the head of the line and become immediate classics, even if they aren’t about superheroes or demigods or vampires. Sometimes those highly popular books make it onto the “Instant Classics” list, and sometimes they don’t. But what common characteristic do all these books—well-loved and new friends—share? This is where my theory comes in. I think at the very foundation, these books are all about love.

Continue Reading →

Encountering Islam through Literature


As a student of Mormon literature, I have a keen interest in Mormon literature-y things—comparable religious (and other) subcultural literatures whose study in the academy can help me to frame the study of literature as it relates to my own culture. In graduate school, for example, I took several courses on Jewish literature and developed a minor sub-specialty in the work of Saul Bellow. When I was an English professor in West Virginia, I worked every year with an Appalachian writers program that we sponsored. There are a lot of good comparable out there.

Over the last few months, though, I have become convinced that the closest parallel that we have to Mormon literature today is the burgeoning field of Muslim literature written in English and coming from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. There are several reasons for this. Continue Reading →

In Tents #74 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 3

Sometimes it can be useful to read things in a new form, format, or translation. For some reason my MP3 player treats anything after the first digit as a decimal, following the order 1, 10, 100, 101, 102, . . . 11, 110, 111, 112 . . . 2, 20, 21, und so weiter. So last year year I decided to listen to the Doctrine & Covenants in that order, and it was interesting to hear the early and late sections juxtaposed.

Later, when I got to the Tanakh I decided to listen in the Jewish order rather than the Christian. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim:

  • Torah (Instruction): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • Nevi’im (Prophets):
    • (Former) Joshua, Judges Samuel, Kings
    • (Latter) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
    • (The Twelve) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • Ketuvim (Writings):
    • (Poetical Books) Psalms, Proverbs, Job
    • (Five Rolls–Hamesh Megillot) Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
    • (Historical Books) Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

According to Wikipedia the order of the Ketuvim has never been quite set, but this is the most common. Harold Bloom says in Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine  that the Ketuvim ends with Chronicles because Chronicles ends with the rebuilding of the temple and the invitation to return to the temple. Christians changed the order, elevating Daniel to a major prophet and giving Malachi the last word, because Daniel was so important to Christian eschatology and Malachi prophesied about their Lord’s forerunner. Continue Reading →

Away Without Leave: The day I ran from my mission

By Sheldon Lawrence

The thing that kept me from snapping sooner was shame. I didn’t want to be “that” missionary–a delicate case requiring special handling, the homesick momma’s boy who couldn’t handle it. So I quietly endured the first two months of my mission to Santiago, Chile, without complaint, slogging through the muddy streets of the poorest neighborhoods, withstanding the jeers of children, and struggling to comprehend a new language. But the shame didn’t go away; it was a private shame between me and the Lord whom I was supposed to be serving.

In that two months a great chasm grew between what I was supposed to be feeling and what I was actually feeling.

images-2I was supposed to feel grateful to have been called to Chile because, we were told, Chile was a special place in the Lord’s vineyard, and we were special missionaries. This was the preparation ground for the Church’s future leaders. The field here was ripe and ready to harvest, and the numbers proved it. Santiago North, my mission, was the lowest baptizing mission with a mere 500-600 baptisms per month. The other Santiago missions baptized between 1000-1500 per month, and they taunted us by faxing their reports to our office. Continue Reading →

Association for Mormon Letters 2017 Conference Call for Papers–Extended Deadline

We’ve decided to extend the call for papers another two weeks to accommodate requests for more time to prepare proposals. Based on the quality of submissions we’ve received so far, this year’s conference already promises to be day of engaging and insightful presentations.

The new deadline is 17 February 2017.

Writing the Past:

Intersections of Literature and History in Mormon Letters

Utah Valley University

April 22, 2017

Mormons have long made recording and preserving their history a priority. On the day Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in 1830, he revealed that “there shall be a record kept” in the new church. Almost a year later, John Whitmer became the first person tasked with “writ[ing] and keep[ing] a regular history” of the Mormon people. Since then, Mormons have sought to preserve not only their institutional history, but their cultural and personal histories as well.

Mormon creative writers have likewise sought to engage the Mormon past. Among the earliest works of Mormon fiction, poetry, and drama were texts that retold and memorialized the epic story of the Mormon pioneers and their efforts to establish a foothold in the Intermountain West. In subsequent years, Mormon writers have continued to show interest in their history, producing texts that explore the history of the Latter-day Saint experience across the globe.

These works, while grounded in the events of the past, often offer insight into the present as well, creating multi-layered texts that give insight not only into Mormon understandings of history and memory, but also into the historical moment of the text itself.

For the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters Conference, we invite proposals for papers, panels, and readings that explore the intersections of literature and history in Mormon letters. We will also consider proposals on other subjects that fall within the boundaries of Mormon Letters.

Send proposals to scotthales80(at)gmail(dot)com by 17 February 2017. Proposals should be no more than 300 words and include the title of the presentation as well as audio-visual needs.

Glimpses: The Good in Bad Art

Guest post by Glen Nelson, Mormon Artists Group

As part of a project I’m working on, I’ve recently had the great pleasure of visiting with members of the Church in their homes and places of business. Without exception, these spaces have been graced by Mormon artists’ works. It’s fun to talk to these collectors and hear the stories behind the art that they clearly love. Often, the artists were members of the family or were dear friends. After having looked at these works daily for many years, these collectors have become the artists’ greatest (and sometimes only) advocates. Maybe it’s just been good luck, but I’ve seen some amazing works in homes, grand and humble.

Equally interesting to me are good art and bad art. Often, the good and the bad hang side by side. The good art could easily find its way into museum collections, if the children and grandchildren ever decide to part with it (which they probably won’t), and the bad (a harsh word but not a wholly inaccurate one) refers to works that were made by family members and friends, and although not accomplished, it is still as meaningful, maybe even more so to the collectors; it is every bit as treasured.

That’s how it is at my house. One of my favorite paintings is by my father. In retirement, my dad told me that he had always wanted to take up painting. I was surprised, and I thought he was joking. I couldn’t ever remember him talking about it before. As Christmas neared a few years before he passed away, I went over to the New York Art Students League, where many great Mormon painters trained in the era of Mahonri Young and Minerva Teichert, and I purchased some brushes, paints, and boards for him. I was calling his unnamedbluff.

In 1989, he surprised me again by presenting me with a painting that he made for me as a gift. By most standards of art, it’s not good. He loved the mountains, and he painted a scene where he had spent much of his life as a sheepherder, logger, and finally a philanthropist and conservationist. The perspective of the painting is sort of wacky. The highway looks like a grey bike path. It’s not really very inventive, either. But…it does its job to remind me of the beauty of Cedar Mountain, and it certainly prompts me to love both the place and the painter. That’s all it asks. Continue Reading →

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