Merrijane Rice: Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

AML’s Poetry Week continues! Merrijane Rice has participated in most of the Mormon Lit Blitz contests.  In October she published her first poetry collection, Messages on the Water. “A collection of poems written from one LDS woman’s perspective about her family, faith, nature, and the little gifts and insights that make life an experience of continual surprise, learning, and love.” 

Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

Well, not literally nobody. I know many fine people who read poetry. I read poetry. But we are living in an age when all sorts of media compete for our attention, and it’s more common for people to fill their need for “poetry” by listening to pop songs with catchy hooks and driving beats. To actually read poetry is more like delving into scripture: it’s rewarding to the persistent, but often time-consuming and difficult. Intimidating.

So why do I write poetry? You’ll laugh, but I mainly chose this art form because it’s short. When I was a girl, I loved all kinds of writing and imagined that one day I would be a famous author of fantasy novels, or sci-fi screen plays, or “very important” novels. It’s easy to expect such things will be a matter of course when you’re too young to worry about what concessions you’ll have to make as you pursue other worthy goals.

When I was 23, I chose to get married and become a mother. And while a mother can indeed become a writer of novels and screen plays, it is very, very hard work. For me, poetry seemed the better option because it’s relatively quick to create. You don’t have to plot out story beats or tie narrative threads together. You don’t have to craft tightly packaged resolutions. You can squeeze a poem in between baking bread and folding laundry. You can compose a stanza while bathing a child or taking your morning walk.

So that’s what I did, writing poetry a scrap at a time when I had time. Sometimes I submitted pieces for publication or entered contests. Sometimes I went to critique sessions or workshops. But mostly I just read and thought and incubated and wrote.

Twenty-three years later, my children are mostly grown and I have more time on my hands. The advent of social media has introduced me to many wonderful writer friends, especially in the Mormon literature genre. It was because of their encouragement that I finally decided to self-publish the best of my poems in a little book titled, Messages on the Water—my life’s work compiled in 80 pages.

At a recent ward dinner, one of the young mothers in my neighborhood greeted me, bouncing her youngest daughter on her hip. She had purchased a copy of my book the week before and wanted to tell me how much she was enjoying it. She hadn’t finished it yet, she explained, because she could only read little bits at a time in between making dinner, doing laundry, caring for her children … I smiled as I realized she was consuming my poems exactly the same way I had written them—one precious free moment at a time.

Perhaps not everybody reads poetry nowadays, but somebody does—lots of somebodies who need compact, distilled beauty to buoy them as they pursue their own worthy goals. That is why I wrote this book. These poems are for you.

Crossing the Waters
In me,
you see a wall—
a basalt cliff unscathed
by churning surf that tosses,
hurls you toward hull breach
against unyielding stone.

But you and I
are one vessel sealed tight,
driven by God’s furious wind—

When mountain waves roll you,
I plunge.
When currents wrench your heart,
my timbers groan.
I shudder at each tearing swell
because I know your splintering
sinks us both.

Please,
keep close
through these dark waters.
Believe with me
in a Lord who listens,
who reaches forth to touch
what we hold deep inside
to make it shine.

Sonnet for an Infant
It’s long past midnight now—yet still I walk
the floor and sing these fruitless lullabies
to one small son who, heedless of the clock,
fills up the night with loud, persistent cries.

The tiny tyrant trumpets his desires
in oratories eloquent and deep.
It seems a hundred years before he tires
and lets me coax his weary soul to sleep.

What makes him so secure in his demands
that boldly he calls out into the night
for sustenance and reassuring hands,
well knowing I’ll respond without a fight?

Perhaps he knows I’ll do the things I do
because my love is blind at half-past two.

Praise for Messages on the Water

Scott Hales: “This collection of poems by a fantastic writer and Mormon Lit Blitz winner is not getting nearly enough attention as it should. If you need a Christmas gift for someone who appreciates quality Mormon poetry, consider Merrijane Rice’s Messages on the Water. Put differently, if you liked James Goldberg’s Let Me Drown with Moses or Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk or anything in Tyler Chadwick’s Fire in the Pasture anthology, you would like this book.”

Braden Bell: “Absolutely perfect. This spare, elegant volume absolutely sings. Rice is able to say so much with so few words. I am amazed that the deep images and feelings she can evoke in such a few carefully chosen words. These poems are modest in the sense that they are not showy or overly-clever. It made me think a little of a Japanese painting where the true mastery is found in being able to portray the essence of a thing in a a few carefully chosen strokes. For me, the sort of story, essay, or poem I like is where someone struggles honestly to find meaning or faith or to push through a trial and is then able to find peace or at least understanding. These poems struck me as being very familiar with the times when we want to believe or want to connect, but struggle. They often seem to portray the moment where a person is in their most difficult hour, the struggle that comes before resolution finally arrives. Rice balances this dynamic so beautifully, going full respect to the dark nights of the soul, but also clinging to hope that the clouds eventually part and sunshine comes, even if it is a bit pale. The poems are inspired by religious texts, but struck me more as being spiritual than religious. Certainly they can be enjoyed by religious people, but I believe there is great food for anyone’s soul, including those who are more spiritual than religious. All said, this is a masterful work by a skillful artist and technician, someone who is obviously well-acquainted with human struggle, yet who has learned to watch for the moments when grace and reassurance come.”

Merrijane Rice grew up in Bountiful, Utah. She received a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University and later served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington, D.C. She currently works as a technical writer and editor for DMBA. When she is not writing, she enjoys singing, playing the piano, and watching British murder mysteries. She and her husband Jason are raising four sons in Kaysville, Utah. To contact Merrijane, please send an email to merrijane.rice@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation