Arnold, “Poems from the Garage” (Reviewed by Marilyn Brown)

Title: Poems from the Garage
Author: Marilyn Arnold
Publisher: Mayhaven Publishing, Inc., IL
Genre: Poems and essays
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 159
Price: $22.95

Reviewed by Marilyn Brown for the Association for Mormon Letters

There are some authors who inspire awe. Marilyn Arnold is one of them.

What has she done now? Besides leaving her footprints as a dazzling pink and blue cover girl (at last, in her eighties!) she has scrabbled around in the dozens of boxes she’s moved over the years from place to place and come up with a new literary form! It is essentially a collection containing illuminating snippets of biography linked to past poems she has rescued from the detritus of her garage! (I’m tempted to give this new literary form a serious designation—something like garageography? poemography [too close to pornography?], but maybe . . . maybe . . . poetography? We’re open for other suggestions! Anyone?)

As we rifle through the slips of yellow paper and old sacrament meeting programs she scribbled on during some long boring talks, we are not only relieved she didn’t throw these scraps in the waste basket, we are stunned by the beauty! Not only in the poetry, but by the life that created it!

If anyone is going through one of those tempting Mormon intellectual apostasies, Marilyn Arnold’s work is a balm that heals. An icon of Utah’s culture, she loves the Book of Mormon. She knows it’s true. Her intelligent analyses ring with authenticity. These highly intellectual and sensitive essays about the Book of Mormon alone place her as a bright light in our history. But there is much more—her status as an administrator with Dallin Oaks at BYU, her consistent service in the Church, her exquisite hymns, memoirs, novels, and outstanding academic studies—especially her contribution to the Willa Cather lexicon. As an outstanding and fearless advocate of our “Primitive West,” she has raised the bar for ways in which our “Mormon Literature” may excel.

A majority of her poems express perspectives gleaned at the tops of mountains. A hiker, she has lived constantly climbing. She has overseen the broad world as it might look to those spirits that hover over us. (Our God and Savior among them?)

Something has to happen in a human heart that continually absorbs this proximity to heaven. Marilyn Arnold can count thousands of these moments, and they resonate in her powerful language complete with alliteration: “. . . the singing wind—the broad exhilarating circle of the summit.” The same celebratory voice rings in “Come Spring,” which, after describing a process fraught with violence, breaks through to our seasonal resurrection:

The greening,

The new-living,

The just-smelling time

Is sliding in,

Wrinkling the past

In its shove.

The spread of it

Tears the heart loose

And clogs it in the throat.

The clutch of it Wrenches the tremolo

From a meadowlark

And jams it in the ears.

The unstoppable gush of it

Batters through stomach walls.




I rejoice in lyrical phrases that support her hiking narratives: from “Mt. Nebo,” “Shafts of rain smoke the south horizon,” “stunned by the magic,” And in the midst of poetry, she becomes accessible to the reader with a plebian incident or question. “The trail is there. I choose not to be afraid today.” In “Echoes,” we identify when she asks “Remember your conversation with a wall?” In one case she remembers the first time she tried the same climb:

That was the day the

bee nosed up the back of my shorts

as I bent over a sticky bush

and stung me twice before I could

dance him out.

Her sense of humor is infectious. Forgetting her neighbor Pat’s birthday on February 1st, she writes:

I might well have known you’d be born on the first—

And knowing my memory is one of the worst,

You exercised all of your cunning and stealth,

Refusing the second, the tenth, or the twelfth.


But one thing I mention as shame turns to fear;

Will this same sad event be repeated next year?”

One that should be set to music is the excellent, rhythmic “Ballad of Rita Lost.” In her “Oak Creek Canyon” I am impressed with the “red ball of setting sun” and the final words:

And again, as on countless

other days in countless other places,

God spoke. And again, in

the world’s rugged wilderness, I recognized

his voice and was glad.”

Finally, I was especially impressed with the eulogies she wrote for the deaths of her acquaintances. (And I believe she will have many more of these to write, for she makes friends easily, and she is going to outlast us all!) These pieces reveal the depth of her compassion. One of my favorites was offered to a mother whose boy committed suicide: “Who are you, son of my friend? Source of endless tears, object of endless love . . .”

The problem with sharing Marilyn’s work is that I want to include everything.  And I can’t. At least I hope I’ve whetted some appetites! The book is available for purchase, thanks to Doris Replogle Wenzel, Arnold’s astute publisher in Mahomet, Illinois, who is bright enough to recognize extraordinary talent, and who has been willing to publish many of her works. Marilyn was the winner of Mayhaven’s  Award for Fiction with her road trip novel, Minding Mama, in which the main character (and it might well have been Marilyn herself) drove west hauling her deceased mother who, (prim and proper under a hat), outlasts the bumpy journey slouched against the passenger seat of the car.

When I immerse myself in Marilyn’s poetry, I revel in her spirit. I feel light and free from the restraints of daily politics and the threats of war. Marilyn’s clean living and commitment to the gospel shines through her carefully crafted poems and works. She is a stalwart, and we are refreshed by her strength and the power of her exemplary life.

in verse #76 : Why I did not post in April

I did not contribute a post from “in verse” to Dawning of a Brighter Day for two simple reasons, and one complex one.  The first simple reason is that I had spinal fusion surgery on the 29th of March to correct pinched nerves.  I was therefore in the hospital, cut off from my usual sources of information, when Jonathan Langford died on the 31st of March.  I had posted late in March, on Monday the 26th (although the entry is date-stamped Tuesday the 27th at 01:37) because that entry was a hard one for me to finish.

I was not released from the hospital until April 6th, due to complications.  And I couldn’t really sit at the computer for a week or so after, and then only in short spurts.  So I didn’t know that Jonathan Langford had died until I noticed that I had received no reminder from him in April to post punctually on the 27th.  I liked receiving his kind reminders and composing clever replies, such as “I’m on it like white on snow,” to which his replies, when he made them, were never less than pleasant, no matter how much scorn I deserved.

Continue Reading →

Susan Elizabeth Howe: AML Lifetime Achievement Award

The Association for Mormon Letters presented Susan Elizabeth Howe with the AML Lifetime Achievement Award at the AML Conference on April 22, held at Utah Valley University. Susan attended both the award ceremony and a panel discussion about his career after the award ceremony.


It is hard to imagine anyone more deserving of AML’s Lifetime Achievement Award than Susan Elizabeth Howe.  After teaching for nearly 30 years, Susan recently retired from BYU.  Thus 2017 affords an excellent occasion for looking back and celebrating her many contributions: as an editor and literary citizen, as a university professor, and as an award-winning writer. Continue Reading →

in verse #75 : free verse, dear love

Turns out Walt Whitman had a greater influence on fin de siècle American poetics than I had supposed.  It was his plain diction that led Pound to largely forgo archaicisms,[i] and led to the plainspeak of the Cantos, insofar as that exists.  Before going into that, however, let me allow John Tytell to place Pound in the context of this time:

As a young man Pound frequently referred to himself as a genius and at this time saw himself as connected to a great chain of poets whose lessons he could master and who could speak through him in his poems.  Much of Pound’s most successful early work was imitative — he had the best ear among poets of his generation and could mimic to perfection.  Of course he had his own taste and his struggle during the early years of his apprenticeship, from 1908 through 1912, was to forge his own voice.[ii]

This period of apprenticeship, as Tytell dates it, stretches from Pound’s publication of A Lume Spento and A Quinzaine for this Yule in 1908 through The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti and Ripostes in 1912, or about 245 pages of verse.[iii]    We saw the young Pound expressing the feelings Tytell reports in the poem “Histrion” in my December post.  I bring it back here for its value in illustrating Pound’s self-absorption:

No man hath dared to write this thing as yet, Continue Reading →

2016 AML Awards Finalists #2: Poetry and Short Fiction

We are excited to announce the finalists in the Poetry, Short Fiction Collection, and Short Fiction categories of the 2016 Association for Mormon Letters awards. Middle Grade Novel and Young Adult Novel were announced previously, and we will be announcing the other category finalists over the coming week. Those categories include Comics, Creative Non-Fiction, Drama, Film, Novel, Picture Book, Religious Non-Fiction, and Video Series. The final awards will be announced and presented at the AML Conference at Utah Valley University on April 22. The finalists and winners are chosen by juries of authors and critics. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, from the author and publisher websites, as well as a poem from each of the poetry collections.


Neil Aitken. Leviathan. Hyacinth Girl Press.

Babbage Attempting to Solve for the Unknown

Let x be the rain that falls in a year.
Let it be what overflows from the cisterns and wells,

from whatever vessels are set upon the walls of the city
or buried in its depths.

Even this water must have someplace to go.
All year it grows line after line parallel to the earth,

to the lip of crumbled brick, to the dark felt of shadow
that runs the length of a fallow field.

Let it be the solution to the bodies of grey-feathered birds,
to the cats thrown at you by children, to the withering snap Continue Reading →

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 →

in verse #73 : New poets for a new year

Nothing new about this year, really — nothing new about the poets under consideration, unless you don’t know them.  What’s new in Orem, on the other hand, is also old:  car washes.  It used to be there was only one car wash with a pull-you-thru tunnel:  SuperSonic Car Wash.  Last spring, construction started up in an empty lot in front of Costco on 800 South; Valerie and I speculated on what it could possibly be — a bank branch, a McDonalds, a drug store.  So we were suitably surprised when the sign went up:  Quick Quack Car Wash.  Just about the same time, construction began on the empty lot on Center Street opposite the post office.  It was, proudly announced some big signs, a Wiggy Wash, “North America’s Largest Car Wash,” come to rescue Oremites from sedate, nay stolid, car washes.

SuperSonic.  Quick Quack.  Wiggy Wash.  No, alliteration is not making a comeback— it never left.  But it’s been cheapened by this kind of usage.  And yet, people respond, as they always do, to beauty, to poetry — with hunger.  We recognize this response, but often make the mistake of considering it the poet’s intent.  Amy Lowell had something to say about that, and it is good to be reminded, occasionally, of what she said:


Amy Lowell as a debutante, age 16.

No one expects a man to make a chair without first learning how, but there is a popular impression that the poet is born, not made, and that his verses burst from his overflowing heart of themselves. As a matter of fact, the poet must learn his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the cabinet-maker.
His heart may overflow with high thoughts and sparkling fancies, but if he cannot convey them to his reader by means of written word he has no claim to be considered a poet. A workman may be pardoned, therefore, for spending a few moments to explain and describe the technique of his trade. A work of beauty which cannot stand an intimate examination is a poor and jerry-built thing. Continue Reading →

in verse #72 : Christmas poems

None of the modernist poets I am discussing at present produced what might be called traditional Christmas poems.  My attention is drawn to them by the advent of Christmas on this, the longest night of the year.[i]  So once again I interrupt myself in the stately progress of this blog to be diverted by gems glittering in the garden.  But, as I said, these select modernists did not produce traditional Christmas poems.[ii]

Robert Frost came closest, in writing a poem a year to send out for Christmas.  But even that idea was imposed on him Continue Reading →

in verse #71: Giving Thanks for a trans-American Poet

In my last post I focused on three emblematic moderns:  Frost, Pound and Eliot.  In a prior post I mentioned that Whitman and Dickinson would not begin to influence poets until a generation further on.  I was wrong.  Whitman appears to have found an exponent of his long line in a contrary American poet, one who, though born in the east, unlike Amy Lowell and Hilda Doolittle and Sara Teasdale did not stay there, and unlike Frost, Pound and, Eliot, moved from east to west:  I refer, of course, to Continue Reading →

in verse #70 : image, rhythm, voice

I will now take up the question of how three Western American writers — Pound, Eliot and Frost — brought in a new poetry for the new century.  I will examine the oddities and contradictions in their lives and in their poetry.  So when I make broad, sweeping generalizations like that in the first sentence, or in the next, I beg you to hear me out.  I will examine with each poet that quality most renewed in their verse:  with Robert Frost, the matter of voice in poetry; with T. S. Eliot, the matter of rhythm; with Ezra Pound, the matter of the image with which he is irrevocably associated.  This should take a couple of years.

Of the three, Pound, the most radical, spent the least time in the west.[i]  He was born in Hailey, Idaho, on 30 October 1885, where his father worked in the land office, and taken away on a train in a blizzard by a mother with pretensions of gentility 18 months later, to New York.  The family eventually settled in Philadelphia, where Homer, the father, worked in the U.S. Mint, having learned assaying in Hailey.  All of Pound’s formal education occurred in the East.  Eventually he moved abroad, first to Venice and then to London.

Frost was born in Continue Reading →

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