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. Continue Reading →

Heather Harris Bergevin: Fairy Tales and Lawless Women

Is is poetry week at AML! Heather Harris Bergevin’s poetry collection Lawless Women will be published later this month by BCC Press. BCC Press says, “In these poems, we encounter some of the “bad girls” from literature and history: Medea, Helen of Troy, Vashti, Gothel (Rapunzel’s witchy mom), Snow White’s stepmother, and la belle dame sans merci. But we get to hear their side of the story, all processed through the marvelous mind of one of Mormonism’s most unique and engaging poetic talents.” In a guest post, Heather describes her interest in and difficulty with fairy tales. 

When I was ten, our library owned a set of gorgeous books, all colors of the rainbow with gold detailed, beautifully illustrated covers. Irresistible, Andrew Lang’s books of fairy tales became foundational to my library obsession. The passing of stories over campfires, at hearthsides, generations upon generations ago, transcribed and written for my enjoyment–this was a real magic. Hero’s Quests and the Golden Three became indelibly part of my psyche, even though, as we all know, many of the old tales simply don’t make a lot of sense. Rarely do you get a new wife from peeling an orange and her appearing from the pips. Generally you don’t get to be a famous musician, even if you are a cat standing on the back of a dog, standing on the back of a donkey. I chalked the parts of the tales which don’t make sense (why can’t Cinderella’s Prince recognize her? I mean, really?) to magic and things lost to multiple retellings. I graduated to many other authors, and many other stories, but the fairy tales linger. Continue Reading →

Robert A. Rees: How I Came to Poetry

Robert A. Rees, one of the doyens of Mormon Studies, will have his first poetry collection, Waiting for Morning, published by Zarahemla Books later this month. He provided us with this essay about his history with poetry. 

How I Came to Poetry

by Robert A. Rees

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men [and women] die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
–William Carlos William

All that can be done with words is soon told.
–Robert Frost

I came to poetry late, or rather it came to me that way. There was no poetry, literal or figurative, in my childhood or my adolescence. My home and culture were what H.L. Menken would have called “The Sahara of the Bozart.” There was no possibility I would have gotten Mencken’s pun until I minored in French at BYU. The beaux arts, which ultimately came to define both my personal and professional life as well as have a profound influence on my spiritual life, would more likely to have been mocked in my home, if responded to at all. Until I went to college. I don’t remember having read a single poem, including in my high school English classes, although it is more than probable that I did. Continue Reading →

in verse #81 : bad motorcycle

In my last post, I examined uses by the pre-eminent modernist male poets, Pound, Eliot and Frost, of the traditional form of the ballad.  I have been examining that use by their female counterparts since I posted, but in the course of that examination, especially when distracted by the needles and catheters of various medical examinations, it has occurred to me that another frequent distraction I suffer is related to the matter of traditional forms — in this case the form of early rock’n’roll pop songs from my wasted youth.  They are, after all, related to several folk forms like the ballad.

I have been haunted for years, since I was about 13, around 1958, by a fragment of a pop song, the chorus in fact, that goes “He was a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi, a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi …” [fading to silence, where it belongs].  Such things get stuck in my head, in my life, in my memory.  Well, recently our eldest grand-daughter, now a freshman at Utah State, was visiting us and her Clark cousins in Utah County — a novelty, because home is Ithaca, New York — and said that you could find anything on Spotify, which she has on her phone.  So I challenged her, saying “Yeah, well I’ll bet you can’t find ‘Screw You, We’re From Texas!’ on that thing[i].”  Sure enough, a few quick pokes of the finger and there it was.  So then I tried to think of the most obscure song that rattles around in my head, and up popped “Bad Motorcycle.”  So of course I said “Well, I once heard a song called ‘Bad Motorcycle.’  I’d be surprised if that’s on there, because no one else I have ever talked to has heard it.”

The Story Sisters http://doo-wop.blogg.org/storey-sisters-c26504102

So she poked in “Bad Motorcycle” and back came a list of five songs with that title, by the Storey Sisters (off three different albums), Tracey Ullman, and “Angelos, Barbara Green” off an album “Boys Can Be Mean.”  “Play that bottom one” I said, and it started off promisingly with motorcycle noise before Green started in with “Oh, run run run, Oh, run run run.”  “Nah” I said, “That’s not it.  Try this one” and pointed to Tracey Ullman.  The song had a fifteen-second rock’n’roll intro, then Ullman began singing “I was on my way to school” — “Not it” I said; “Try this one” and she pressed play on the Storey Sisters.   I heard this: 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 →

in verse # 79 : Swift and Pound

In 1732 Jonathan Swift published “The Lady’s Dressing Room,[i]” a poem commenting on contemporary vanity.  At 144 lines, it might not seem too long to enter into this post, and I might be willing to enter it in its entirety, but Swift, as anyone who has read Travels into several remote nations of the world, in four parts / by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, will know, Swift was, not to put too fine a point on the matter, a satirist.  That work was first issued in a bowdlerized edition in 1726, and then in an amended edition in 1735[ii], after “The Lady’s Dressing Room” was published.

But Swift was a satirist, not a satyrist, although a lady named Satira appears in the poem.  It has been controversial from the first, being considered sexist.  But at least one of the problems with that view is that the satire is more anti-humanist, which allows Swift to vent in 144 lines on every human vice, folly and defect.  He was, after all, a clergyman, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  But before that, he was born, in Dublin, to Anglo-Irish parents who had come to Dublin to seek their fortune.  His father died seven months before he was born,[iii] and his mother left him in Dublin and returned to England.  I’m sure that had nothing to do with “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” in which a swain, one Strephon, steals into his lady Celia’s dressing room and finds all in disarray and gross display.  After 114 highly descriptive lines laying all that out, Strephon finds himself in a bind.  As Swift has it:

Thus finishing his grand Survey, [115]
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia  Continue Reading →

Mormon missionary in Sweden inspires Jens Lekman to begin his “mission”

Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman opens up his latest album, with the song “To Know Your Mission”.

The song is based on an experience that Lekman had when he was approached by a Mormon missionary in Gothenburg when he was 16 years old. The first part of the song is told through the missionary’s eyes. Lekman has commented in an “Under the Radar” interview, “I was fascinated that he had this mission; he had this purpose already in life. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and I was this super confused 16-year-old. I think it’s not until right at this very moment [when the song was written] that I figured out where things were going and what my mission is.”

The article continues, “By the end of the song, Lekman has concluded that his mission is to be a musician who tells his and his fans’ stories through his songs. (Or, in the words of the song, ‘In a world of mouths, to be an ear.'”

The song opens the alternative dance-pop album titled Life Will See You Now. It’s a good song, take a listen.

Here is the song as it appears on the album.

Here is a live acoustic version of the song. Continue Reading →

An interview with Matthew James Babcock, AML Poetry Award winner

Matthew James Babcock is the recipient of the 2016 AML Poetry Award for his collection Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press, 2016). He is interviewed here by Dayna Patterson, who runs the Psaltery & Lyre poetry website.  

DP: Can you talk about the title of your collection, Strange Terrain, and how you arrived at it?

MJB: The title comes from a line in the poem “Five Laotians.” It has no special meaning, but I liked the way the words went together, and I liked the way they described the collection as a whole: a ramble through some strange psychological, emotional, visual, and textual switchbacks and sloughs. The book is a bit form, a bit formless, more unformed than formed, and so given its harum-scarum approach to a kind of evolutionary, organic poetics, I thought I’d call it that. It’s a weird book, in the same way some landscapes in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are weirdly beautiful, and don’t seem to go together until you stare long enough to see they do.

DP: Why the almost restless experimentation with form? What drives you to attempt new forms in a poetic age that largely eschews formalism?

MJB: One luxury of being a writer of no consequence is that you can ignore editorial bias.  You can eschew those who choose to eschew you. Such stylistic stoicism, however, has its cost, as it’s taken me a quarter century to bring out this book. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know two things: 1. that it would take twenty-five years to write this book, and 2. that I was writing a book. In my twenties, I think, I was just sounding off my pop-gun of poems, trying prose, trying forms, trying anything to figure out what kind of writer I was. In my late forties now, I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. That “restless life unchanged” in “Cherry Tomatoes: A Rhapsody” is most certainly mine. Continue Reading →

in verse #78 : Pound, and Moore

I was reading The Alfred Smurthwaite family, a family history self-written and self-published, and came across this gem of youthful enthusiasm:

Rooty toot toot, Rooty toot toot
We are the boys from the Institute!
We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
And we don’t go with the girls that do
(Whispered in a quasi-pious voice)[i]

That last line appears to be a characterization of the style of the singer, rather than a fifth line of the song.  I’m not sure what a “quasi-pious voice” is, whether it means a jocular self-mocking voice, or a voice halfway between the pious and the profane.  But my interest in this song is the rhythm of the first line, and its contrast with another poem.  The rhythm is militant, not suppliant (and there was no indication of what kind of institute was meant, whether military or religious).  It matches the rhythm of the third and fourth lines of the following ditty:

Rented a tent, a tent, a tent;
Rented a tent, a tent, a tent.
Rented a tent!
Rented a tent!
Rented a, rented a tent.
*****—  Snare Drum on Mars[ii]

The attribution is part of the savage jocularity of the source, Continue Reading →

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 →

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