2017 AML Awards Finalists #6: Anthology, Criticism, and Poetry

We are pleased to announce the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters Awards finalists in Anthology, Criticism, and Poetry. The final awards will be announced and presented at the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference, held at Brigham Young University on March 23. The finalists and winners are chosen by juries of authors, academics, and critics. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the works and author biographies, adapted from the author and publisher websites (if anyone wants to fix part, please write it in the reply, and I will fix it). These are the last finalists, although we will also announce the names of those to be honored with the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters, and the AML Lifetime Achievement Award before the conference.


This is a new category, which may or may not appear again in the future. In the past there have been short story collections which have been recognized for awards. 2017 saw three significant anthologies published, one a collection of essays, one a collection of short stories, and one a mixture of both (as well as poetry, art and drama). So the Short Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction judges have agreed to create this ad-hoc category.

Stephen Carter, editor. Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death. Signature. 

In Mormonism we are sometimes seemingly casual about death: it’s a veil or a mission call to the spirit world. But our actual encounters with the reality of death inevitably change us in ways that are difficult to articulate. In this collection, Mormon writers wrestle with mortality and its aftermath. A family sings a hesitant rendition of Happy Birthday to a grief-stricken mother who buried who toddler just a few hours earlier; an agnostic son decides he’s Mormon enough to arrange a funeral for his believing father. Some essays use death as a means to understand faith. One author imagines a world where Heavenly Mother visits her children in the form of their female ancestors, appearing to her descendants in times of grief or pain. Others address practicalities: how do you protect your children from death while still allowing them to experience the world; how do you get through one more nausea-ridden day of cancer treatment? Still others delve into death’s questions: does the overwhelming suffering that occurs in the animal kingdom have a function in the “plan of happiness”? Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, always thought-provoking, these personal essays, poems, and stories may never be heard at a Mormon funeral. But they probably should be. Continue Reading →

in verse # 85:  Does Christmas Measure Up?

In this post, I will examine two of R. A. Christmas’s poems that are not in Saviors on Mt. Disneyland, looking to see whether, and if, and how, he measures up to his own “Bunk-House Poetics”.  The first is from the first edition of Hungry Sunday (1996, not the one pictured, which is the second edition, of 2006).


for RHC

Now I lay me down by the freeway,
in a duplex in Cedar City, Utah;

and twenty yards west of these bricks
rides the asphalt, as high as my roof,

where the line-haul drivers trade leads
all night in their big sets of doubles.

I open my window and listen
for morning on grandfather’s freight dock:

hand-trucks thumping past my head;
unloading those box-cars of sno-jel;

Grandpa pissed off at everybody;
my father hunched over the bill-writer; Continue Reading →

in verse # 84: Post-Christmas post

The observant among you have noticed that Bob Christmas hyphenated Bunk-House in the titles of his “Bunk-House Poetics,” which indicates that the hyphenated phrase is an adjectival nominal modifying a noun, in this case Poetics.  Given how careful Christmas is with his phrasing and punctuation, if a hyphen were left out, the phrase could mean “House Poetics that are Bunk” — no!  I’d better debunk that one right now.  Christmas punctuates better than that.

If this were a post-structuralist blog, I could accuse Christmas of being an old white guy, but again, in his poems, he has taken care of that.  He has very carefully written that tough truth throughout Saviors on Mt. Disneyland, without conceding, though, that his identity makes him ineligible for poetic stature.  Now, however, in “Bunk-House Poetics 8,” he starts down a different slippery slope:  quantity versus quality.

Bunk-House Poetics 8

………..Write little; do it well.
………..Your knowledge will be such,
………..At last, as to dispel
………..What moves you overmuch.

………..………..Yvor Winters, “To a Young Poet”

All poets (including this one) tend to overwrite.
We’re very verbal, excitable—we have so
much to say, about our own lives especially;
and we’re just dying to share it with others.
Sadly, this is the downfall of most poets.

Do your readers a favor and write one-page
poems eighty—no, ninety—percent of the time.
Avoid writing multi-page poems that read
like somebody’s confessional diary (ouch!).
Keep your lines and your poems short.

You’re not Chaucer, or Pope; you’re writing
the English Lyric, a form that enabled Hardy,
Shakespeare—many others—to achieve near
perfection in verse.  And believe it or not,
Continue Reading →

in verse # 83 : Christmas in the Bunk-House

To reprise:  “Bunk-House Poetics 1” urged poets to avoid assuming that their audience should “feel” some “feeling.”  Number 2 encouraged poets to embrace “‘the plain-style,’ everyday words, in striking order.”  And number 3 reminded us that the plain-style is written in sentences, “distinguished by syntax.”  Today, I present the next four poems in the series for your delight, instruction and edification.  Essentially, they constitute a defense of free verse in English.  Here’s the first:

Bunk-House Poetics 4

……..I have eaten
…….the plums
…….that were in
…….the icebox
…….…….William Carlos Williams, “This Is Just To Say”

It’s tempting—and reassuring—to think that
iambic meter and true rhyme are the norm of
English verse (because so many great poems
have been written this way for centuries).
Sorry, “free-verse” is here to stay.

Writing poems outside the limits of rhyme and
meter is not, as Robert Frost famously said,
“like playing tennis without a net.”  It’s
simply a “convention,” another way of
using language for artistic purposes.

Free-verse, so to speak, has now been written
for so long—and so well—that there’s no
turning back. Poems today can be shaped like Continue Reading →

in verse # 82 : Christmas poetics

Consider this poem:

Bunk-House Poetics 1

……… A poem should not mean/ But be.
……..……..….. Archibald MacLeish

The way we read our fellow-poets is likely
how they’re reading us—meaning that all
too often we’re writing the same poem,
trying to get readers to experience some
“feeling” we think they should all be “feeling.”

Why not get some emotional distance by
writing in the third-person?  Why don’t we
tell our stories, or make statements about
interesting subjects, without constantly
repeating “I,” “I,” as we go along?

Poets and students of verse are generally
not very interested in a poet’s “feelings”;
but like all readers they want to experience
strong feelings of their own—based on what
poets have to say and how they say it.

What poets say must be about things more
important than mere sentiment.  The way
to profound emotion runs through a mind
enchanted by ideas and matchless artistry.
Poems must beautifully mean—to be.[i]

Continue Reading →

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 →

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