In Tents #76 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives

The Friday before I post I usually get a note from Jonathan Langford: “You’re up for Tuesday.” Instead, Friday after work I opened up my email and saw a whole bunch of letters with the ominous subject line “Jonathan Langford.” My phone shows the first few words of each letter below the subject line, so I saw the word heartbroken in Margaret Young’s letter, which confirmed the omen. (I wondered if anyone had told my brother Dennis, then found out from my sister that Dennis was in the hospital after back surgery.) So I’ve been thinking about Jonathan off and on all weekend. On the bus Monday morning I realized I’ve probably also been waiting for someone to say, “April Fools.”

This column was a gift from Jonathan. Continue Reading →

In Tents #75 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 4

Birth is a universal experience. All living things have received or given birth, or planted seed, or witnessed birth, or helped. So if you want to write about a birth what details will you include, besides things like name, height, weight, date and time? What details will make this birth worth reading about?

To My Blossom‑Headed Boy

Andrew Jeremy née Clark
Born December 22, 1984, 9:16 a.m.
7 lbs 9 1/2 oz  20 1/4″

“One deft stroke and the head appeared,” I’d written of your birth.
“How’s that?”  I asked her.
“It’s three a.m.,” she said,
“And it’s not true; I had to push like hell
before it came.”
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 →

In Tents 70 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part X

41htbpmoillThe Title caught my eye, “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in The Book of Mormon.” Not unusual, my eye was scanning the table of contents to catch something of interest, and I’m open to any poetic diction that would make my poetry less paltry. (Praise be to the Orem library for stocking its sales shelves with interesting titles like Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4:2 (1995)) I read enough of the article to get the general concept and learn that word pairs are a common feature in Hebrew poetry. A few weeks later we were visiting my wife’s sister in northern Idaho and I noticed a framed psalm on the wall in her son’s furniture store. There’s a word pair, there’s one, there’s one.

I’d seen and heard word pairs before, particularly in the Psalms and Isaiah, but didn’t have a name for them, as I did for situations where the first and fourth lines rhyme and so do the second and third. It’s so common that we’ve schematized it as ABBA. Once I had a schema for parallel word pairs I could see how common they are and notice how they often appear in sets of two or three.

Consider the beginning of Psalm 106 Continue Reading →

in verse #69 : Recapitulation, 19th Century

I ended my last post with this sentence:  “I will next take up the question of how three Western writers — Pound, Eliot and Frost — brought in a new poetry for the new century.”  I’m not quite ready to do that.  Those who have read this blog patiently, hoping for new insights every time, may be disappointed — or may be elated.  You may view this post, not as a recapitulation, but as a capitulation to the necessity of cleaning up a house where contractors have been reconstructing our kitchen whilst we traipsed out-of-reach through British Columbia (because our phones don’t work in Canada), and lolled in a small cabin on Gabriola Island in the Salish Sea, me reading Leonard Arrington and the writing of Mormon History[i], followed by Malcolm Lowry’s last novel, October ferry to Gabriola[ii], which I had brought along knowing we would be staying on Gabriola, and which provides a remarkable portrait of his home in Dollarton, north of Vancouver, in chapter 11, “Eridanus” — and Valerie desperate for new reading matter because none of my books interested her, until she started reading Leonard Arrington, etc.

But I wanted to note something some of you may have not noted: Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—12

Spirit and Art: Orson Whitney

orson-f-whitney

Orson F. Whitney

**I have called this series “Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite” for two reasons. One is that I see the experiences of seeking and knowing a relationship with, communicating with, being transformed by, interpreting life in the light of knowledge obtained from, endeavoring with varying degrees of success to live in, the light of the Infinite (though we Latter-day Saints usually don’t call it that; we call it “God” or the “Spirit”) as being, in the view I have presented here, the defining “matter” of the Restorationist writer. The other reason is that the “quest for the Infinite” is a key point of contact for purposes of comparison and contrast of Restoration writers and writers of the world, and for exploring historical relationships between them. That is by way of reminding my readers where I have come from, why I am here, and where I am going with this series. In regard to that first reason, I have commented on, by way of section 93, aspects of the poetic practice of Joseph Smith. I want to say something in this and the three subsequent installments about the theories of Orson F. Whitney, Merrill Bradshaw, and Clinton F. Larson, and somewhat about Clinton Larson’s praxis, because I hope their ideas will remain alive in the Restorationist literary conversation.  Now, then….
**The idea that the Holy Ghost will have something to do with whatever is distinctive or characteristic of Restorationist art was, so far as I know, first stated outright by Orson F. Whitney, Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—11

My Poems, Part 3

A turning point in my development as a writer was the composing of this:

LIKE A DEER HE COMES TO ME
Take, eat: this is my body
—Mark 14:22
Like a deer he comes to me,
parting the ferns,
like a deer with bright antlers.
I chase him across meadows,
beside streams I pursue him,
and he does not weary;
but in the thicket he surprises me,
he lets my arrow pierce him.
He gives me of his flesh at evening,
and in the bright morning
like a deer he comes to me.

It appeared first in Dialogue in 1980 and then was anthologized in Harvest, as “Take, Eat,” and Richard Cracroft told me once that he was using it regularly in his Mormon lit course. It has undergone some tinkering since it was first published in Dialogue, with title, epigraph, format, punctuation, and verb tense (I put it originally in past tense, later realized that it belonged in the present).

Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—10

My Poems, Part 2

   It was 1978, and I was thirty-four years old, when I sat before a typewriter to compose my first poem as an adult, and the product was “A Daughter of Sarah Is My Beloved”:

A daughter of Sarah is my beloved,
A priestess in Abraham’s house.
Her knee is bent to the Lord;
She dwells within the circle of his law.
For virtue she is clean as the rain,
As the streams that descend the high slopes.
Her smile is as sunlight on meadows,
Her speech a sparrow’s flight for gentleness.
Her counsel is heard in the congregation;
To the ears of the wise she speaks wisdom.
She gives bread to those who have not asked;
The afflicted receive comfort at her hand.
Her love she has not withheld from me;
She has given me all delights.
Sons and daughters she has given me;
Our generations will fill the heavens.
Our covenant will stand forever;
Beyond death I shall know her embrace.
Though the earth melt at his coming,
I shall never be parted from her.

At the back of the mind, as I began to write, was the thought that I wanted to work out of my own deepest being (Romanticism just keeps on keepin’ on, doesn’t it?), which had undergone twenty years of shaping by the experiences of being prepared to become and then being a Latter-day Saint, under the covenants and benefiting (I would like to think) from the sanctifying companionship of the Holy Ghost. Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite, Part 8

D&C 93 as a Poem — 3

I have been discussing D&C 93 as a poem. In the first part of this discussion http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2016/01/being-a-restorationist-writer-and-the-quest-for-the-infinite-par/ I argued that the central theme of this poem is unity with God, and a conception of that unity that places it in the philosophical neighborhood of the nondualism of Coleridge, Schelling, and the Vedantists. In the second part http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2016/02/being-a-restorationist-writer-and-the-quest-for-the-infinite-part-7/ I began arguing that section 93 is a unified poem of which that theme is the main controlling element, and I focused on structure, both dramatic and formal, calling attention particularly to the use of parallelism, including that special type of parallelism called chiasm, and suggested that those structures embodied meaning. And I am presenting section 93 as exhibit A in my argument that at least some sections of the D&C are poems of a high order because almost everything I want to say at this time about Joseph Smith as poet is illustrated in this section, and because I think—and I wish I could put this in large bold italics with arrows point at it—that the metaphysical element in this poem is extremely important, Continue Reading →

In Tents 62 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part II

Think back to that marvelous moment when your seminary teacher introduced you to the various groups in 1st-Century Palestine–that cartoon of the Zealot carrying a picket sign reading Render Unto Caesar, and that mnemonic comment about the difference between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, and the Saducees, who did not. And that’s why they were sad you see.

OK, it’s a cheesy joke as I told my Sunday School class, but for more than 40 years it’s been an easy way to tell the difference between the Pharisees and Saducees.

What my seminary teacher didn’t say however, and what the New Testament doesn’t tell us, is why the Saducees were sad. You see, I didn’t find that out till I was standing on the platform at the Draper FrontRunner sation waiting for the midday train (only once an hour at that time of day) last week listening to Thomas Madden’s second lecture in “From Jesus to Christianity.” Madden says at 9:50 that the Pharisees valued all sacred writings as well as oral traditions. Since Daniel and others mention the afterlife the idea of resurrection has scriptural support.

At 10:49 Madden states the Saduccees’ opinion on the question. They did not accept anything after the writings of Moses as scripture, and since the Books of Moses don’t mention a resurrection it’s not a binding doctrine.

How interesting, here I’ve been exploring the consequences of closed versus open canon in my column, and I come across something that tells me the debate between the two goes right back to the time of Jesus and before.

Continue Reading →

Post Navigation