The Aborted Legacy of Mormon Art, or Why there will be no Mormon Shakespeare

The following is a guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison. Mette is a former BYU “Benson Scholar” and high school seminary Scripture Chase champion. She now writes Mormon mysteries about Bishop’s Wife Linda Wallheim starting with The Bishop’s Wife. She is an All American triathlete and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is the ward historian and nursery teacher, has five children and lives in Layton, Utah. Her most recent published novel, The Book of Laman, was published in July by the By Common Consent Press.

In 1888, Orson F. Whitney, gave a speech entitled “Home Literature” in which he claimed “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” At the time, Mormons were struggling with the US government on many levels, including polygamy. Church leaders were imprisoned for the practice, the holy temples were being threatened with desecration or even destruction. Mormons had already faced a long history of persecution, being chased out of Kirtland, Ohio and then Nauvoo, Illinois, the prophet Joseph Smith being martyred in 1844 in Carthage Jail. The Mormon pioneers fled to the Salt Lake Valley in part because it was not part of the United States at the time. Mormons intended to create their own government of Deseret and their own identity, but it was difficult to get the legitimacy they craved for their own faith community. Put into this context, Whitney’s speech makes the goal of a Mormon Shakespeare or Milton that much more poignant and urgent. Continue Reading →

Melissa Leilani Larson: The Theatre of the Uncomfortable

Shakespeare is great and all, but, on the list of best playwrights in the history of ever, I only consider him #3. In second place is the Greek master Euripides, author of some 92 plays, only 19 of which have survived. Two of them—Medea, the story of a woman who murders her own children in revenge for her husband’s decision to abandon her; and The Trojan Women, a conversation among the noble women of Troy who have been condemned to death or concubinage at the end of the Trojan War—flay me to the core every time I watch or read them.

And in first place is the Norwegian genius Henrik Ibsen, who has been responsible for some of the most uncomfortable evenings of my life. A stage version of Ghosts that I saw in Salt Lake City was two hours of sheer physical discomfort causedby the plot. The Glenda Jackson film version of Hedda Gabler that I used to show students in my World Literature courses was like sitting on the edge of a cliff from start to finish. Continue Reading →

In Tents #80 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 5

This Sunday, August 6, would be my mother’s 98th birthday, but she died in January of last year. Fifty-one years ago her birthday was on a Saturday. That morning our family went to the south Relief Society room of our double chapel on 9th East in Provo across the street from Deseret Towers. The south Relief Society room was the one with the font, and as we sat there in our white clothes some priests (which will have an entirely different connotation to someone unfamiliar with Mormon culture) gave us a demonstration, standing in the middle of the room, of how the baptisms would proceed, how to hold our fathers’ hands, how to lean back under the water.

People born in June were normally baptized the first Saturday in July, but we had been on vacation that day. (That may have been the day we climbed Boot Hill. Disappointing. First, not much of a hill. Second, only six men had been gunned down and buried there. Six was the first 30 minutes of a John Wayne film, not a legendary event in the American imagination.)

Sometime during that first week of August I walked across the street to Beverly Broadbent’s, the Primary president, to pass off the Articles of Faith, including this one,

 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Or maybe it was four years later, when I graduated from Primary, that I memorized and recited the Articles of Faith. At any rate, for half a century now I have associated the word translate with words like BibleBook of Mormon, and scripture. In that time I’ve read a fair number of translators’ prefaces, a fair amount about the problems of taking words from one language and setting them down in another. (And I did some work on the manual for Book of Mormon translators.)

I’m comfortable with the idea that translations are incomplete, that things can be lost and gained in translation, and that translation can have a wider meaning than simply finding word equivalences between languages, such as transforming from a lower state to a higher state.

No piece of writing, my father had said, is perfect.

What if you got a perfect essay from a student?

I guess it would be translated.

Into what language? Continue Reading →

Seven Times Mormon Women’s Memoirs Changed the Conversation (#6 Will Blow Your Mind)

Last week, Tracy McKay published a remarkable memoir entitled The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope.  I think it is a game changer. Full disclosure: I was one of the main editors of By Common Consent Press on this project. Even fuller disclosure: I became one of the main editors for this book because, the second I heard about it, I knew that it would be a game changer. Here’s why.

In the first place, The Burning Point is a beautifully written memoir. Those who have followed Tracy on her own blog, Dandelion Mama  or as a regular contributor to BCC, know that she is a graceful, lyrical writer with a profound moral depth and a varied body of experience. It is a good book.

But it is also an important book. For one thing, it deals head on with the problem of opioid addiction, which was at the root of the family crisis that Tracy narrates. As this becomes a major epidemic in the United States–and make no mistake about it, it is becoming a major epidemic in the United States–books like Tracy’s will become a more and more important part of the solution. Continue Reading →

in verse #77 : what is poetic about “Poetry”?

So, having all read the poem, tell me what is verse in Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry”?  And what is poetic about it?  She must have asked herself the same question, because when she reprinted the poem in her Complete poems, she revised it thus:

Poetry

I, too, dislike it.
**Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
**it after all, a place for the genuine.[i]

The revisions emphasize concision.

But at what cost?  What is lost?  Well, for one, two of the most famous phrases in Moore’s corpus, if not the corpus of 20th-century poetry:  “beyond all this fiddle” and “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”.

The only structural element I can find in the original poem, the one published in 1920, is in the  Continue Reading →

In Tents #78 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 3

June is a month to celebrate–give thanks for–prophetic religion.  And not just because June is the month when Spencer W. Kimball chose to mark the U.S. Bison Ten Eel not with a patriotic panegyric about the joys of living in a free country, but with a stern warning about “The False Gods We Worship“:

We train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

Two years later, the second Friday in June, I spent the morning with some other missionaries out at the Martin Harris Farm, cutting grass and getting it ready for the horde of Pageant visitors next month. When we came back to the Hill Cumorah for lunch, Jennie (foreman Ralph’s 9-year-old daughter) ran out of the quonset hut behind the hill, excited, Continue Reading →

Thank You for Supporting AML!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this year’s Association for Mormon Letters fundraiser. We were able to raise $2,635, exceeding our goal of $2,000.  Your generous contributions will help us maintain this website and fund future AML conferences and projects soon to be announced.

If you would like to contribute to AML, the GoFundMe campaign is still open and accepting donations!

In Tents #77 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 2

Last month we talked about the differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s baptism narratives. Matthew and Luke record a brief sermon from John beginning, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” But they introduce the words differently.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 3:5-7

What do we make of the conjunction in verse 7? But typically denotes an exception in English, an exception to what has just been said, but every time I listen to the King James Bible I notice a lot of passages where speakers 400 years after 1611 would use and instead of but. So I wanted to find out what the Greek conjunction connotes. My search for an online version of Strong’s Concordance and a lexicon led me to Bible Study Tools, which has lexicons, translations and commentaries.  (It’s a useful site, but I had to play around with it for about an hour before I could figure out how to find what I wanted. See my comment on last month’s post  for an account of my visit–though an easier way to get to the interlinear Bible is through the Read menu.)

Continue Reading →

Children’s Lit Corner: The Inevitability of Change

As a young mother, I would sometimes read a little book to my children about a boy and a girl who planted a packet of seeds in some carefully prepared soil. They watered the ground and removed weeds and let the sun shine on the earth. The seeds sprouted and grew and bloomed into beautiful flowers. Eventually the plants produced seeds of their own that the children collected and saved to plant the next year. The book ended with the suggestion that if the reader wanted to know what happened the next year, just read the book again, substituting the seeds the children had collected for the packet they used the first year. The book said that the boy and the girl would have grown older and would eventually grow up. And, said the last sentence in the book, eventually so will you. Continue Reading →

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 →

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