Let’s Do Some Practical Criticism
**I have received some encouragement for continuing my contributions, such as they are, to “the conversation,” maybe by pulling out for further discussion small “nuggets” from what I have submitted before, to bide time while I prepare to say something intelligent about the French poets who created part of the remote C19 and early C20 context of Joseph Smith’s work. So, how about this. I imagine a few of my readers—or my readers, who are few—to be sitting with me at a circular table in a quiet corner of a small café on the Left Bank of the Provo River, a café that serves only Word of Wisdom – approved beverages, sipping our Sutter Home Fré wine (I hope that’s approved; I drink quite a lot of it—antioxidants, you know; also O’Doul’s, which my adult children, who drink Diet Coke and Mountain Dew, call “Bishop’s Beer”) and shooting the breeze about poetry and MoLit. I put before you for comparison and contrast the following two passages from two different authors. What do we see here? I invite observations and thoughts. Continue Reading →
The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 2
**One of the most powerful instruments, in Clinton F. Larson’s view, for exploring various points of view was style. I have already noted his interest in style in connection with his observations that “a range of contrasting styles…can be used for expression of Mormon ideas,” that the clearness of the poetry that he himself wrote varied with the persona, the whole viewpoint, from he was trying to operate as a poet, and that to teach the gospel to people “we have an obligation to deal with various styles and ethnic groups in their own terms.”
**I continue to resist the notion that the artist’s primary task as artist is to “express” anything, including “Mormon ideas,” but Brother Larson recognized (and I recognize) the possibility that the Restorationist artist will be called upon, in fulfillment of his covenant of consecration, to do exactly that, and I read Brother Larson’s observations in this regard as good counsel about how to do that with integrity and effect, and possibly to transcend the merely propagandistic. Continue Reading →
Beauty and Holiness: Merrill Bradshaw
Merrill Bradshaw set forth a philosophy of art in four statements: “The Articles of Faith—Composer’s Commentary” (BYU Studies, 3, Nos. 3 and 4 , 73 – 85]); “Reflections on the Nature of Mormon Art” (BYU Studies, 9, No. 1 , 25 – 32); Spirit and Music: Letters to a Young Mormon Composer (Brigham Young University Publications, 1976); and “Music and the Spirit,” in Arts and Inspiration, Steven P. Sondrup, ed. (BYU Press, 1980). Brother Bradshaw picked up and developed themes first sounded by Elder Orson F. Whitney, primarily the existence of some connection between the arts and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the contribution of the artist to the establishment and the life of Zion. Although he was primarily interested in music, most of what he said can be applied to literary art with the necessary adjustments.
**Brother Bradshaw first defined music as “movement in sound when it embodies the inner gestures of the human spirit” (Letters, p. 2), and then continued: “Our task as composers is to find the ‘hidden fire’ or the expressive contours of our spiritual impulses and embody them in sound…. The process consists of relating your sensitivity for sound to your sensitivity for the spirit” (Letters, p. 2). Continue Reading →
Spirit and Art: Orson 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 →
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
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 →
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 →
What This Is Really All About
Brother Dennis says my “theory” is “compelling.” I am glad that he discerns a theory in that with which I have been firehosing him in recent weeks. (In conversations over his sandwiches and ginger tea and my pasta and water at the Enliten Bakery, 43 East Center Street, Provo, where “Speak Your Mind” open-mic poetry reading takes place every Thursday evening, starting at about 7:30. Dennis and I have both been reading there. I regularly arrive at about 6 p.m. and Dennis has sometimes joined me. I would always welcome company there to talk at table about Restorationist writing, and I would like to see more representation by Restorationist writers at Speak Your Mind.) But anyway, I am glad Dennis can see a theory emerging.
An eon ago, under the direction of Clinton F. Larson, I wrote Continue Reading →
The theme of this month’s post is foreshadowed in its title. Had I written “Walter versus Joseph” you would sense a formal balance between the two names; had I written “Walt versus Joe” you would sense an informal balance. But the imbalance in formality bespeaks an imbalance in the poetics of two poets.[i] Yeah, yeah, I know: you know Walt Whitman; Walt Whitman is a friend of yours; Joseph Smith is no Walt Whitman. You’re right, and that is one of the main points of the comparison I am about to impose on you, should you accept the invitation. Continue Reading →