Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—17

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 →

Divine Rights of Writers

I’ve been making my difficult and sometimes dreary way through Clyde Forsberg’s ninety-eight-dollar tome Divine Rite of Kings (review arriving shortly), wishing I could see the good. His thesis is generally nasty: Mormonism, like its parent organization the Masons, is racist, sexist, empire-building and xenophobic, and no good can come out of Joseph Smith or his minions. He quotes sources without establishing their ethos — so many it makes my head spin, just taunting me to say this is exhaustively-researched and thoroughly cited — but mostly the book tastes bad, an eight-course meal in a foreign country whose ingredients don’t agree with my stomach and whose spices and oils never smelled right from the start. I’m almost done, and I haven’t found a way to recommend any of it.

Details will come later, in the review. Significantly, some other things have been going on this month that deserve attention. The election – yeah, that. (I hereby vow not to write about the nasty there. You’ve already heard too much.) But another thing going on right now is Nanowrimo.

NOT nasty.

Pretty nice, in fact.

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Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—13

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 [1961], 73 – 85]); “Reflections on the Nature of Mormon Art” (BYU Studies, 9, No. 1 [1968], 25 – 32); Spirit and Music: Letters to a Young Mormon Composer (Brigham Young University Publications, 1976); and Merrill_Bradshaw“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 →

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

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 →

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:

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 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 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 →

Interview with Michael Austin

Below is an interview with Michael Austin, coeditor with Mark T. Decker of Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen, published in 2010 by Utah State University Press. Mike is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. A long-time contributor to the Mormon literary/critical scene, he received an award from the Association for Mormon Letters in 1995 for his essay, “How to Be a Mormo-American; Or, The Function of Mormon Criticism at the Present Time.”

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Investigating Barber and Mormon Literature

Guest post by Ángel Chaparro Sáinz

Moderator’s Note: This is part of AML’s ongoing effort to feature news of critical projects related to Mormon letters. If you’re working on something you want to let people know about, contact the AML blog coordinator, Jonathan Langford, at
Jonathan AT motleyvision DOT org.

An interview with Ángel Chaparro Sáinz was recently published at A Motley Vision website.

Some eight years ago I decided to go back to college. Life was becoming a dull routine. I needed some kind of intellectual challenge. So I chose the less promising postgraduate program that I could have chosen, one dealing with literature, and I went upstairs to the junk room to get my bag and my bus season ticket back.

First weeks were just exciting. It was all I was looking for: reading new books and discussing about them. That was everything I needed. Besides, I was discovering new names: Alejandro Morales, Sabine Ulibarri, John Okada, Scott Momaday, Robert Laxalt, Frank Bergon, Denis Chavez, Yxta Maya Murray… And Phyllis Barber.

Continue Reading →