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 →

Making Art: The importance of connecting with “other”

My interview for this month kind of fell through, so it’s just me right now.


As I was trying to think about what to write, what I thought would be relevant or helpful, and related to the posts I’ve been doing these last few months, one idea kept coming to mind.

How do we make ourselves and our art accessible?

I feel that one problem with literary writing is forgetting the audience.  I suppose writing can just be for itself; the exercise of the art, the self-expression. But to me, writing is both an expression and a connection…. like an arrow with a line shot–you’ve got a target in mind, and that target will pull your writing taut.

For instance, anti-novels, along the line of Samuel Beckett. Has anyone here ever tried to read his triad Molloy, Malone Dies, the Unnamable? I tried. I got about halfway through Malone Dies through sheer determination. And yes, the writing is evocative, and turns my mind around in all kinds of twisty ways, and so obviously Beckett is a consummate writer.

But to what end?

Not to say that art shouldn’t require some effort in its consumption and interpretation.  A *lot* of effort, sometimes. That effort, to access a piece of art, can bring so much more depth of understanding of a piece once you’ve arrived at understanding, interpretation. Like a Urim-and-Thummim, almost…. you can look through a piece of art as a window into something wider and deeper. Continue Reading →

in verse #68 : bad poetry versus good

Valerie and I have been travelling through Canada, crossing the border at the Port of Roosville, north of Eureka, Montana, and driving through Kootenay, Banff and Jasper National Parks for most of a week. On our last day in Jasper, we stopped at two waterfalls, Sunwapta Falls on the Sunwapta River, and Athabasca Falls on the Athabasca River. The Sunwapta is fed by the Athabasca Glacier[i] , and eventually flows into the Athabasca, which is fed by the Columbia Glacier[ii]. Both glaciers are part of the now much diminished Columbia Icefield in the park[iii].

The falls are fascinating because both rivers, which are wide, swift, cold and turbulent, squeeze through rock crevasses which seem far too narrow to admit the volume of water passing through them. At Sunwapta, for example, the massive rock-flour river plunges through a gorge maybe 15 feet wide, at least 30 feet below a bridge spanning the gorge. DSC04833

This is a picture of the head of Sunwapta falls, and it is impressive enough that a river that wide and turbulent is plunging into this gorge. It could be a very wide but shallow river. This, however, is the wide part of the gorge, and it was impossible for me to determine how deeply the river has cut into the rock. But the next photograph is the narrow part of the gorge: Continue Reading →

YA Corner: Great Teachers, Great Words

In rural Lemhi County, fifth and sixth graders were taught together in the same classroom by the same teacher, Mr. Harris. In 1973, there might have been around twenty-five total fifth and sixth graders. The grades were segregated to two sides of the classroom. The grades had their own appropriate assignments for basic subjects, but some interchange existed, to the good of all. For example, the read-aloud, always held after lunch and always looked forward to with eagerness, was of course shared by all students.

Continue Reading →

Notes on Field Notes


The release of Tyler Chadwick’s Field Notes on Language and Kinship was, in my mind, cause for celebration for several reasons. Here are a few: Continue Reading →

Most Important Mormon Literary Writers, 1830-1890

Lists are fun usually because they are so subjective and arbitrary. The other day I was distracting myself from more “serious” work by thinking about the most important pre-Manifesto Mormon literary writers and posting the top five to my Tumblr page.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Eliza R. Snow

Did anyone else come closer to embodying Mormon literature in the nineteenth-century than Zion’s Poetess? While she wasn’t the best Mormon poet of her century, she consecrated her voice like no other

2. Orson F. Whitney

Bishop Whitney was probably the best and most ambitious Mormon poet of the nineteenth century—but his “Home Literature” sermon, which is still the starting point of most discussions on Mormon literature, is what places him so high on the list.

3. Parley P. Pratt

The P. in Parley P. Pratt should stand for “prolific.” He wrote poetry, fiction, and drama in addition to sermons and missionary tracts. Why doesn’t he rank higher on the list? While his literary output was significant, he is remembered today as an early theologian, missionary, and martyr. Aside from a few hymns, his literary work–like his long poem The Millenniumis forgotten… 

4. W. W. Phelps

Phelps wrote “The Spirit of God” and other memorable hymns of the restoration (which, unlike Pratt’s hymns, we still regularly sing), but he also edited the Evening and Morning Star, the first periodical to publish Mormon literature. Even though he wasn’t as prolific as Pratt, is it fair to say that W. W. Phelps invented Mormon literature?

5. John Lyon

No one remembers John Lyon anymore, which is unfortunate. A Scottish poet of real literary talent, Lyon provided a model for Mormon artists when he consecrated the profits of his poetry collection The Harp of Zion to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. His writings, like Nephi Anderson’s a generation later, also offered an early international view of Mormonism—which remains relevant today as Mormonism continues to globalize. 

Have I missed anyone important? Who would make your top five?


in verse # 29 : of the devil’s party

William Blake was Milton’s son.  But it was no easy birth.  In his fine article on Milton’s prosody, John Creaser describes how Milton was able to work so well within the conventions of blank verse.  Creaser begins by summarizing the description by Derek Attridge of “the prevailing norms” of verse rhythm in English:

Fundamental to the rhythm of English speech are (1) isochrony — the tendency, allowing for sense “breathings,” to perceive stressed syllables as falling at equal intervals of time; and (2) duple movement — the tendency for stressed and unstressed syllables to alternate.[i]

These are our Anglo-Saxon heritage, the stresses of our Germanic past, lingering in English only in the rhythms of our speech, reflecting the stripping away of most inflections in our grammar, yet the retention of that old 4-beat prosody irrespective of syllable counts.  Of the iambic foot, Creaser describes Attridge as concluding that “in lines of any rhythmic complexity, the foot cannot be felt as a unit.”[ii]  This is what makes the later Shakespeare plays so wonderfully adaptive to the actor’s voice.  I would argue Continue Reading →

in verse # 28 : the pun is meatier than the surd

Sitting at home alone in bed when I was 13, and unable to go out because I was undergoing the aftermath of rheumatic fever, I entertained myself with old copies of Reader’s Digest.  One of the things I digested thoroughly in the humor columns was puns.  I believe it was in one of those columns[i] that I read an entry from a proud punster who told of a woman who had named her new ranch, which was operated by her sons in her behalf , “Focus.”  Asked why, she replied “It’s where the sons raise meat.”  The author was proud of the fact that this was the only triple pun he knew of.  Now it wasn’t that kind of punning that fed this reader’s disgust with the magazine — it was the right-wing politics and red-baiting, which I was old enough to recognize but too young to understand.  So now I only read the magazine to keep my contempt fresh.  Joseph McCarthy had just recently died, and I had heard him memorialized in an editorial on KSL radio by comparison with the Roman senator Cato, who argued that, for the good of Rome, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” — (Moreover, I advise that Carthage must be destroyed.)[ii]  It was the era of the Birch John Society (promoting outhouses) and Walt Kelly’s Jack Acid Society black book, the first piece of political satire I ever bought.[iii]

But when John Pollack talks about puns, he invokes a bigger tent.  Talking about Jewish punning Continue Reading →

in verse # 23 : mighty line versus ordered speech

It was Kit Marlowe who awakened in Will Shakespeare a hunger for a dramatic speech more nearly reflecting ordinary English speech.  It was Will Shakespeare who made it possible for Kris Kristofferson to write and sing the following lyrics as naturally as he might speak them — and Kristofferson is one performer, like Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, who speaks, more than sings, his lyrics — and on a less noble but more human-scale subject than, say, kingship:

Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt,                 And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert,                      Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt,         And I shaved my face and combed my hair and stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my brain the night before on cigarettes and songs that I’d been picking,          But I lit my first and watched a small kid cussing at a can that he was kicking,                 Then I crossed the empty street and caught the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken And it took me back to something that I’d lost somehow somewhere along the way.  Continue Reading →

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