National Poetry Month: The Best 46 Cents I Ever Spent and an AMV Giveaway!

You can’t buy a lot with forty-six cents these days.  Not a soda.  Not a pack of gum.  Not even Lifesavers from the vending machine.  But you want to know what I got for forty-six cents (thank you amazon.com!)? The best book I’ve read in a long time, Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems.

This is one of those books in Mormon letters that everyone references and talks about and now that I own a copy I can see why.  Harvest has become a companion of sorts for me.  It travels around the house with me and when I have a second–waiting for my kids to finish eating or while I’m brushing my teeth or when I’m supposed to be doing the dishes–I open it up and find the literary equivalent of a gourmet truffle.  Each poem has some familiar elements, with rhyme and meter and subject mattter, but at its center the poem, well, it’ll blow your mind.

Harvest includes work from more than sixty poets including legends like and Leslie Norris, contemporary masters like our own Patricia Karamesines, and Carol Lynn Pearson even makes an appearance. There are also plenty of authors the average reader has probably never heard of (especially if you didn’t attend BYU) but will certainly enjoy reading.  One of my favorite discoveries is Mary Lythgoe Bradford.  I think “Coming Together Apart” has got to be one of the best descriptions of love I’ve come across.  And Elouise Bell’s “This Do In Rememberance of Me.” When I read, “How pallid the bread when pale the  memory/ . . . Every symbol has two halves/ But to us falls the matching./ What match we, then, in sacramental token?” I wished I could take it to Church with me so I’d remember to ask myself that question.

Harvest was originally published twenty years ago and is probably the most important anthology of modern Mormon/LDS poetry to date.  It’s broad enough that it contains something for everyone (and some things individual readers may not care for) and it’s a book you’ll find yourself picking up over and over again because, like a gourmet truffle, one poem is never enough.

So, in honor of National Poetry Month (and since used copies are a steal!) AMV is giving away one copy of Harvest. Just leave a comment about Mormon poetry to enter. Tell us, who’s your favorite?  What poems have touched you and stayed with you? What kind of poetry do you want to see more of?  We really want to know!

Also, keep your eyes (or your Google Readers) open for our other poetry posts this month.  We’ve got some great interviews lined up and some original poems coming your way!

18 thoughts on “National Poetry Month: The Best 46 Cents I Ever Spent and an AMV Giveaway!”

  1. For the record: this is not an April Fool’s joke — and make sure that you enter a valid e-mail address in the e-Mail field when you submit your comment.

    And I’ll echo what Laura says above: Harvest is a must-own anthology. Amazingly enough I bought my copy at an LDS bookstore in California. The salesperson has no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it and when I finally tracked won their “poetry shelf” there were only one or two dusty copies of Harvest (this would have been in 1994 or 1995) plus a couple of titles by Carol Lynn Pearson. But they had it, and I bought it.

  2. I wasn’t quite as lucky as Laura. My copy cost 91 cents (plus shipping), but I don’t regret that $4.40 I sent to Amazon seller a-platypus. I return to Harvest frequently, probably more than any other anthology I own.

    What a perfect—and utterly sacramental—way to begin National Poetry Month, Laura.

  3. .

    Michael Collings is probably my favorite well known, currently publishing Mormon poet, but I have some barely published friends I like even more.

    My favorite new discovery of the last year is May Swenson

    And although I’ve been aware of Harvest, I’ve never really considered buying it. Now that I am posing the question Why? to myself, I have no answer. I am generally trying to infuse more poetry into my diet and it seems like an obvious way to do that.

    I had mostly written off poetry until I found Billy Collins and since then I’ve been adding more and more writers to my Okay List.

    One problem, I think, is that we discussed with novels versus short fiction: novels allow you to stop in the middle and are thus less demanding. But if short fiction demands you stoppeth not, poetry is truly tyrannical. And giving it the attention it requires is difficult in our world. I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 right now and the AlwaysOn media of that world sounds not too far removed from our own. Our environment prevents us from reading and appreciating poetry as we should/could/would. Especially longer poems.

    Poe said that “any literary work . . . too long to be read at one sitting cannot be poetry.

    Well. Too long for one sitting is becoming shorter and shorter all the time.

    Also: When and where exactly am I supposed to be able to read aloud?

  4. Too long for one sitting is becoming shorter and shorter all the time.

    I’ve thought about this a bit as I’ve struggled to get through some of my longer readings (as in Twain’s and Henry James’ travel writings) this semester. I wonder if our cultural A.D.D. stems from the AlwaysOn media you reference. We’re always linking between texts, jumping between screens and different forms of (brain-numbing?) entertainment and I know I sometimes find it difficult to settle my mind down enough to really enjoy what I’m reading, especially poetry, which requires a tyranny of attention (as you suggest). But I know when I force myself to do it, to read (sometimes aloud) and write poems, I seem to be more contented. But, as you ask:

    Also: When and where exactly am I supposed to be able to read aloud?

    Maybe here?

  5. My favorite poem ever is “The Road Less-Traveled” by Robert Frost. It has some very personal meaning for me. My favorite LDS poem is Orson F. Whitney’s answer to Invictus, which states “I am the Captain of my soul.” Whitney responds:

    Art thou in truth?
    Then what of Him who bought thee with His blood?
    Who plunged into devouring seas
    And snatched thee from the flood,
    Who bore for all our fallen race
    What none but Him could bear-
    That God who died that man might live
    And endless glory share.
    Of what avail thy vaunted strength
    Apart from His vast might?
    Pray that His light may pierce the gloom
    That thou mayest see aright.
    Men are as bubbles on the wave,
    As leaves upon the tree,
    Thou, captain of thy soul! Forsooth,
    Who gave that place to thee?
    Free will is thine-free agency,
    To wield for right or wrong;
    But thou must answer unto Him
    To whom all souls belong.
    Bend to the dust that ‘head unbowed, ‘
    Small part of life’s great whole,
    And see in Him and Him alone,
    The captain of thy soul.

    I like it because it rebels, in a way, against the conventional wisdom of the world that poetry is so good at preaching. It reminds us that really it is the Savior, and not our own strength, that we must rely on, because our own merits will never help us to achieve what we really want to achieve. It teaches us the truth about agency — that while we have freedom of choice, we will have to answer for those choices we make. I also like that it uses the intimate language of prayer, almost as if it is the thoughts the Spirit puts into your mind and heart as truth is shared spirit to spirit. I like it because it rings true. I like it because it rhymes, and yet does not sound sing-songy, if you know what I mean. Beautiful language, beautiful message, beautifully done.

  6. Th- If you and Kelly are the only ones who comment that don’t already own a copy of _Harvest_ I’m getting one for both of you!

    I disagree that poetry is harder to read. I think that with any literature what you get out of it is equal to what you put into it. If you want to just read a poem quickly, like a novel, well then read it quick and the general mood and feeling will be what you get out of it. If you want to decode a poem (or a novel or a short story) then you have to slow down and really analyze the language. I think waaay too many people freak themselves out about poetry thinking it’s got to be some sort of difficult and intense experience. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. I think the best poetry (and the best novels and stuff) work on cursory levels and on in-depth levels.

    And as for reading out loud, one of the reasons I knew I was “meant” to be a writer was the fact that if I loved a text I would mouth the words and dramatize them in my brain. And, well, I’m always talking to myself–I think of it as a form of rough drafting–so reading out loud is a step in the right direction.

    Kelly– I love that one! Thanks for taking the time to share it here 🙂 Where did you find it? Do you have some sort of LDS poetry stash you’re not telling me about? If so, you’d better give it to me for my next birthday! If you do stop by again, I have a question for you: In your mind, is the best poetry spiritually instructive or does that matter?

  7. Oh, and I’m taking the shortage of commenters on this post as a sign that poetry may actually be dead in the world. Sad. I might have to dress in black all month.

  8. (I hope you don’t mind me dropping some links, Kelly.)

    The Whitney poem, “The Soul’s Captain,” can be found online here (scroll down), here (scroll down), and here.

  9. Laura, no the best poetry is not spiritually instructive, but it does have to resonate with me. It should be about a universal theme that I can relate and identify with: love, testimony, heartache, loss. Poetry has to make me feel something, or even give me a good laugh. Also, the language needs to be beautiful — word things in a way that I never would have thought of, and yet rings true. It must be intellectually pleasing, and yet touch my heart and soul too.
    I suppose I’m asking too much, but those are the poems that I will remember forever.

  10. Mark Bennion of BYU-Idaho is my new favorite LDS poet. Parables is brining out his _Psalm and Selah_ this spring. It’s a collection of first-person narratives in the voices of various Book of Mormon charcters. Selected poems have been published in just about every LDS print venue, including the latest _Irreantum_. I think he’s going to change some people’s minds about hating poetry.

    Beth

  11. I love my copy of _Discoveries_, a collection of Mormon women’s poetry. Penny Allen’s poem, “Blackberry,” takes my breath away. I’m memorizing it this month.

  12. Beth– I can’t wait to read his collection. I loved the poems in Irreantum.

    Darlene–thanks for mentioning that anthology. I’d never heard of it! I’ll see if I can get it less than 50 cents 🙂

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