Re: The Fob Family Bible, Part II

Note: This is the final part of my review of The Fob Bible, which I began here last week. This part picks up where I left off, which was here:

Within the Mormon context of The Fob Bible, the (pro)creative movement of these “opposite equal” spheres further implies the eternal (pro)creative influence of both male and female Deities over the universe. For if we have a Father in Heaven and if, as Eliza R. Snow reminds us, “truth is reason, [then] truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a Mother there” and that she’s doing more than merely keeping House. Rather, as Nelson’s variation on this theme suggests, she, as represented in the creative power of the moon (which here “lift[s] land” from the earth’s watery void, “set[s] the rain in silver sheets / upon the ocean’s stormy streets,” and places “birds in flight” and fish in the sea) and as the feminine coeval with God the Father, is an active participant in the eternal, reiterative round of creation, a circling “dance” that is more productive of all that is “good,” beautiful, and holy than many of us may care to–or even, at present, can–imagine.

* * * *

Re: The Fob Family Bible: The Final Four Fobnesses and Conclusion

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to imagine what such a relationship might look like or to consider the extent of its influence in/on our existence, especially when it comes to our own (pro)creative companionships, which, if we believe what Joseph Smith taught, are simply mortal reflections of the “sociality” of the exalted, those beings “coupled with eternal glory.”25 I take “coupled” here to mean at least three things: one, exalted beings are inextricably linked to the glory of God, whose name is “Eternal”;26 two, exalted beings are paired as eternal husband and wife within the highest “order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]”;27 and three, such glory and order, such Eternal union, necessarily includes acts of sexual communion, which are not meant solely as the means to propagate the race of the Gods–as “a continuation of the [pair’s] seeds”28–though that is, of course, a necessary function of the coupling. Rather, such an eternally-interdependent union of opposites deifies the “procreant urge” to create such that it continues, deepens, and tempers our inherently human passions, making them as Eternal as God, whose well of emotion runs deep as eternity, as is evident in the breadth and depth of emotions he expresses throughout the scriptures, including anger, anguish, sadness, happiness, joy, and a fullness of love. I’m convinced that such divine love encompasses, is even heavily informed by, God’s (pro)creative power; as Nephi testifies, even though he doesn’t “know the meaning of all things,” he knows “that [God] loveth his children”29–the fruits of his eternally procreative body.

And though this matter of eternal intercourse, of the Eros of the Gods, is essentially, as Brigham Young taught, “a hard matter [for us] to reach” because “it is without beginning of days and end of years” and so, ultimately, beyond the limits of mortal comprehension, we can, as Brother Brigham continues, “tell some things with regard to it”–namely that “it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of Salvation [“¦]; it is from eternity to eternity.”30 This thread thus not only links the procreative pair to one another and to God in the bonds of Eternal matrimony, it further binds them to the Gospel of Christ and to the expansive range of God’s creation. Hence my belief that Eros is in effect the catalyzing force in the universe. It draws together and renews bodies in a sacramental bond that nourishes the soul. Such eternal eroticism–as a deep expression of eternal love mirrored in our own sexual coupling–thus nourishes us and our relationships, leading to the “continuation of [“¦] lives”31 because it encourages fully empathic connections to other bodies in ways that move us beyond our flesh into service to another’s corporeal desires and that drive us to (pro)create, to leave our personal mark on the universe, a tendency each Fob Bible contributor acknowledges (though not always explicitly in sexual terms and never with disrespect) in their communal efforts to re-imagine familiar scriptural worlds.

Samantha Larsen Hastings loosely interprets this dance and speaks to the power and virtue of eternal womanhood through her revision of the “Song of Deborah” (her sole poem), a lyric witness of Deborah’s influence as “prophetess,” judge,32, and “mother in Israel.”33 Hastings’ greatest achievement in this poem isn’t that she drastically re-creates Deborah’s words and Deborah’s world, for what she offers is simply a compressed and reworked version of the twice-told Biblical tale; yet in this retelling–and here is where the achievement resides–she focuses on the female agency at work in this story of “a woman’s” “victory”34 as she acts to great effect in a historically patriarchal role. Indeed, not only is Deborah one of just a handful of female prophets mentioned in the scriptures35 and the only female judge of pre-monarchic Israel; and not only was her story likely told/compiled by a male scribe; but, as a poet and “mother of,” not simply in, Israel36–characteristics highlighted in Hastings feminist re-appropriation of the Biblical text and in her metered interpretation of Deborah’s song–she is thoroughly enrapt in the (pro)creative dance of the universe.

The language and imagery of the poem point to her active participation with God, the Father of Israel, in renewing this people and their home. Hastings’ “Song” begins with the scriptural invocation, “Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, utter a song,”37 calling for the mother to call her child Israel from “twenty years” of “captive captivity”38 at the hands of “the king of Canaan.”39 As “mother of Israel,”40 she’s thus marked here as a mediatory influence between heaven and Earth, Earth and heaven. This comes through especially as we consider the geographic backdrop of the poem, signaled by its editorial epigraph: “And Deborah [“¦.] dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim.”41 Standing atop a hill–the meeting place of heaven and Earth–beneath the “palm tree”–her typical seat of judgment and a place variously symbolic of peace, plenty, victory, and the fruitful union of the sexes (a towering trunk supporting expansive, flowery vegetation and fruit)–she “prophesies and lauds,”42 sings and prays “[f]or the children of Israel.”43 Such prophecies and lauding as the prophetess offers are rhetorical efforts symbolic here of her divinely-ordained power and influence and thus of her fruitful union with God, a bond that ultimately turns Israel away from their “new [Canaanite] gods”44 and toward the true and living God whose power over the earth, characterized in the song by “drop[ping] heavens” and “melt[ing] mountains,”45 is invoked by a woman of great faith and calculated “to lead the children of Israel down” to humility, “down to the gates”46 of deliverance from physical bonds and redemption through Jehovah.

In her moving elegiac poem, “Weary” (one of her six verse offerings), Sarah E. Jenkins highlights another, less than pleasant aspect of the woman’s (pro)creative relationship with God: childbirth and the toll it can take on the mother’s mind. Speaking with language that sneaks back on itself and shifts meaning in the movement, the poet explores an experience like Leah’s, the “hated” wife of Jacob whose womb was opened by the Lord such that she conceived four sons in rapid succession. I can only imagine (if that) what this does to a woman’s cognition, especially when she’s already under pressure to please a husband who likes her “beautiful sister”47–his favored wife–that much more, but after watching my wife adjust to the needs of our first newborn daughter some years ago, I’m convinced that Jenkins captures the weariness well. And though my wife’s passage into motherhood wasn’t tainted by a husband whose attention was diverted elsewhere, there were times, say, after middle of the night feedings or nights of little to no sleep, when her words followed the circling rhetorical path the poet follows here:

I counted them as they
came–sons and daughters
who didn’t count.

I counted their limbs, perfect
limbs, like their father’s–
nothing so imperfect.

I found him perfect, my one
week of us, my one weak
husband.48

Such sorrow, “greatly multipl[ied]”49 at and because of conception and condensed here in the poet’s language; such physical, cognitive, and rhetorical labor as “Weary” represents is, I’m convinced, the (pro)creative heritage of the Fall, a re-creative act that essentially revised our premortal relationship with ourselves, one another, and with God, providing the means by which spirit could connect with flesh and language to the mind and body as never would have been possible had Adam and Eve remained in their unproductive sphere and, by so doing, bound humanity in a perpetually unembodied existence.

Ryan McIlvain also engages the (pro)creative work of the marriage relationship in his sole anthologized poem, “Genesis,” which ultimately suggests that sex is for more than each partner’s pleasure and for propagation of the species. Learning to properly direct the sex drive, as the poet implies, is also an important part of identity formation. Speaking as Adam and within the context of Adam and Eve as lovers, the poet begins,

She formed beneath me

on a blanket

on the wet ground pushing

its wetness through.50

This imagery intimates the wetness of a womb in which twinned beings–Gods in embryo–wait for rebirth as fully-realized, exalted souls, each forming to maturity in the presence of the other. Such growth is nurtured, the poet further suggests, by the couple’s interdependent engagement with the flesh and with the intellectual, physical, and spiritual rhythms of embodiment, illustrated here in the relationship between the couple’s lovemaking and the poems they read to one another in the name of communion, each “taking [“¦] turns on the makeshift bed, / turning the stars on / line by line.”51 These concluding lines speak to the promise God made to Abraham that, because of the prophet’s faith, his seed would be multiplied “as the stars of heaven.”52 In this context where poems both inspire and are byproducts of the process of meeting the soul’s needs, the poet’s seed could be both physical and lyrical offspring, both flesh and blood and rhetorical bodies that expand and progress through earth and heaven line upon inherited line.

Will Bishop captures the thrill–and the anxiety–of embarking on such a (pro)creative journey in “When I Do Go on My Honeymoon,” one of his two anthologized poems. He begins by engaging a paradox experienced by unsuspecting virgins when they sexually “collide atop the marriage bed,” a realization that, even though they may intuitively understand the holiness of sex (as the poet understands it here, at least intellectually), there’s more to making married love than turning “”˜No! No!’ into “˜Go! Go!'” and oiling “the mechanics of procreation.”53 Beyond knowing that God ordained sex for our pleasure and for the peopling of the earth; beyond the semantic conversion I mention and the understanding that Tab A goes into Slot B, this entails an interdependent willingness to embrace the fear of vulnerability. Bishop engages this paradox with wonderfully spare lines that mirror the sparseness of emotional vulnerability: “Afraid / but not afraid / to let her touch me,” he says, “we’ll undress / slowly like / passing the sacrament.”54 His reference here to passing, not simply partaking of, the emblems of the Lord’s Supper suggests, first, that the pair is acting with the sanction of God and, second, that each party’s movements are deliberate, meant to prepare the other for the moment of consummation. Such an unselfish and careful approach (literally one full of care) to another’s body, even if unconscious, underscores the holiness of the act of marriage. Indeed, it emphasizes the very nature of the body as a gift from God, as part and parcel of the soul, which, in terms of the LDS cosmology, is the union of “body and spirit.”55 And, as Bishop reminds us in his closing lines, such a union is a beautiful, pleasurable, ennobling thing: “when I see her body, / bare and beautiful / and not ashamed,” he concludes, “I’ll kiss her mouth as if / she were the only woman / who ever existed.”56 I’m certain such affection will be returned many-fold.

As, I’m convinced, will any open-minded reading of The Fob Bible, which was beautifully designed by Elizabeth Beeton and whose texts are punctuated by re-appropriated illustrations by Paul Gustav Doré, whose work not only adds another voice and layers more history into the book itself, but also tells a revisionary, nonsensical story of its own when combined with captions taken from each Fob Bible text (as Theric points out here). My only complaints about the book are that, one, of the fifty-six contributions, well over half (forty) come from just two contributors, and although there’s considerable variety in the work of these two writers, I’d like to hear more from the other members of The Fob Collective; and two (this is perhaps somewhat nit-picky), the font-size is somewhat uneven throughout the book. While the bulk of the text is set in a standard font (Galliard)–save “Ezra’s Inbox” and “Balaam’s Sin,” which are set in Calibri and Courier New (respectively) to reflect each genre’s formal differences–and a standard size, many of the poems are set in either (what appears to be) a significantly smaller or slightly larger font-size. I’m unsure whether this was a choice on the designer’s, editors’, or publisher’s parts or whether it was just an oversight and is the result of an over-hasty drive to publication; whatever the case, it only distracted slightly from the revisionary work of the text, though greater attention to standardization may not have detracted from that work and from the professionalism of the book at all.

Now a final word (though I’m sure it won’t be the last): This collaborative effort between emerging Mormon writers of various stripes and between this collective and B10Mediaworx and their Peculiar Pages imprint represents, I think, a significant achievement in Mormon letters. By banding together and taking an alternative route to publication than those offered to mainstream Mormon authors and as provided through emerging electronic media, they not only enhance the revisionary, (pro)creative intention of The Fob Bible, but they provide an example for Mormon writers to come. Indeed, if groups of artists can couple themselves to God, to their craft, to Mormon culture, to one another, and to their audience with the passion and integrity exhibited here, line by line they may just lead us, “one of a city, [“¦] two of a family,”57 toward that personal and cultural revision we call Zion. Or at the very least, they might just help us see ourselves, our culture, our God, and our potential to create and thus to influence the world in “exciting new ways.”

And I, for one, am perfectly fine with that.

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Footnotes:

25. D&C 130:2; italics mine.

26. Moses 7:35.

27. D&C 131:2.

28. D&C 132:19.

29. 1 Ne. 11:17.

30. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widstoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954) 195.

31. D&C 132:22.

32. Judges 4:4.

33. Judges 5:7.

34. Samantha Larsen Hastings, “Song of Deborah,” The Fob Bible line 20.

35. “Prophetess,” Topical Guide.

36. Hastings line 3; italics mine.

37. 1; see also Judges 5:12.

38. Hastings line 2.

39. 4.

40. 3.

41. Judges 4:4-5.

42. Hastings line 5.

43. 6.

44. 6.

45. 11-2.

46. 24.

47. Sarah E. Jenkins, “Weary,” The Fob Bible line 15.

48. 1-9.

49. Gen. 3:16.

50. Ryan McIlvain, “Genesis,” The Fob Bible lines 1-4.

51. 19-21.

52. Gen. 22:17.

53. Anonymous, “When Virgins Collide,” Sunstone Blog 29 Sept. 2008, 18 June 2009 http://sunstoneblog.com/2008/09/29/when-virgins-collide/.

54. Will Bishop, “When I Do Go on My Honeymoon,” The Fob Bible lines 1-6.

55. D&C 88:15.

56. Bishop lines 7-12.

57. Jer. 3:14.

19 thoughts on “Re: The Fob Family Bible, Part II”

  1. .

    Thanks.

    I’ll first reply to Tyler’s two specific concerns, then in a separate comment, I’ll add additional comments.

    My only complaints about the book are that, one, of the fifty-six contributions, well over half (forty) come from just two contributors, and although there’s considerable variety in the work of these two writers, I’d like to hear more from the other members of The Fob Collective;

    No one feels this way more strongly than Danny and I (the two mentioned). I, in my role as head editor, begged and pleaded and cajoled and got what I got — which was excellent, but I’m with you, Tyler: I wish we had had more authorial variety.

    and two (this is perhaps somewhat nit-picky), the font-size is somewhat uneven throughout the book. While the bulk of the text is set in a standard font (Galliard)–save “Ezra’s Inbox” and “Balaam’s Sin,” which are set in Calibri and Courier New (respectively) to reflect each genre’s formal differences–and a standard size, many of the poems are set in either (what appears to be) a significantly smaller or slightly larger font-size.

    This was not accidental and although Elizabeth and I will agree that the fluctuating type size was not ideal, it was the best solution we could come up with. Without it, we would have had to choose either many blank pages or to be inconsistent with the placement of the Dores. Neither appealed to us (although we did end up with, I believe, three blanks anyway which we stuffed with additional illustrations) and so we decided to play with the type. Wea culpa.

  2. .

    A few other comments:

    Deborah’s placement on a hill, in a grove, is uncomfortably close to where a priestess of Ashteroth would be found. Which reminds me of a wonderfully fascinating article by Kevin L. Barney PDF) that draws a parallel between Ashteroth and Heavenly Mother.

    (I should also point out that I don’t think Samantha would approve of this interpretation at all, but with luck she’ll stop by and weigh in.)

    ———————-

    In my own writings on the erotic in LDS literature (starting here; all available here), I have focussed on the important role erotics plays in human life and thus its worthiness as a topic for artistic exploration. I appreciate what Tyler has done here, however, widening our view to “matter[s] of eternal intercourse”; I will have to think more on this before I feel ready to write critically about the topic as he has discussed it, but I applaud him for broaching a topic which, though certainly fitting comfortably within Mormon cosmology, is not typical Sunday School fair, if you know what I mean.

    ———————-

    Will and Ben and Danny and I had a conversation about the appropriate verb to accompany sacrament. Will felt from the beginning that passing was the appropriate word, although he was never quite clear on why. Another proposed verb, incidentally, was prepare.

  3. .

    Oh, yes.

    As Elizabeth just reminded me, the primary reason for the alterations in font size are because we had to change the book’s physical size at the last moment, which caused all sorts of anguish, I assure you.

  4. the primary reason for the alterations in font size are because we had to change the book’s physical size at the last moment, which caused all sorts of anguish, I assure you.

    I knew there had to be a good reason, but felt I should address the issue up front. As I said, it’s only somewhat distracting and doesn’t take away from the real rhetorical work of the text. So I think I can forgive it, especially since I enjoyed the read so much…

  5. As for the Barney article you mention, Th., I actually thought of that as I was writing the section on Samantha’s poem. And I do hope she stops by to weigh in; I’d like to see what she has to say on the issue.

  6. Oh, and two more things, re: matters of eternal intercourse and Will’s poem. First, re: eternal intercourse: I hope I haven’t pushed my reading too far by pointing out the “procreant urge” driving the text. For even though many of the contributions aren’t explicitly erotic, the urge to (pro)create is at the center of this collective venture, as at the center, really, of any artistic venture. Hence my focus in this section on embodiment and (pro)creativity. (Just as a point of justification for my writerly insecurities…)

    Second, re: Will’s poem: I think “passing” and “prepare” both carry similar connotations, though I like “passing” best, especially because it captures the physical movement involved in approaching another’s body and because it also means the flesh and blood (water) have already been blessed/sanctioned by God for the other’s ingestion.

  7. I feel rather strange, showing up here without my glamour.

    Thank you for the review and the mention, Tyler. It was my pleasure to help bring this to life. I thought it was a project that deserved to be on the marketplace and allowed the time and space it would need to gather a following.

    And, uh, sorry about that font thing. 😉

  8. .

    Tyler—

    Not at all. Of course art is creative and frankly, to suggest this book doesn’t have a goodly amount of, um, “sex” in it would be to not have read the book. I thought the themes you teased from this fact were quite enlightening.

    I like “passing” best . . . because it also means the flesh and blood (water) have already been blessed/sanctioned by God for the other’s ingestion.

    I like this very much. I’m only sorry Will pulled another poem from consideration because it didn’t have an obvious enough biblical connection. It’s a shame. You could have fit it in very nicely. (I understand Irreantum is currently considering it, so we may get lucky.)

  9. This is a fabulous post, articulately covering subjects I ponder a lot–sex as sacrament, the connections between procreation and creativity, etc.

    I am so glad to have found you people; it feels like coming home.

  10. Elizabeth:

    It was my pleasure to help bring this to life. I thought it was a project that deserved to be on the marketplace and allowed the time and space it would need to gather a following.

    I felt much the same. I only hope my efforts add breath to your collective infusion and aid in the gathering (one of a city, two of a family and such).

    And, uh, sorry about that font thing. 😉

    If I understand correctly, it wasn’t completely your fault. Darn printers.

    And thanks for stopping by, even if you feel your glamor isn’t on…

  11. Th.:

    (I understand Irreantum is currently considering it, so we may get lucky.)

    I hope so. I’d like to see more of Will’s work (as with the rest of FOB—well, most of you anyway…)

  12. .

    I hope so. I’d like to see more of Will’s work (as with the rest of FOB–well, most of you anyway”¦

    I know what you mean.

    I’m kind of sick of myself also.

  13. I hadn’t previously read the Barney article and I found it fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

    Eric’s comment about me not approving of the interpretation or parallel between Deborah and Ashteroth is true. I believe in a Heavenly Mother, a powerful one. I also believe in powerful and capable women like Deborah and I like the fact that she was only a woman and not deity.

    Tyler, thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my “sole poem.”

    One last thing…Eric did plead for more pieces from all of us; however, many of us were in graduate school and very busy. Eric was amazing at giving feedback and working with everyone.

  14. Samantha:

    I’m glad you stopped by to weigh in. Your belief in Deborah as a “powerful and capable wom[a]n” of God definitely come through in your poem, which is a lovely re-vision of the Biblical song.

    And I can definitely feel for those of your Fobnesses who are in grad school and very busy. The story of my life…

  15. No reason to be intimidated. We’re all muddling are way through here. The beauty of being involved in the radical middle of Mormon literature is that most of what’s going to happen is still ahead of us. Add in the nice tempering effects of the DB-oriented audience and the institutional church and the exMo crowd and the American literary and genre establishments and you get this exhilarating space where populist/literary and orthodox/disorthodox collide and cohabitate. It’s a good place to be. 🙂

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