I Took It To Mean: An Ethics of Textual Intimacy

Some time ago, I mentioned to Theric during his series on the erotic in LDS literature and to MoJo shortly thereafter that I was on the verge of tackling something similar. I finally teetered over that edge and this essay—this rhetorical attempt—in which I grapple with the moral/spiritual uses of eroticism (of reading erotic texts, of reading with an erotic bend, etc.), is the result. I read it at the Intermountain Graduate Conference held last Saturday (April 11) at Idaho State and it was well received by the seven others who were in the room.

In view of the fact that part of this textual performance centers on a reading of Javen Tanner’s poem, “Eden” (scroll down) and that my Mormonness serves as a backdrop to my words, I’m posting it here as part of the Mormon Poetry Project I’ve been chasing all month.

Anyway. Continue reading “I Took It To Mean: An Ethics of Textual Intimacy”

Tyler’s Poetry Project

So here’s the deal, AMVers. In celebration of National Poetry Month and in conjunction with AMV’s plan to do the same (I’ll try not to step on my co-bloggers toes here; if I do, especially you Wm., sorry in advance), I’m undertaking a month long exploration of Mormon verse. To chase these poets with me (or even to suggest a Mormon poet who deserves some attention, even in the lowly way I can give it on my personal blog), link to Chasing the Long White Cloud’s Mormon Poetry Project where I’ll be highlighting a poet and a poem per day for the month (at least that’s my hope). Yesterday, I took center stage myself with a spring-y haiku (*how narcissistic of you, Tyler*) and today I’ve put the spotlight on Darlene Young.

So come, if you will, spend a few minutes chasing clouds with me. Who knows: we might even find an elephant or two stampeding across the sky.

Reading Until Dawn’s Lone (Were)wolf

I don’t want to take anything away from National Poetry Month with another Twilight bender, but Theric’s worked so hard on his essay, “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels,” that I thought I should jump in and give him his dues. Here’s the abstract:

“Saturday’s Werewolf explores Twilight in terms of the supernatural literature of the Latter-day Saints, specifically as the series links to the premortal romance narrative mode, as exemplified in Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon (1898) and Douglas Stewart’s popular musical Saturday’s Warrior (1989).”

It’s an entertaining and insightful read that I’ve just posted at Reading Until Dawn (both PDF and HTML versions available there). Come take a look after you finish commenting on Laura’s Harvest post.

And don’t be scared: RUD’s lone (were)wolf doesn’t bite. But it just might inspire you to submit.

“To Know the Names of All the Vital Things”

As I mentioned a little while ago
, my wife and I were asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting yesterday. At Theric’s request (and because I decided to approach the topic of Latter-day Saints and language and discuss Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth), I’m posting a slightly revised version of my talk here.

* * * *

“To Know the Names of All the Vital Things”: On the Virtue of Words and the Word of God

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just–yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them–therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

On June 16, 1844 at a meeting assembled in the grove just east of the Nauvoo Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith stood to deliver one of his final sermons. Wet with rain, surrounded by apostates, many of whom wanted him dead, and sustained by the saints, he spoke plainly and courageously of the Christian Godhead and “the plurality of Gods,” truths that would in part lead to his martyrdom almost two weeks later.

Yet, his message was no different than anything he’d previously taught: “I wish to declare,” he said, that “in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods.”1 Using ancient and modern scripture to support his reasoning, he took the assembly back to the beginning, showing them the unbroken chain of exalted Beings that extends, Parent to child, across the thresholds of eternity. Pointing to the relationship between Christ and Elohim as his example, he asked, “Where was there ever a son without a father? and where was there ever a father without first being a son? [“¦] [I]f Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He [Christ’s Father] had a Father also?”2 Continue reading ““To Know the Names of All the Vital Things””

Browns and Rusts: Meditations On J. Kirk Richards (Part I)

In my opinion, J. Kirk Richards* is one of the shining lights—the suns, really—of Mormon visual art. His work is well-crafted, poignant, spiritual, and deeply affective.

When I first came across his paintings, most notably Cherubim and a Flaming Sword, I connected with his world on such a human level that I felt constrained to write about it. And yet, I also sensed that some critical exposition titled something like “The Judeo-Christian Symbolism of J. Kirk Richard’s Paintings” wouldn’t do my response—or his art, for that matter—justice.

So I decided to converse with him in another way, to respond to his art with mine.

Thus was born Browns and Rusts, my ekphrastic, poetic meditations on J. Kirk Richards. The first link in this paragraph will take you to a PDF of part I of Browns and Rusts, which includes the six poems I’ve completed to date (laid out, at this point, in no particular order), though I use that word, “completed,” tentatively: when, really, is a piece of writing ever fully complete? I should say, then, that I’m comfortable enough with where these poems are for the moment that I wanted to share them with AMV’s readers. Other poems for the collection are in process, so sometime in the (who-knows-when) future, I’ll post more here.

As always, I invite your comments and suggestions—your presence in and response to my world-in-process.

*My apologies to Kirk for getting his first name wrong the first time through; it’s Joel, not John. Don’t know where I got my misinformation from. Now that I’m sufficiently embarrassed, it won’t happen again…

Nothing Forgettable Here

Nothing Forgettable Here: The Human Meaning of Irreantum‘s Recent Poetry


In their introduction to the poetry section of A Believing People (found online here), Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert comment that “much [early] Mormon poetry,” like “most of the popular poetry written during that era [the nineteenth century],” is “derivative and didactic” and thus “regrettably forgettable.” Indeed, they continue, because such poetry is “[s]tiff, cliché-ridden, and sing-song in its verse, much of it [really] offers little to the modern reader.”

Not so with the poems collected in Irreantum‘s past two issues, 9.1 (Spring 2007) and 9.2/10.1 (Fall 2007/Spring 2008). Rather, this recent gathering of Mormon poetry breaks loose from poesy’s “traditional shackles” in an effort to weave the varieties of personal experience and lyrical voice around a more individualized aesthetic. Of course, this tendency is nothing new: poets have been experimenting with free verse (and beyond) for decades–at least since the rise of modernity–and many Mormon poets have followed suit. (If you want a sampling of Mormon poets writing in mostly non-traditional forms, take a gander at this somewhat outdated listing of names from Harvest‘s table of contents).

Such general movement away from the strictures of traditional forms has allowed contemporary Mormon poets to focus increasingly, in the words of Cracroft and Lambert, “upon the human meaning of Latter-day Saint history.” To me, such a varied and personal focus allows Mormon poets (as Mormon writers of other genres) to develop a deeply individual aesthetic witness of the story of the Restoration as played out in the flaming mundanities of the poet’s life, a testament called for years ago in President Kimball’s compelling vision for Mormon arts and letters.

Irreantum‘s recent gathering of poetry represents some of the ways this poetic witness is being borne by just a sampling of contemporary Mormon poets. What follows is my review of Irreantum‘s poetry year (section II is a slightly revised version of this response to William’s review of Irreantum 9.1). Continue reading “Nothing Forgettable Here”

Reading Until Dawn Update

Some exciting things have been happening with Reading Until Dawn over the past week (at least I think they’re exciting) as I’ve made some changes and tried to get this bird off the ground.

First off, Reading Until Dawn has evolved forms, from “journal” to open-ended “anthology.” Though this is basically just a semantic switch, it means at least two things: a) there will be no issues–although as volume warrants (yes, that’s optimism you smell), the essays may be split into volumes–and thus b) no hard deadlines. Instead, because we’re not dealing with a publisher and don’t have costs to keep down, submissions will be read, accepted, and published on an ongoing basis. For me, that’s part of the excitement of publishing something like this online: not only can it be more dynamic and open-ended than print publishing, but it has the potential (potentially) to reach a larger, more diverse audience.

Due to the foibles of human nature, however, this lack of deadlines may present certain difficulties, as in a decreased number of submissions. Hence the following–a soft deadline and an incentive: Continue reading “Reading Until Dawn Update”

Twilight on My Mind

Maybe you’re sick of Twilight by now; maybe you’re not.

Or maybe you’re just indifferent.

Whatever the case, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer’s going away any time soon; and with the highly anticipated release of Summit Entertainment’s Film–coming tomorrow to a theater near you!–it’s increasingly difficult to escape the hype. Continue reading “Twilight on My Mind”

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part V

This is the final post in a five part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part four, “Maintaining Rhetorical Balance”, I cite Karl Keller’s suggestion that Mormonism’s lack or denial of a serious literary heritage stems from three delusions: 1) our Puritanism, 2) our paranoia, and 3) our apocalypticism. Adding these delusions to the Mormon culture industry’s commodification of Latter-day Saint culture and theology, I suggest that these positions are symptomatic of a general failure to engage the world (which is ultimately our means to exaltation) and Mormon theology and thus to bear what Eugene England calls the “difficult burden” of “describ[ing] a unique set of revealed truths and historical and continually vital religious experiences and to do so both truly and artistically.” I conclude by asserting that only by seeing language as experience and by moving to capture the truths of human experience in language can writers strike a spiritually real rhetorical stance, maintaining integrity of character and experience even as they move beyond the familiar, the convenient, and the comfortable to engage readers in lives and universes beyond the limits of their own.

Since the underlying concern of this series has been with the ways in which Mormons–especially Mormon critics–read or misread Latter-day Saint literature, culture, and theology, I turn now to the “or” of my tragically long title, “An Ethics of Latter-day Saint Reading” and attempt to infer some conclusions about where I think the Mormon reader/critic stands in relation to our letters. (After reading William’s series on the distinction between the terms Mormon and LDS, I’m not sure what my usage here says about me and my particular terminological inclinations. But I sure am self-conscious about them now. Thanks for that, Wm”¦)

V. Assuming Responsibility

The ethical implications and textu(r)ally redemptive possibilities of the rhetorics people use to explore human experience and to communicate with and to persuade others center in the acts of reading, a series of unique performances that exist only in the intersection between writer, reader, and text and that flow from the ethos of each transactional party. This ethos, as Booth has it, emerges not only in a person’s moral integrity, but it’s further expressed in the patterns or “habits of choice” we fall into in every domain of our lives.1 The way we read, then, as the way we habitually choose to live is a complex extension and expression of our character. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part V”

This Side of Lazarus

With my grandfather’s death just two weeks ago, the increasing demands of my doctoral studies, and my family’s attempts to move (they’ve been foiled for the moment by buyers that decided to back out at the last minute), I haven’t been able to give the final post in my series the time it needs. So I’m posting a narrative essay/autobiographical short story to tide myself over until I can get part five of “The Tragic Tell” written.

I haven’t written much in this genre, so this attempt may seem a bit amateurish; I’m open to any comments or suggestions you heavy hitting storytellers might have to make it better.

Anyway, here goes.

This Side of Lazarus

And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
-Luke 16:24

Come with me
and we will be buried in water,
fire, nomenclature, earth.
-Javen Tanner, “Eden”

I’ve been manipulating the story for years. It usually begins in the present tense at a Village Inn somewhere in Northern Utah. Several characters hover in the haze: my parents and siblings, my father’s mother, maybe some family friends. But Grandpa always confronts me clearly from across the table. Continue reading “This Side of Lazarus”