Remembering Jonathan Langford the critic

It’s been almost three months since Jonathan died. I miss him very much. This is not a proper obit. For that, read Andrew’s In Memoriam over at the AML blog. Rather, it’s a tribute about just one particular facet of his life and personality. This originally appeared in a book of memories put together by the Langford family.  

There are so many things I could write about Jonathan, but I think that for this particular tribute I want to focus on him as a critic because it captures one of the wonderful things about him. That is: Jonathan was an amazing critic because he had well-informed tastes that were particular to him, and he was always very honest about what worked for him and what didn’t and why.

I thought about using some examples from literature or Mormon culture, practice or doctrine, but instead I’ll go with food.

After I moved to Minnesota about ten years ago. Jonathan and I decided to get together every couple of months for lunch. Because I work in Minneapolis (and Jonathan was gracious enough to drive into the city), we had a lot of lunch places to choose from, and we could sometimes choose restaurants that we’d never be able to afford during the evening hours.

Oftentimes when you go out to eat, people will say the food is good, and that’s the extent of the conversation on that subject. But I liked to talk about the food and so was delighted to discover that, if anything, Jonathan was even more interested in and candid about food than I was.

However, he wasn’t pretentious about it. It didn’t matter what the restaurant signaled about itself, all Jonathan cared about was the food. One time we went to a kinda fancy, sorta spendy restaurant. Jonathan ordered a vegetable tart. When it arrived, it was about the size of a DVD. His verdict was that it was tasty enough–but it was not a large enough portion for the price. I had to agree. Another time, he tried a tomato soup. His verdict was that it was fine but no better than what he could make at home.

But there were also other times, where a dish would arrive, and he’d find it excellent or interesting or different or new. And then he’d try to figure out why he was responding to it so favorably or he’d compare it to other dishes he’d had. He’d take a bite then sit up straight and tilt his head back just a bit and conjure up a flavor or cooking technique or a memory or an idea for how he’d implement this new sensory experience into his own cooking. And if it was truly amazing, he’d always insist that I try it. Because when he liked something, he wanted everyone to experience it.

So that was Jonathan: always a critic. But not a snobbish, jaded, or sarcastic one. Jonathan was always generous in praise, thoughtful in critique, and quick to admit that others may have different opinions. I had the pleasure of having numerous (verbal or written) conversations with him over the years that let him showcase his wonderful skills as a critic.

My personal favorite AMV posts at year 10

William lists his personal favorite post by every single person who has blogged at A Motley Vision over its first 10 years of existence.

Back in 2009, I listed my personal favorite AMV posts — one for each of the co-bloggers. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the blog, I have updated that list. In some cases, items are the same as my post from 2009. In others, I have listed a new favorite. And the list has grown as new co-bloggers have come on board. William’s favorite post by each AMV blogger at this particular moment in time:

  1. Admin: Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory
  2. S.P. Bailey: The Things We Bring Home
  3. Tyler Chadwick: Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory
  4. Kjerste Christensen: A Bibliography of Mormon Missionary Literature
  5. Harlow Clark: Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon, Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
  6. Laura Craner:
  7. Sarah Dunster: Addressing Issues on the Edge, and Ryan Rapier’s “The Reluctant Blogger.”
  8. Scott Hales: Twilight and the CleanFlicks Aesthetic
  9. Theric Jepson: The Hero’s Journey of the Mormon Arts
  10. Patricia Karamesines: The Rhetoric of Stealing God
  11. Jonathan Langford: Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books
  12. Kent Larsen: Why we need Mormon Culture
  13. Anneke Majors: Minerva Red
  14. Katherine Morris: “Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness
  15. William Morris: The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical
  16. Luisa Perkins: Book Review: Global Mom
  17. Eric Russell:  In Defense of the Critics
  18. Mahonri Stewart: Of Prophets and Artists: A Household of Faith Or A House Divided?
  19. Eric Thompson: Half Faked

Thanks for 10 great years of AMV!

Review of Field Notes on Language and Kinship, by Tyler Chadwick.

I approached this review with a lot of trepidation. I am not a schooled poet. I took exactly three writing classes in college, and I haven’t read nearly the amount of poetry that someone who professes to be a poet ought to have. I have written many poems, but I didn’t really figure out what a poem was supposed to be, for me, until I took that one poetry class (Jimmy Barnes, BYU, “writing poetry”) about ten years ago. So beware and bear with me. I’m coming at this from a very unschooled angle.

Field Notes on Language and Kinship is, essentially (I think) an observation on poetry and the way it fits into LDS culture in particular. Chadwick explores, in turn, how to read poetry (don’t force interpretation, instead give way to the language), why to write poetry (poetry can “give shape to ideas”¦ that might otherwise be too diffuse”), why to read poetry (poetry is often intended to be mediation–an act of “moving” and “softening” for a reader and for the poet, and thus might draw them closer to God, the gospel, or other redeeming forces/ideals.)

The first story Chadwick relates in the book is about his grandmother who loved to hike, and went on many difficult excursions during her life. At each hike’s summit, or endpoint, she would collect a rock and label it. She collected these rocks in a jar. And Chadwick inherited this jar–chose it from his grandmother’s possessions after she died. As a boy, it intrigued him–rocks from all of these high points of his grandmother’s experience.

I believe this book is a similar rock-collection for Chadwick, only instead of pieces of granite, he has assembled poems to mark high points, important conflicts, switch-points and turns in his development as a human being and as a reader and writer of poetry.  Each of the sections focuses on a different aspect of his own relationship to language and how it developed and was influenced by life events, whether that be his mission, his mentors in college, his explorations of Sonosophy, his wife’s first pregnancy, the birth of a child, a sister struggling with infertility, and of course the time and attention he spent putting together Fire in the Pasture. Continue reading “Review of Field Notes on Language and Kinship, by Tyler Chadwick.”

Remembering Paul

Paul Swenson. (Image credit)

Today is the anniversary of Paul Swenson’s birth. If my calculations are correct, he was born in 1935 and would have turned 78 this year. I’ve thought about him off and on since he passed, mostly because I know that at the time of his death he was working with Dream Garden Press to publish his second poetry collection. According to the bio note he passed along for inclusion in Fire in the Pasture the book was to be titled In Sleep and he was planning for its release in late 2011. I’m sure, among other things, his poor health pushed back the release, but his passing delayed it indefinitely. I’m not sure what’s happening with his literary estate now. But if anyone within the sound of this post does know what’s in store for the work Paul left behind (both published and unpublished), let me know. I’m interested in doing what I can to help archive, to sustain, and to promote his literary legacy. (You can contact me here.)

With that in mind, I wanted to commemorate Paul on his birthday by posting a couple clips of him reading his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online, but I did have some stored away on a jump drive in a collection of recordings I downloaded a few years ago from Sunstone’s Symposium archive when it still contained audio from past events. The two clips I’m sharing today were snipped from a session recording made during the 1997 Sunstone Symposium held 6-9 August at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. The session was titled “Too Much Stuff Gone Down, Baby: Performance Poets at Play” and included readings by Paul, Alex Caldiero, Lin Ostler, Stefene Russell, and Laraine Wilkins. Paul read both of the following poems near the end of his set. The first is “Strange Gods,” which was originally published in Sunstone and later appeared in Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake; and the second, “Nothing Has Changed Since You Left,” is, as far as I can tell, unpublished. Continue reading “Remembering Paul”

_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller

Noel Miller and Ivy Worsham-Gambier in my play A Roof Overhead

Over the course of the past several months, Noel Miller and I have become good friends. We met at a party last Spring hosted by some mutual friends in the theater department (okay, so I was crashing their cast party for Sorry, We’re Closed…but I was invited by the playwright Cody Goulder!). Noel stood out to me. I felt like the Spirit was trying to tell me something about her, so I kept her on my radar.

Our next involvement with each other was when the above mentioned Cody cast her in staged reading of my play Evening Eucalyptus which was being put on for one of classes for one of my classes for the MFA in Dramatic Writing that I’m currently working on. Not only did she have the best Australian accent, which the play required, but she had an emotional resonance which was powerful in the role. I was impressed with her as an actress and as a person. Once again, I felt the Spirit attempt to tell me something about her.

When I found out that my play A Roof Overhead was accepted at part of the next 2012 season of ASU’s student theater Binary Theatre Company, Noel was one of the first people who came into my mind to invite to be a part of the production. At first it was as a lighting designer, since she had done an excellent job in that capacity in Cody’s play Sorry, We’re Closed, but having seeing her skills as an actress in the staged reading of Evening Eucalyptus, I felt prompted the following Fall to have her audition for an acting role instead …which became a rather providential move.

Noel rocked the audition and landed the lead role of Sam Forrest. In A Roof Overhead, the character of Sam is an atheist who moves into the basement apartment underneath a family of Mormons, the Fieldings. The conflict that ensues because of their clashing cultures and belief systems is the central obstacle in the play, as both sides make major mistakes and move towards understanding, tolerance and love. It turned out that casting Noel as the atheist Sam was a good bit of casting, as Noel was an ardent atheist herself and could very much relate to and convey Sam’s character from a very real, natural place. At one point during rehearsals Noel jokingly yelled at me, “Mahonri, stop writing what’s in my head!” It turns out Sam and Noel were working from very similar places. Continue reading “_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller”

My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites

So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so).  So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).

FAVORITE MORMON PLAY: MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S MARTYRS’ CROSSING

MARTYRS' CROSSINGSo, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing for Saints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would  call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”

FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE

Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief,  but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. Continue reading “My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites”