K. J. Parker on religion founding

Wm alludes to Mormon resonances he experienced while reading K. J. Parker’s The Sun and I. Go read it and them come back and talk to him about it.

Subterranean Press Magazine has labeled its Summer 2013 edition a “K. J. Parker Special Issue”. This is very good news for someone like me who is a major fan. If you are not aware of her work, Parker writes no/low-magic, secondary-world fantasy that takes place in a medieval-through-Renaissance-like world. Her stories are complex, dark, humorous, and often quite dry, filled with academic and bureaucratic language, which gives them a sense of realism that secondary world fantasy often lacks.

I write her, but that may not be correct — Parker is a closely-guarded pseudonym, and there is debate over his/her gender (not to mention all sorts of guesses about the person behind the pseudonym might be).

The special issue features one nonfiction essay and two stories written Parker his/herself. I read the essay first and then moved on to The Sun And I. It’s a story about a group of young men who start a religion. As I read it, I was delighted to find that in addition to it pushing all the aesthetic buttons that Parker usually does, it also brought in some slight, but fascinating (to me) Mormon resonances.

I recommend it. And if it turns you off at first–keep reading. There are some surprising turns that it takes.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the story itself is indicative of what I believe/feel about the Joseph Smith story . Or the Moses or Mohammed one, for that matter. What’s important is not the exact details, but rather the emotional states. And the inevitability of the course the religion takes.

But I’ve said too much already and don’t want to color your experience of the story further (warning: it’s quite long). Go read it. And maybe skip the comments until you do because I hope we can toss around some spoilers down there.

Preach on, Sister Meyer. Preach on.

(No, not that Sister Meyer. This Sister Meyer)

I’ve just finished reading “Would that All God’s Children Were Poets” by Casualene Meyer (follow the link and scroll down to p. 173), poetry editor for BYU Studies. In this short article she reflects on her responsibility for choosing what poems to publish in the journal and which poems to award prizes in the journal’s annual poetry contest. She touches on what I think are some powerful ideas about the relationship between poetry (and the human aesthetic experience in general), religion, and service to others. I won’t explore these thoughts today, but I’ve invited them into , my own editorial responsibilities, and the virtue of words (also here), so I may return to them more in depth later.

For now, however, as a means to open a conversation, here’s Casualene:

As poetry editor, I would do well to assume that all poetry I receive is a valiant effort in verse, so how, given so much desire on the part of the poets, could I choose a “winner,” especially if poetry is a matter of the heart and of preference, and it would be quite heartless and preferential to say some poems are worthy and others are not? The reality is that sincerity of heart does not equal quality of art, and sometimes bad poetry happens to good people. [Note: I love that line!]

If one draws a parallel between poems and “spirits,” a verse from the Book of Abraham helps illustrate in some degree why all poetry exists in a hierarchy, and that some can and even should be deemed noble and great, or prize-worthy: “And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19). The task, then, of the poetry editor for BYU Studies is to try to discern among all the poems received which are the stronger, and even the strongest, and recommend them for prizes and publication. All poetry is not created equal, so it is not just a matter of granting open admission to a poetry pantheon for any verse that exists; some poetry should be not only appreciated but actually admired, and like the criterion that “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11), the best poetry serves readers with the greatest substance and purity. Good poems may touch us, and earnest readers, like the woman who touched the border of Christ’s garment, instinctively seek them out and touch them. In turn, the good poems give us a portion of their power and virtue, leaving us healed.

Eternal intelligence and the workings of language. Editorial practice as discernment. Poetry (and language) as service. Poetry (and language) as possessors and expressions of power and virtue with the potential to heal.