Was literature an afterthought for early Mormons? Looking at the first few years of Mormonism, I get the idea that for most church members it was. For the first few years poetry was the only literary work published (except for scripture and perhaps some sermons, although I don’t want to include these as literary for this analysis) and poetry was initially intended for the hymnal. When the first LDS hymnal was published in 1835, that emphasis waned, and even the LDS periodicals published fewer poems. After the initial burst of activity, 1836, 1837 and 1838 weren’t very fertile years for Mormon literature.
When you first come across what is now called concrete poetry, shape poetry or visual poetry, you might think it is an attempt to be cutesy, or a fad of some kind. In fact this kind of poetry has been created since the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., and was the subject of a movement and manifesto from a group of highly-regarded Brazilian poets in the 1950s.
Among other things, concrete poetry uses the shape and layout of the poem (the typographic arrangement of letters and words) as an element of the poem. In concrete poetry the shape of the poem also conveys meaning.
Knowing all this, I was very pleased to come across an 1835 example of concrete poetry in the Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.
The first of seven posts, following an introduction posted last week.
Effectively, Mormonism begins with the publication of a book.
The publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 gave the nascent Church content and direction–content in the form of a tangible object that could be delivered to investigators, and direction in the form of a stated goal to preach the gospel to all the world. Since religious and political tracts were already in widespread use in the U.S. (Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, for example), early members and missionaries knew the power of the written word. Continue reading “A Short History of Mormon Publishing: The Formative Period”