Yesterday I provide a snapshot review of Michael R. Collings epic poem The Nephiad ( Amazon ) and tried to capture what the poem accomplishes for the modern Mormon reader. Today, Michael and I discuss the poem in depth.
In The Nephiad you draw on classical (as in Classical Greek and Roman), Biblical, and Book of Mormon imagery, language and allusions. Why use all three? How do you see them playing off of each other? And did you have any guidelines or limits for when and how to deploy each set of traditions?
I probably should begin by noting that the quick answer to most of these questions might be “because Milton did it.” That is, The Nephiad really began quite directly as an out-of-class exercise designed to help me understand Milton and Paradise Lost more completely. As noted in “On Writing The Nephiad“ (Starshineandshadows.com) I was taking graduate seminars in Milton and the Epic and knew that there would be comprehensive final exams for each and figured, hey, the best way to figure out what Milton had in mind would be to try it. Initially, I don’t think I quite imagined writing a full-scale epic–just enough bits and pieces to get a feel for the process. But the project quickly expanded and took on a life of its own, outgrowing that first impulse and becoming a serious attempt at becoming an independent poem.
That said, the question of the role of Classical, Biblical, and LDS imagery in The Nephiad entails both that short answer–Milton blended Christian and Classical imagery to enhance each other–and a longer consideration. One of the functions of allusion in epic is to expand, to broaden the canvas of the poem. A poet might refer to a character from Homer, for example, or a passage of Scripture, and by doing so invite into the poem all of the echoes, resonances, nuances, meanings implicit in that character or passage, augmented by the centuries of analysis and exegesis that might exist. The invited elements would be intended to amplify the seriousness, the significance of what the poet was trying to say.
As poet, I see myself in some senses as an amalgam of many cultures; and as a result of my upbringing and education, blending classical, Biblical, and Book of Mormon enabled me to explore and articulate ideas beyond the scope of my own words. Continue reading “An in-depth discussion of the text and creation of The Nephiad”
Michael R. Collings graciously sent me a copy of his epic poem The Nephiad ( Amazon ) shortly after it was published last spring by Borgo Press, and I ungraciously read it but then didn’t post a review and then decided that a better format would be to do a Q&A informed by the text, which Michael graciously agreed to and then I ungraciously neglected to post for several months. The Q&A is very interesting and I will post it later in the week, but fickle man that I am, I have reversed course and decided to write a review. But since I’m bored with typical reviews and am too lazy to write a proper one, I’m instead going to attempt to describe the psycho-social or religio-cultural experience of reading The Nephiad:
Reading The Nephiad is like travelling backward in time in order to travel forward in time in order to triangulate a reading of the Book of Mormon that in fictionalizing also realizes, perhaps even historicizes. It’s like an Orson F. Whitney poem in a post-Tolkien world crossed with the experimental fiction of the past 20-30 years that rewrites the classics (Leguin’s Lavinia, Gardner’s Grendel , Wolf’s Kassandra, etc.) interspersed with anti-anachronisms, that is prophecies now fulfilled but then only seen in vision. It’s a shadow of Milton that nevertheless does something new by being something old and rewards the reader who is willing to enter in to the spirit of the experiment. It is one heck of a laborious (in terms of effort of writing — not reading, unless, of course, you are a reader unaccustomed to epic poetry) and ambitious effort to essentially provide a gloss on the first several chapters of the first book (you’ll see some specific examples in the Q&A) of the Book of Mormon. It is a work of Renaissancean art that doesn’t fully convince (how could it? the time for the epic is past), but still provides a rewarding reading experience if you can fully dive in to it. It is also an epic that is aware that it is an epic in a way that isn’t satire nor homage but rather something that approaches the fresh in the way good vintage art and design does.
None of this means that you will like it. It’s almost 200 pages of lines of poetry. But I guarantee this: read it and you’ll learn something new about the Book of Mormon. And for someone like me, it’s much more interesting and effective than a scriptural commentary. They have their place, but they’re not going to have the imagery and narrative flow and play of words that The Nephiad has.
Though this post is by it’s very nature heavily self-indulgent, I am going to try to spin it as more altruistic than it is. Continue reading “Looping through the Mormon Arts, from me to me”
If poetry is out of fashion to a great degree, then epic poetry is almost prehistoric. Most people, if they have any idea of what epic poetry is, think of the Homerian and Vergilian ouverve — The Odyssey, the Iliad and the Aneid. With a little thought, they might also come up with some of the midieval and early modern epics like the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, and, my favorite, The Lusiad. Of Wikipedia’s list of poetic epics, the only post 1700 work in English I recognized was Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.
Given the perception of epic poetry as works written many hundreds or even thousands of years ago, I’m sure most Mormons are ignorant of Mormon epic poetry.
So for National Poetry Month, I looked at what has been written, and found 7 works of Mormon epic poetry.
Continue reading “There is Mormon Epic Poetry?”