Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Cherry Tomatoes": An Exercise in Translation

5 Irish Cherry Tomatoes from on flickr.
Today Wilderness Interface Zone features a poem called "Cherry Tomatoes" by April Salzano. The poem struck me not because I think it fully succeeds as poetry: its language, like the speaker's tomato plant, hangs too loosely on its (attempted) scaffolding. As such, its rhythms, for me, fall flat; it feels like prose masquerading as poetry by breaking itself into lines—and free verse is much more than that. Additionally, I think it contains a bit too much verbal dead-space and it could do without the last line/word: by explaining the image that precedes it—an over-laden plant consuming water and expending energy to produce unused fruit—this word, "Wasted," weakens the poem's potential impact and, frankly, patronizes readers who surely don't need to be told that the plant and its dropped and uneaten fruit are a waste. In my mind, it's more compelling and potentially transformative to leave readers with an image of waste than to explain to them that what they've been shown was supposed to be an image of waste.

Having said that: while the poem doesn't, for me, succeed as poetry, it did recall an early poem I wrote that features cherry tomatoes. Because it struck a personal chord, I decided to translate it into my own language. That effort spawned the following poem, which borrows and remixes Salzano's image. I say "borrow" because I hope my language gives something back to hers, just as this exercise in translating her language into mine has re-emphasized for me my own approach to writing and revising poems, which tends toward focus and compression: cutting any lulls in rhythm or dead-space in imagery as created by unnecessary words. I've observed elsewhere that "focus and compression, as an editor once suggested to me, are keys to creating successful poems. Turn the innovative phrase, I add, but turn it succinctly; make it tight. Compress experience into the poetic vessel so when you light the fuse and release it on the world, it will explode in the reader's face, it will reverberate through the bones."

Anyway, here's my version of "Cherry Tomatoes," which I don't intend to publish anywhere but here. Let me know your impressions in the comments:

Cherry Tomatoes

cluster on thin vines vining their cage
in a garden lining the driveway, soil—
hose-wet and summer-worn—feeding
blossoms become cysts ripened and
split wide.
                 She plucks as she passes,
folding fruit into a shirt-basket, though
she knows no one will eat
just as she knows what's left will fall,
will farewell the vine and pulp the stones

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our Eternal Father and Mother: Prototypes for Living Better in the World

A Mother's Love by Lynde Mott,
First Place, A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest
The last Sunday of March this year, I delivered a sacrament meeting sermon to our Pocatello congregation (the last one I would give there before we moved back to Utah). When I was asked to speak, I was told that I would have ten minutes or so to speak and was asked to address this topic: "In the world, but not of the world." Because the topic is pretty general (and frankly a bit cliched), I wanted to take a different approach to it than those I've heard before. And because I was speaking as part of my ward's Young Men Presidency, I wanted to say something in relation to the power and authority available to those who honor their covenants. As I prepared, my thoughts kept gravitating toward the expanding discourse on women and the priesthood and I felt compelled to address the presence of Heavenly Mother in Mormon theology. I couldn't, of course, address much in my ten minutes at the rostrum, so my sermon touches upon her presence only briefly and is intended as an overview to open the way to further discussions about the implications of the Gods' presence in our lives.

After I finished speaking, my wife observed that everything I had said was common sense; I'm not sure if that's because we've discussed these things at home before or something else. Even so, I know nothing I said was groundbreaking, but I hope my effort to break the supposed silence surrounding Heavenly Mother had some influence on those who heard my words that day. I share my sermon here to add it to the expanding discourse I mentioned above.

I welcome your response in the comments.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fishing the Snake with the Father and His Sons

From dennisbehm on Flickr
Last October my poem "Upon Hearing Elder B—— Bear Witness that 'Satan is Real' to a Mormon Congregation the Second Sunday of 2011" was published in Dayna Patterson's classy online poetry rag Psaltery & Lyre. It also appears in Field Notes on Language and Kinship. (I chatted with Dayna about Psaltery & Lyre here.) I've been meaning to post a reading of the poem since it was published and I've sat down a few times to record it, but it's long, breath-unit lines have stymied me such that, after many attempts, I got frustrated and walked away, intent on trying another day. With the Mormon Poetry Slam in full swing at (come join the sound parade!), I thought this was as good a time as any to record and share the poem. So: after many, many more attempts and almost walking away again, I finally have a recording that I'm content enough with to share. (Read: I'll never get it perfect.)

Here it is. Happy listening.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On chasing the long white cloud

Chasing the Long White Cloud
by Susan Krueger-Barber
When I started this blog five years ago, I outlined my motivations by asking myself a question: "Why chase the long white cloud?" A lot of things in my life have changed since I took those first steps into social media-dom, but the metaphor that motivated me to move forward with the endeavor has stuck with me---so much so, in fact, that I incorporated it into Field Notes on Language and Kinship. It appears in the book as the heading to Part 2, beside the stunning Susan Kreuger-Barber image displayed in this post and with this prefatory note:
From December 1998 to December 2000, I served as an LDS missionary in New Zealand. While I was there, I visited cities and towns between Taupo in the middle of the North Island and Kaitaia in the Northland and met people from many countries and cultural backgrounds. As happens with many missionaries and other travelers, I was transformed in the process.

Of all the cultures I encountered in New Zealand, Maori (MAH-ohree; the Maori r is rolled) culture has most influenced me. I've held it in mind since I returned home and many of its ideas have become part of my worldview and my writing, my poetry especially. Some years ago, for example, I began using an image from Maori mythology to give shape to a growing fascination with people and their interactions, societies, cultures, kinships, and texts. The image: someone chasing a long white cloud. It comes from the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa (AH-oh-TAY-uh-ROW-uh), which means “the land of the long white cloud.” Legend has it that when Kupe (COO-pay), Maori voyager and New Zealand’s fabled founder, approached the islands later named New Zealand, he knew land lay ahead because a long bank of cumulus hovered in the distance.

Just as chasing that cloudbank brought Kupe a land for his people, that people and their land opened my eyes to the diverse possibilities of the human sea. I’ve been searching for those possibilities ever since. Every time I think I’ve come close to approaching some solid ground of human understanding, though, the cloudbank dissipates, then reappears over a different, distant island, compelling me to explore onward. Chasing the long white cloud, then, has become my metaphor for this persistent attempt to understand—or at least to try to understand—cultures, peoples, and paradoxes beyond my personal horizon. The entries in this section represent ways I’ve pursued that understanding via an engagement with my experiences in New Zealand.
And my entries on this blog and this blog and this blog represent the ways I'm still pursuing that understanding, still chasing the long white cloud.

Here's to revisiting and revising and reveling in the chase.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Some Notes on Copyright Law and Academic Publishing

Copyright laws and academic presses (who should be advocating for academic freedom) working together to mute scholars' voices. Tsk tsk tsk.

In his tweet about this Slate article, “Executors or Executioners?” (tagline: “Why can’t my biography of Shel Silverstein quote the works of Shel Silverstein? His censorious estate.”), Eric Jepson suggests, and rightly so, that copyright law needs to change. I read this in part as a statement of desire that power needs to be returned to these voices. But beyond the changes that need to be made to copyright laws, the process of academic publishing needs to change, too, as does our perception of knowledge-building via "thoughtful, good-faith argumentation and conscientious debate." Maybe that can, in part, happen if we begin constructing new metaphors to replace the one stated at the end of the article:

What we have here [in this biographer’s interactions with Silverstein’s estate]—if you’ll forgive the military metaphor—is but one front in a larger war against the rigorous analysis of fact. It’s part of a war against the presentation of evidence, a war against thoughtful, good-faith argumentation and conscientious debate. It’s another front in the larger war against truth. Which side are you on?

It seems to me that it would be useful to move beyond this violent, war-mongering imagery in which one party seeks to assert power over the other and to think about the motivations that may bring each party together in the first place and that may drive their behavior and the stances they take toward one another. On the one hand, copyright holders are likely afraid that others (scholars, for instance) will steal their intellectual property and in the process rob the estate of any potential gains said property might offer---like money, fame, respect, etc. On the other hand, those (like scholars) who want to use the material may fear being silenced, which can result in less-than-rigorous scholarship, something that further limits the scholars' ability to contribute to their knowledge-community and to be acknowledged for that contribution (in the form of academic advancement, for instance).

So the motivating factor in this contest over who should get to use someone’s “intellectual property” seems to be fear: fear that, if given the chance, the Other will make off with what’s rightly ours. (Fear, in fact, seems to be one of the motivating factors for all acts of violence and war.) But how do we move past that fear to begin establishing a more generous, more trusting, more trustworthy system for sharing and building knowledge, one in which the needs and desires of all parties are represented and advocated for? What metaphor---other than the military one asserted in the article---might be a more productive way to think about and to begin re-constructing the relationship between intellectual property holders and those who seek to use, to elaborate on, and/or to adapt that property?

As I ask the questions, the image of a creative commons comes to mind. But I’ll have to do more thinking on that metaphor and to share my thoughts on copyright and traditional academic publishing in another post, on another day. For now: any thoughts?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Triple-threat Volcano

I'm one proud papa. Daughter #1 (a fifth-grader) came home last week with an assignment: to make a volcano. She and her friend/classmate came up with the idea ("We want it all!") and my wife and I helped them figure out how to make it work. Their class set the projects off this morning. It was, to quote the kids, "AWESOME!" Check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Reader's Eye View of Field Notes on Language and Kinship

Yesterday morning, the day after a box full of Field Notes paperbacks arrived on my doorstep, I pulled out my phone and shot a "tour" of the book from my perspective. For some reason the audio cut out at the very end, but I think you'll get the gist. I'll make another tour when my limited edition arrives, so you have that to look forward to; I know I'm excited to hold it in my hands.

There's more about the video and some links and stuff on the video's YouTube page.

Happy watching.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Field Notes on Language and Kinship Released

My book officially released today. Glen Nelson announced its publication this morning via his Mormon Artists Group e-newsletter, Glimpses. Here's what he said:
Mormon Artists Group is pleased to announce the publication of
Field Notes on Language and Kinship

by Tyler Chadwick
artworks by Susan Krueger-Barber

A landmark publication appeared in 2011, an anthology of contemporary Mormon poetry. It was an ambitious undertaking that, it can be argued, is among the most important books on Mormonism to appear in the first years of the century. Unknown to many, even inside the Church, Mormon poets have recently become regular contributors to the leading poetry publications in the country. Their poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, Slate, The Southern Review, among many, many others. The award-winning anthology, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, presented 82 poets' new works in its 522 pages.

The editor for Fire in the Pasture was Tyler Chadwick, a young scholar and poet from Idaho. After the publication of the anthology, Mormon Artists Group approached Chadwick to write a book to answer a simple question: Why does poetry matter to you? He responded with Field Notes on Language and Kinship. It is Mormon Artists Group's 24th project.

The book is a direct response to the works in Fire in the Pasture. Chadwick reacts to them in several ways, as a scholar, memoirist, essayist, and poet. Field Notes on Language and Kinship is published as a two-volume edition. The anthology, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, is rebound in hardcover; and Chadwick's original volume is bound as a companion work, covered with hand-pounded amate barkskin papers from Mexico's Otomi Indians and brown Japanese Asahi silk. The two are presented in a slipcase. A commercial paperback is also available from

One of Chadwick's sources of inspiration is visual art, and Field Notes on Language and Kinship includes eight artworks created especially for this project by Susan Krueger-Barber. Just as Chadwick's text brings multiple disciplines of literature to bear, Krueger-Barber's works are multi-disciplinary, mixed media works. Each of them combines photography, painting, and collage (using fragments torn from a copy of Fire in the Pasture). The publication is limited to 25 copies, signed by the artists and numbered.

To read excerpts from Field Notes on Language and Kinship, to explore the original artworks, and to acquire the book and/or the artworks, visit our website.

Here's a pic of the paperback cover:

Cover images by Susan Krueger-Barber.
Cover design by Glen Nelson.

And here's a pic of the limited editions:

Limited edition objects designed and bound by Glen Nelson.

I'll write more about the book's evolution in coming weeks, but for now I'll just say that I'm overwhelmed by how the book came together, especially with Susan's and Glen's excellent artistry. At the risk of sounding trite, I'm grateful to Glen for giving me the opportunity to put together and to sell something really cool about stuff I think about all the time. Even if you're not as word-nerdy as I am, you might find something to resonate with in the book, so come check it out and pass it on to anyone you know who suffers from logophilia.