Monday, November 9, 2009

Lance Larsen: The Great Mormon Poet?

There's been a lot of talk in the past about the Great Mormon Novel, but we don't hear much---if anything---about the Great Mormon Poet (or Mormon poetry or poetry in general, for that matter). I've accepted the fact that I'm practitioner of an art that's fallen on hard times, if it was ever not on hard times, that is, but I'm doing my best to work that system and to broaden the (Mormon) audience for poetry in whatever nominal way I can---a task I find as necessary as love.

Hence, I've decided (finally!) to do my dissertation (pending approval) on the poetry/poetics of Lance Larsen. Of all the verse I've read over the past however many years, his has stuck with me most. It doesn't wallow in the postmodern condition, doesn't refuse tradition and values and the strength of community (especially the family). It doesn't flounder in self-pity over the failures of language (though Larsen is aware of that trend) and, by extension, it's not mere wordplay. On the other hand, it doesn't reach for some type of transcendence beyond this world, refusing to engage the ordinary, the mundane, the familiar in some attempt to move beyond the immediate. Rather, it's firmly rooted in mortality, in the family, in the possibilities of communities and the "small disturbances" that cumulatively make up a life and that bind humans of all stripes in lasting connections, including those made possible through language.

As I see it, the strength of Larsen's poetry makes him one of Mormonism's best---if not the best poet currently writing in/from the Mormon tradition. And though he doesn't specifically write for a Mormon audience, his Mormonism permeates and grounds his verse in, dare I say it?, hope for a better world. That and he can turn a beautiful, even sublime, line, something that places him among America's best poets (as I've just discovered, though the preceding link's a month old).

And that, I think, is an achievement worth applauding.

(Cross-posted at AMV.)