Monday, November 30, 2009

Mormon Artist and Me: My Honorable Mention

Earlier this year (March 30, to be specific), I extolled my own virtues as a poet by apprising the world (or at least the three or four of you who follow my blog) that one of my poems had taken an honorable mention in Mormon Artist's inaugural literature contest (for writer's under thirty). Well, Ben Crowder and crew have finally released the magazine's Special Contest Issue. And there I am: poem, interview, essay on my poem (by Ty Campbell), and all.

Ah---it's nice to be recognized every once in a while.

But more importantly, it's great to see what other young Mormon writers are doing right now. There's some good stuff on the other end of this link, so I encourage you to do some exploring---to read Davey Morrison Dillard's poem and play, Sarah Page's poem, Eliza Campbell's essay, James Goldberg's stories, and the interviews and essays associated with each writer. It's a pleasure to be included in this crowd.

And because I can and because the magazine had only limited space for the interviews, I'm going to post more of the Q/A I had with Ty Campbell.

Enjoy as you bask in the light of my brilliance---or at least in the back light from your computer screen. Because let's face it: that's likely far more brilliant than my dim wits.

* * * *

My Interview with Mormon Artist: Extended Edition

1. [Part II of this question didn't make the final cut. Part I was "What was your process for writing 'For the Man in the Red Jacket'?", answered here.] How long did you work on [the poem]? What if any revisions did you make? How did you decide on the three line stanzas?

Running and writing---writing as I run---has been a successful combination for me, with this poem as with other texts I've written. As is the case with "For the Man in the Red Jacket," I started writing with feet to pavement, transcribed my thoughts onto my laptop as soon as I got home, then hit a dead end. So I shelved the poem to give the experience time to ripen. Some months later, I picked it up again---I think at this time it was titled "Grace"---and was able to dredge up the more lasting details of the experience. After I'd tinkered with it for a few more days, I re-shelved it because I wasn't comfortable with the ending. I think at that point it made direct reference to me being Mormon and of course I've made time for grace---something along those lines. But, for some reason, that just didn't sit right. Chalk it up to feeling that approach was somewhat self-righteous, somewhat self-serving, but I couldn't leave it at that and feel like I was being true to the man's question.

Again, some months later, I picked up the poem and was pleased with much of what I'd written, though the ending still bothered me. Endings are difficult beasts to handle: tame them too much and, like the oversized, excessively slobbery family dog, they may just leave the reader with a big, sloppy kiss on the way out the door; yet leave them wild and they may turn rabid, biting the reader a bit too hard during play, so much so that the visitor leaves offended or hurt and never returns. (The analogy's a bit rough, but I think the idea behind it works.) So I reworked the final two stanzas to include imagery that ties back into the epigraph and to the religious uses and symbolism of water. I also renamed the poem to let the man in the red jacket know (though I'm certain he'll never read the poem) that his words didn't go unheard and to remind myself that maybe my words do things beyond their immediate purpose, sinking in some way into another soul, helping them, perhaps, become more as they'd like to be.

As for the three-line stanzas, it was more an aesthetic decision than anything; that is, I like how the three-line stanza looks on the page, how it ties the lines, the words, the ideas together.

[...]

4. I sense a note of sardonic commentary in the poem; is this something that comes out only in your writing, or is this part of your personality? Are you more likely to write in a more ironic tone than you speak? Why or why not?

My patriarchal blessing reminds me that I have an alert and inquiring mind, which to me implies the ability (among other things) to observe closely and think critically about the varieties of human experience, an ability refined further by my academic training as a literary scholar. This tendency to view things with a critical eye (something I've come to consider as both blessing and curse) makes me sensitive, I think, to what's going on beneath the surface. As I see it, the skillful use of irony (something I'm continually working on developing) is one way of getting at and commenting on these subterranean movements and of poking a little fun at ourselves in the process (as I do in the poem).

Having said that, I don't necessarily claim to be an ironic person. (Maybe that's the irony, though---am I being ironic if I claim to be or not to be ironic?) I'm critical, yes; sarcastic, at times; definitely interested in the workings of paradox; and I try to be witty (though I probably fail more than I succeed here). And all of these seem to part of what it means to be ironic. So maybe irony is more a part of my personality than I thought, though it probably comes out in my writing more pointedly than in my everyday expressions, simply because the written word is by far more focused and compressed than the quotidian.

5. What do you think of the current opportunities available to Mormon creative artists? Do you feel that you are limited by people's perceptions of your faith? What have you done with your writing in order to reach a larger audience?

Though I'm not as apprised as I'd like to be about the numerous opportunities available to Mormon artists worldwide, I'm encouraged by many of the current directions in Mormon arts and letters, especially those that move toward the creation of an expansive community of Mormon artists, one that increasingly includes voices from beyond the Intermountain West and that makes some effort to incorporate artists from outside the United States in their dialogue (though we still have a ways to go in this regard). I'm convinced that the networking capabilities of the Internet play (and will continue to play) a significant role in this community shaping and expansion, as illustrated in the numbers participating in the various Mormon arts and culture blogs and other online forums, such as this magazine.

Such movement across the World Wide Web has further opened opportunities for us to alter our own and other people's perceptions of our faith and our culture, including our arts and letters. I know my own participation on the group blog A Motley Vision and on my personal blog, Chasing the Long White Cloud, have been instrumental in helping me find a way into Mormon letters, giving me an increased audience for my work, providing me with a community of artist saints to work alongside in the continuing development of Mormon culture, and encouraging me to free and condense my creative and critical expressions (as I discuss above) and my understanding of Mormonism itself. In this sense, I don't feel limited by how others perceive my faith; rather I feel encouraged to reach out and to find ways of entering into dialogue with them such that, together, we can come to greater understandings of one another and God.