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Chadwick, "Fire In the Pasture: twenty-first century Mormon poems" (Reviewed by Harlow Clark) Options · View
Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 5:14:54 AM

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Title: Fire In the Pasture: twenty-first century Mormon poems
Editor: Tyler Chadwick
Publisher: Peculiar Pages
Genre: Poetry
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 522
Binding: Perfectbound paperback
ISBN13: 978-0-981796-6-0
Price: $21.99, Kindle: $4.99
URL: www.peculiarpages.com

Were There Not Three in the Fire?

Reviewed for the Association for Mormon Letters by Harlow Clark

Back during my brief teaching career, a fellow who taught Accounting used to come to the English Department's reading nights. He told me my writing made Mormon culture accessible to a non-Mormon like him, and one day he said he would like to write a book, a dialogue called "God Speaks to an Economist." God tells the economist that while economics is based on the theory of scarcity and the competition for scarce resources, God's economy is based on abundance. "All that my Father hath is yours," and that promise is available to all. "Now that's abundance!" he said.

Susan Howe uses that same word, abundance, in her foreword to the new anthology, "Fire in the Pasture," a word that occurred to her over and over as she read the poems--over and over perhaps, and the poems are worth reading and rereading, for the abundance of joy, of technique, of form and forms, for the exuberance of a poem like Aaron Guile's "Sister Mary-Kate O'Donnell," which suggests the darkness of abundance too great to contain. The bulk of the poem is an energetic list of things to be cleaned out of a woman's house, social worker standing by:

the forty-seven television sets;
top-loading VCRs; eight betamax
recorders; magazines; the coupons; ads;
the Valentines she sent to thirty-three
orange and marmaladish cats who cannot
escape because they need to practice songs
of love;

But the energy is unsustainable, and the social worker is standing by for

the trip away
uptown to germ-o-phobes and sanitized
and linoluminized, catless, soulless rooms.

The book's abundance and energy does not tend toward that end, however, though the energy is often the energy of death. I once ran into Sharlee Mullins Glenn and Valerie Holladay at the public library and we got to talking about our mothers. I think I asked Valerie about an essay she had written about her mother. Valerie said her mother had died recently. Sharlee's too. Mine was approaching 90 (which has been receding 2 years) and unable to live alone, so a sister would take care of her during the week and the other three of us in the area would share her care on the weekends.

Cherish the opportunity to parent your parent, they told me. Bela Petsco, who said the upside of his father's Alzheimers had been that he was always meeting new people, told me the same thing. "Don't call me from your mother's. Even if she's just lying on the couch sleeping, enjoy just being there with her. It will mean so much to you when she's gone."

I thought of that chat at the library when I saw Valerie's obituary last summer (http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=2670). I thought of it again when I got to the Gs in this book, and read Sharlee's "Somewhere."

Do not rage, mother
(leave the raging to the poet
and his father, now both long-dead
despite the raging)
Go gently. Go.
Let go.

The poem evokes one of the salient features of modern and contemporary literature, its deeply personal character, which demands a personal response, and this poem is a personal response to a personal expression of grief, and not only a response, but a mirror image, the complementary opposite of Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

Lionel Trilling explored his worry about those personal demands in his essay "On the Teaching of Modern Literature," which begins with an apology for relating "the bare bones" of his experience offering the first modern lit class at Columbia, where he had to confront the risk of such demands to the teacher's privacy, and the student's and reader's.

I once had an essay rejected with the comment, "If it's possible for a personal essay to be too personal this one is." But I wasn't trying to be personal. I was simply telling the story, in the same way the 80 poets in this book tell stories, often very personal.

Matthew James Babcock's "Inch" is an intriguing story about family life and journeys and new beginnings, and also a technical feat, where the stanza's last line, or a variation on it, provides the first line of the next 14-line stanza, and the 15th stanza collects those 14 lines.

A book of this quality deserves a longer review, but I'll have to save that until I finish, maybe write a series highlighting a phrase or line from each poet, or a lovely piece of synchronicity, such as Neil Aitken's coming first in the alphabet, so the book with a fiery title can open with a poem like "Burials," about Neil's father scattering his father's ashes.

And finally, just a few words about the abundance of fire. Tyler Chadwick says in his preface that he sees the title as extending the image in Eugene England and Dennis Clark's “Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems”: "But farmers sometimes burn their fields post-harvest in preparation for another planting" (xiv).

But fire is a more abundant image than preparation only, with one passage of scripture saying "the Lord was not in the fire," (I King 19:12) and another saying, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." (Daniel 3:24-25)

The ambiguity, doubleness, abundance extends to the cover painting, which has what looks like an upside down drawing of the Community of Christ temple in the midst of the fire, but when you turn the painting upside down the line drawing looks like the Nauvoo temple, seen at a slight tilt, as someone coming up a hill might see building on the crest.

In "The Shape of the Fire" Theodore Roethke celebrated "The shapes a bright container can contain," and this book is a particularly bright container, the kind where you may throw one poem into the fire and when you look to see the shape in the fire you find two or three there.

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