Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mormon Lit Blitz contest

Have you heard of the Mormon Lit Blitz?  It's a contest showcasing short literature by Mormon writers.  All month they'll be publishing the finalists' work, and you can vote on your top 5 in March.  I love this quote they reference, by Orson F. Whitney:
“We must read, and think, and feel, and pray, and then bring forth our thoughts, and polish and preserve them. This will make literature.”
What a great description of the process and the importance of writing!  You'll find my poem there today, and more discussion here on the Facebook page.  UPDATE: I've now posted the poem here as well.

In Bulk
“But as good as the price-per-ounce may be, you just don’t need that much mayonnaise.”
—CBS MoneyWatch, “5 Things You Should Buy At Costco”

It is tempting to begin aggressively,
To ask what you—with your elevators and your “buzzing-in,”
Your taxis and your tiny, drooping houseplants,
Your Holiday Parties, and your solitary coffee breaks—
Know of shouting, giggling masses of children
Bursting like not-quite-sentient maggots
From the secondhand, mortifying Station Wagon.

But that would limit the scope of this argument,
Which, I admit, began relatively blandly—
With mayonnaise, to be precise,
Which is a sort of metaphor for blandness—
But which will flourish in the potato salad of my indignation
Until it is perfectly seasoned, surprising, and delicious.

And so I will say instead, that you must have been kept
All your life beneath the veil of city lights,
Unlike Wordsworth and yes, me; we who love stars,
And are Habituated to the Vast.
You must have never known contented crowdedness,
Two-to-a-bed, whispers and tangled feet,
Enough space in your eyes to hold the desert sunlight,
Elbowing its way over the mountains at dawn
And blazing up like brushfire in the evenings.

And so it is unreasonable to expect you,
Your compact refrigerator and your collapsible umbrella,
To conceive abundance. Oh, but do not think it is not real,
Though perhaps you have not met it in your dim-lit halls.
I find it daily, sifting down into my 50-pound bags of flour,
Nesting contentedly in my gargantuan cartons of eggs.
Here, it falls down on us like stardust.
My children run laughing through its showers.
We shake it, shining, from our hair.

                                                  ---Marilyn Nielson

14 comments:

  1. That was GOOD! And I feel so infantile in my understanding of prose, but I felt like I understood what you were saying. Hooray for the West, we Mormons, and our millions of kids and enormous jars of mayo. Hooray for the abundance of joy we experience that so many scoff at and disdain in their ignorance.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Marilyn: I enjoyed your poem, though I read it somewhat differently the first time than in subsequent readings. Perhaps because I have just been helping an old badger-scholar friend of mine move his dusty, cramped quarters, I thought the character you addressed was such a one who has not embraced life, who has wilted through his dogged solitude, and who has ultimately given up and retracted.

    But then, I read Beth's comment (above) and it completely reoriented my thinking. I see now there could be regionalism in the poem. It reminded me not only of the hordes of Utah/Idaho graduate students who show up in my Illinois town and complain there are no mountains, but also the regional antagonism identified by Frederick Jackson Turner in his essay on "The Problem of the West":

    "The wilderness disappears, the 'West' proper passes on to a new frontier, and, in the former area, a new society has emerged from this contact with the backwoods. Gradually this society loses its primitive conditions, and assimilates itself to the type of the older social conditions of the East; but it bears within it enduring and distinguishing survivals of its frontier experience. Decade after decade, West after West, this rebirth of American society has gone on, has left its traces behind it, and has reacted on the East. The history of our political institutions, our democracy, is not a history of imitation, of simple borrowing; it is a history of the evolution and adaptation of organs in response to changed environment, a history of the origin of new political species. In this sense, therefore, the West has been a constructive force of the highest significance in our life. To use the words of that acute and widely informed observer, Mr. Bryce, 'the West is the most American part of America....What Europe is to Asia, what England is to the rest of Europe, what America is to England, that the Western States and Territories are to the Atlantic States.'" (Found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/95sep/ets/turn.htm)

    I would be interested in knowing more about who you addressed in your own mind when writing the poem.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Okay. I left two silly comments on the Facebook page. One of them was snotty, I'm afraid - I've really, really been annoyed by "Mormon" literature in the past. Beginning with a book published by a faculty member when I was in grad school - no several books published by several faculty back then. So full of themselves on so many different levels. I'll tell you about it some day. Pfff. And another one that only you and Beth and people who know you would understand. I couldn't help myself (full of same).

    I am so regularly astonished by you. I think maybe you are what I hoped to grow up to be. And I don't mean to be mushy or overweaning or whatever. You are clever, of course, which I never have been. But more than that. You are so fiercely a mother, and so creative in doing it. And you cook. You love cooking, and your sense of adventure shows up in that. And magic. There's some magic there. There's just magic flipping all over you.

    You think. You laugh. You see light. You are full of wonder. Please tell me that there's something out of balance - that your kids are out of control, or the corners of the halls are gritty or that your laundry lies in piles at least sometimes.

    You make car washes and complex, slam dunk poems. You haven't lost anything to weariness or bitterness. You used to run for fun - and I never could understand that, and still can't (though even Ginna and Guy have started doing it lately).

    You remind me of Jim Christensen. I think people like you are exact-ly what HF hoped his people would turn into - full of light, creation leaking out of them all over the place, laughing, dancing, loving - seeing the absurd and the dance and the fun - being brave and strong and just powering on.

    I could keep the stable for people like you. I'm good at flinging manure and muscling down bales of hay. And standing agog, mouth gaping, as the parade goes by. The pairing of you and Sam - powerful stuff. Your children will not understand for a long, long time what serendipity gave them life.

    The poem is good, by the way. Intricately woven - which was not, I know, really done on purpose. Your brain just weaves connections all the time and they spill out even accidentally. I would like to send this to almost every editor I ever had in New York. Not Rosemary, because she isn't like most of them - but those women whose understanding of "real" life is limited to that urban thing - and other people's children, mostly. They don't tend to be people with families full of child-consumers who read without that lovely NY sense of the cynic.

    They turn down things they don't understand - that they can't even conceive of, being so limited in perspective by their own socially-responsible limit on birth and their sense of "quality" time.

    They sell to movie kids. Not real ones.

    And if that's the case, their Costco mayo would probably rot long before they'd scooped out ten percent of it.

    I'm still sick. And the sleeping pill I took last night is making me kind of - long winded.

    ReplyDelete
  4. William: thanks for your comment and your thoughtful reading. I love your description of the "dogged solitude" of someone "who has not embraced life," and I think it is a good picture of who the poem addresses. The poem's regionalism, I suppose, comes through in the idea that Westerners have grown up with the wide open spaces, and that vastness informs their worldview. Perhaps they have less worry that there will be "enough" of something---housing, land, whatever---than those Easterners who have lived their lives elbow-to-elbow with huge populations. I agree with Turner's assertion that the Western mindset is inherently expansive, exploratory, "constructive."

    But I think it even goes beyond that for me. I know there's always inaccuracy when trying to sum up the feelings or attitudes of a group of people, but I will generalize by saying that as "Mormons," we have an even stronger connection with abundance. We believe in Jesus Christ's promise that he brings life "more abundantly," and we believe that the earth "has enough and to spare" (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/104?lang=eng&query=%22and+to+spare%22) for all of us. We have faith that though we are not strong enough to face every challenge on our own, God will always be able to *make* us enough. So the acceptance of and wish for abundance is deeply rooted in us.

    This can be contrasted with the opposing viewpoint where the very idea of abundance is treated with revulsion: "greed! Fatness! Overpopulation! Taking more than your 'fair share'!" Someone who believes this may also believe that more people=less "good stuff" for everyone else. Economics, to such a person, is a zero-sum game where one person's gain is always another's loss. They may feel that having lots of children means less free time, fewer opportunities, less money, etc. for each child, and they can't understand why someone would limit their children's future in that way. They may feel that lots of food (witness the Costco mayonnaise) is somehow indecent or sinful. They may scoff at big houses and big cars as "McMansions" and gas-guzzlers with no understanding of why someone might need such things. In short, just as you said, they have not "embraced life" in its most abundant form.

    So, to finally answer your question, I guess the poem addresses that person: the one who makes the arrogant assumption that those who don't share his "scarcity" mindset are ignorant, greedy, or worse. Those who believe in abundance (whether it comes from a western upbringing, religious beliefs, or simply our own experiences that have led us to our convictions) make the choice to have fewer of some of the traditional abundances---money, prestige, etc.---in favor of what we feel are far more fulfilling abundances. We believe in abundance because through our families and our faith we experience, as Beth pointed out, such "abundance of joy."

    ReplyDelete
  5. K: you are the one who writes so beautifully, even in your comments. "full of light, creation leaking out of you all over the place"--it's a lovely thing to say, and a lovely way of saying it. Thank you. And thank you for reading and encouraging me, you who are a REAL WRITER and even humble about it. I agree that "Mormon literature" could be and has been a sort of backhanded insult/designation. Your books, for example, are not Mormon lit, except in how they inform your overall worldview--which I guess is some of what this poem was saying anyway. Anyway, I'm two chapters into "The Gardener" (on my iPad!) and loving it. I'm so happy you are making your books available so they can see the light and make some of their own. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. K: oh, and the corners of my halls are not just gritty sometimes, but always. Likewise the laundry unfolded and the plants dying of spider mites and the floor covered with crumbs. It's that blasted abundance sifting down on us all the time . . . :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love the poem. And I've really enjoyed the discussion here--the connection to Turner was one I never would have made on my own.

    What this poem captured for me is that moment of hearing/reading an offhand remark, seemingly innocuous, that reveals a total disconnect between the speaker's experience and my experience. Your poem feels like the firestorm in my head those moments produce--only a much more beautiful and articulate sort of firestorm.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Marilyn: Thanks for your further elucidation of the poem. It helps to deepen the poem--Costco Mayonnaise, for example, is not simply the symbol of greediness or waste, but it is what makes it possible to provide potato salad for the more people. Out of abundance, we can give more, enrich more, foster and support more life, more joy. Thus, the cup overflows. Nice.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I like your poem a lot. I left some comments at the Mormon Lit Blitz site, and I maxxed out my welcome there, I figure!

    It occurred to me while I was ironing my hubby's shirt this morning: "Ah, the concluding lines of Whittier's SNOWBOUND!"

    These aren't them:

    Where’er her troubled path may be,

    The Lord’s sweet pity with her go!

    The outward wayward life we see,

    The hidden springs we may not know.

    Nor is it given us to discern

    What threads the fatal sisters spun,

    Through what ancestral years has run

    52
    The sorrow with the woman born,

    What forged her cruel chain of moods,

    What set her feet in solitudes,

    And held the love within her mute,

    What mingled madness in the blood,

    A life-long discord and annoy,

    Water of tears with oil of joy,

    And hid within the folded bud

    Perversities of flower and fruit.

    It is not ours to separate

    The tangled skein of will and fate,

    To show what metes and bounds should stand

    Upon the soul’s debatable land,

    And between choice and Providence

    Divide the circle of events;

    But He who knows our frame is just,

    Merciful, and compassionate,

    And full of sweet assurances

    53
    And hope for all the language is,

    That He remembereth we are dust!




    The down-sifting stardust out in your territory is the fantastic correlative of John Greenleaf Whittier's "benediction of the air"? These lines end SNOWBOUND:


    Yet, haply, in some lull of life,

    Some Truce of God which breaks its strife,

    The worldling’s eyes shall gather dew,

    Dreaming in throngful city ways

    Of winter joys his boyhood knew;

    And dear and early friends—the few

    Who yet remain—shall pause to view

    These Flemish pictures of old days;

    Sit with me by the homestead hearth,

    And stretch the hands of memory forth

    To warm them at the wood-fire’s blaze!

    And thanks untraced to lips unknown

    Shall greet me like the odors blown

    65
    From unseen meadows newly mown,

    Or lilies floating in some pond,

    Wood-fringed, the wayside gaze beyond;

    The traveller owns the grateful sense

    Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,

    And, pausing, takes with forehead bare

    The benediction of the air.



    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=1836198539158358199&postID=1912939597648931268

    Good luck and God Bless!

    ReplyDelete
  10. The link to Project Gutenberg's excellent online copy of SNOWBOUND... --what happened?!

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20226/20226-h/20226-h.htm

    ReplyDelete
  11. William Butler Yeats -- "It's certain that fine women eat / A crazy salad with their meat"

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17418-2004Nov1.html

    Nora Ephron's 'Crazy Salad': Still Crisp

    By JONATHAN YARDLEY
    Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page C01

    An occasional series in which The Post's book critic reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past

    ReplyDelete
  12. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32511/32511-h/32511-h.htm

    Project Gutenberg

    Famous Women.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    MARGARET FULLER.

    by Julia Ward Howe




    Fuller is the model for the wild world traveler woman in Whittier's SNOWBOUND. The type of the Woman who journeys and journeys. Hmm. Have you read Hawthorne's THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE or THE MARBLE FAUN? Zenobia is her name in one of those, I think... (I wonder if Hepzebah in THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES is another try at limning Her?...no, Alice is!)

    Wikipedia: "Alice is the haughty beauty whose ghost now haunts the House of The Seven Gables. In life she was loved by young Matthew Maule, grandson of the original Maule hung for witchcraft. When proud Alice spurned the love of the hard-working carpenter, young Maule devised a fiendish trick to enslave her. At the behest of her greedy father, he put her into a deep, hypnotic trance, supposedly to help locate some missing land deeds. In reality, Maule used his powers for selfish revenge. After awakening from her trance, Alice is subjtect at any time to Maule's commands. She sings, dances, and laughs like a madwoman in all manner of inappropriate situations, and is soon so humiliated that she dies of shame. A mortified Maule realizes too late that his petty desire for personal satisfaction as caused the needless death of a beautiful, refined young woman."


    Check. Zenobia in THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE and Miriam in THE MARBLE FAUN are cast in the role of Fuller. These is the anti-Wife, the opposite pole within the Self.


    Well, it's been real. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. That poem is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ahh! You have such a way with words. Well Done!

    ReplyDelete