With the beginning of the new year, I’m starting a new series of posts to support the Come Follow Me curriculum for the year, which I hope will provide those studying or teaching with additional relevant materials — literary materials — to enhance the study of the scriptures. In this case, the materials will be drawn from poetry published in church-oriented periodicals throughout the history of the church.
Long-time readers of Times and Seasons will recognize the format—I’ve done this before for the Gospel Doctrine lessons. But the Come Follow Me curriculum has changed the lessons and the principles examined in each lesson. And since I last did this, the sources I have worked with have expanded significantly — I have many more poems to draw from.
But, I’m sure that many readers, on reading this, will ask themselves “Why?”
I think that’s a reasonable question. Others are certainly basing regular posts on the Come Follow Me curriculum. What makes what I’m doing different is that I’m providing a resource that others aren’t providing — the voice of those who Orson F. Whitney once called Prophets: Poets.
So then why provide poetry? I have many reasons. First, historically poetry has been the most popular form of literature for LDS writers, and as a result there is a lot of poetry available. My back of the envelope calculation suggest that at least 20,000 poems (and perhaps several multiples more) have been published in Mormon periodicals over the past nearly 200 years. Given the breath of the subjects covered in our cycle of Sunday School lessons, a large body of work is needed. Poetry also has the advantage of being a relatively compact form of literature—a lot of content is found in relatively few words. And those words are often accompanied by a fair amount of ambiguity, which leads the reader or hearer to think more profoundly.
And why poetry by LDS poets then? Well, I have already collected a lot of poetry by our poets—poets who have put time and effort into exploring the subjects and principles of Mormon theology and doctrine. It will likely be much more difficult to find poems by others that explore topics like the word of wisdom or Mother-in-Heaven or baptism for the dead. [I won’t say that its impossible, though. It might be a worthwhile project to find suitable non-LDS poetry or other works that support our lessons. I’d be in favor of seeing that done!]
I know there are many critics of Mormon literature, arts and culture out there who will roll their eyes at this idea. Too many complain that Mormon literature isn’t good enough—that the quality of our writing doesn’t make it worth the effort. But, every time that I’ve pinned down those who make these claims, I have discovered that they really haven’t read that much of what has been published — because no one has. The bulk of Mormon literature has been published once and forgotten. If you’ve read an unrepresentative sample of fewer than 100 of 20,000+ poems, how can you know how much of it is good?
This view also ignores the very real fact that bad literature leads to good literature. Like it or not, there are those poems, stories, pieces of art and other works that aren’t that good that are part of our culture. Those works are often replaced eventually by better works. And in the meantime they paved the way for all works of art.
I hope I’ve made my point that this is a useful project. If I have, then readers will take the poetry I post and use it when they teach the lesson, or read it as part of their regular study using the Come Follow Me manuals.
To make this easy, I hope to post at least one or two poems each week throughout the year on the Monday morning that starts the period for the lesson in the manual. For example, the first lesson in the D&C Come Follow Me manual covers December 28th through January 3rd, so I my first post will appear tomorrow (December 28th). This will give readers the week to read them as part of their study and teachers the week to decide if an how to use them in their lessons.
As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments below or on any of the posts during the year.
Very cool project! Have you been following the facebook page A Poet in Zion? Every week last year she posted a new poem that she wrote that related to the week’s Come Follow Me lesson, and I believe she plans to do so again this coming year. Her name is Merrijane Rice and this is her page: https://www.facebook.com/poetinzion
I’m afraid that I’m not on facebook much — for me it ends up being a time sink.
But, I’ll have to check out Merrijane’s work.
I do know about a similar podcast, “Chapter and Verse,” which includes a poem for each chapter of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. I hope he does the Bible as well…
I am all for reading more poetry by Latter-day Saint writers, especially if it relates to what I’m already going to be reading. Yes, the quality is often variable, but I’ve read some really good poems over the years from our fellow members. And, as you noted, bad art leads to good art, if the artist (or writer) pursues a course of closing the gap between their imagination and their ability.
Our history as a church is really only 200 years long, while many other denominations have had far longer to build up a body of work, so one might expect that quality will come with more time. However, I think that many LDS poets and writers have had a really interesting and unique take on the world, and need more encouragement and practice to get past maudlin, maundering, or downright mediocre.
Thank you, E. C. I agree completely.
It is difficult to predict how long and how much work needs to go into developing a corpus of quality works — there are many, many variables that affect it. And since we don’t really know well what we have, we simply can’t know if quality works are there.
This is a great idea! Thanks for doing it, Kent.