Category Archives: Book Review

Another Restoration Adventure: A Review of L. T. Downing’s The Pilfered Papers

PilferedPapersFRONTCOVER.jpgThe first volume of L. T. Downing’s Adventures of the Restoration series, Get That Gold! (Zion BookWorks, 2013), drew on the conventions of adventure fiction—action, peril, fast-paced plotting, cliffhangers—to the early history of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to create a compelling story that successfully kept its target audience of young readers on the edge of their seats.

(Read my interview with L. T Downing about Get That Gold! and the Adventures of the Restoration series here.)

The recently-published second volume, The Pilfered Papers, attempts to replicate that effect in its telling of the lost 118 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript. This is no easy task, however, since for much of the book, Joseph Smith and Martin Harris are sitting at a table as they translate the Book of Mormon. Moreover, when they are not translating, they are wrapped up in domestic scenes that depend more on the drama of human relationships and character growth than on action. This is the significant difference between Get That Gold!, which had chapter after chapter of physical action and intrigue, and The Pilfered Papers.

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James Goldberg’s Let Me Drown with Moses: A Review

Mormon poetry has always been invested in history. The earliest Mormon poems, for example, argued for Mormonism’s place in the grand narrative of Israel. Later poems, fashioned in less apocalyptic times, sought meaning in Mormonism’s nineteenth-century struggle against the land, the world, and its own idealistic ambitions.

The poems in James Goldberg’s Let Me Drown with Moses take both approaches to Mormonism and history. Organized into seven sections, each with its own thematic concerns, the collection is a kind of composite of Mormon historical and mythic remembrance. Frontloaded with biblical imagery, it reaches back to the New Testament with its first poem, “The Kingdom of God,” which echoes the parable of the great banquet:

The Kingdom of God

Is not the feast. It’s the cry that goes out

and echoes through the streets that you

and I and all the beggars have been summoned

tonight to the sovereign’s table.

Like The Five Books of Jesus, Goldberg’s fictional retelling of the Gospels, this introductory poem asks readers to set aside what they know about the Kingdom of God and indulge in an exercise in devotional imagination. We are to set aside what we think we know for a chance to see the familiar with fresh eyes.

The second poem follows this track, reaching further back in time, imagining a pivotal moment from the Exodus story, when Moses is midway through the Red Sea, but his deliverance from Egypt still remains uncertain:

If these walls of water fall, O Lord,

let me drown with Moses.

Yes, let me die with the same fire in my eyes

Moses saw in a desert bush.

Titled “Prayer on the Red Sea Shore,” the poem gives the collections its title and serves as a kind of statement of purpose and allegiance. Like those who followed Moses between the “walls of water,” the collection casts its voice on the side of Moses. It is an act of literary faith that responds to the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” Matthew Arnold describes in his classic “Dover Beach.”

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Learning to “linger with the givenness of the present moment”: A Review of A Song for Issy Bradley

A surprising number of Mormon novels came out in 2014, but none of them seemed to receive as much attention as Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley. Admittedly, when I first learned about the novel, I yawned. Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels had just given us a novel about a dysfunctional Mormon family in the United Kingdom, so nothing about Issy Bradley seemed all that original. For this reason, perhaps, I took my time getting to the novel—a delay I now regret. While A Song for Issy Bradley is not the One Mighty and Strong Novel avid #MormonLit watchers are waiting for, it is an impressive addition to a growing list of well-written and finely-crafted twenty-first century Mormon novels.

A Song for Issy Bradley takes place within a small Mormon community in Southport, a coastal town in the United Kingdom. Its main characters, the Bradleys, are a typical LDS family with too many obligations and hardly any time to fulfill them. When the novel opens, their home is on the brink of bedlam. It is seven-year-old Jacob’s birthday, and his friends from school are coming over for a party. Ian, the family patriarch and ward bishop, is on his way out the door to tend to a chronically-needy ward member. This makes the morning more stressful for Claire, his wife, who feels the burden of her husband’s calling and struggles to meet cultural pressures that ask her “to make a willing sacrifice” of his presence (28). Ian, after all, is the kind of bishop who can’t refuse a petitioner. Although he has difficulty discerning the Spirit in his work, he tries to do everything by the book—literally, the Handbook of Instructions—and be there for people as “Jesus would do if he were here” (44). Unfortunately, that often means not being there for his own family, which frustrates Claire, a convert, who tends to be less rigid in her Mormon practice and belief.

Rounding out the Bradley family are their four children—Zippy, Alma, Jacob, and Issy—each named for characters in scripture.[i] Zippy, a teenager, is adrift in a sea of kitschy chastity object lessons and tactless admonitions to dress modestly. Alma, a deacon, is a rebel who would rather play soccer than pass the sacrament. Jacob, the seven-year-old, is a firm believer in the mystical world of the primary manual. And Issy, the youngest daughter, is the object of everyone’s love. She is the glue the holds them together.

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Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt: A Review

Recently, the cover of Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith has been splashed across seemingly every major Mormon blog as reviewers have praised its frankness and lack of “theological Twinkies.” I myself preordered a copy of the book shortly before its release—and subtly endorsed it—based solely on the high praise of many early reviews; my admiration for the authors’ previous book, The God Who Weeps; and my respect for Givens themselves, who have become vocal champions of what we might call the “New Faithful” of Mormonism. Since The God Who Weeps, that is, the Givens have come to represent an alternative approach to faithful Mormon practice that seeks to change certain culturally-inscribed attitudes and practices by modifying the tone and focus of the dominant discourse of contemporary Mormonism. (To get a sense of what I mean, I recommend listening to interviews with the Givens on Mormon Stories and other podcasts. Or read their books.) Buying the book, and encouraging others to read it, seemed like a safe bet a month ago. And now that I’ve read the book, I can say, with great relief, that it was. The Crucible of Doubt is a beautiful book, and you should read it as soon as possible.

If you do, you’ll soon discover that the Givens are revolutionaries, but not in any radical sense. As you would expect from authors published through Deseret Book, their tone towards the institutional church is always positive and affirming. This accounts probably for their popularity with readers, including me, who are easily wearied by disillusioned critics of the institution; yet, I think it also strikes a chord with readers for the honest, earnest way it offers hope to those who struggle with faith, who recognize within themselves an encroaching disillusionment. If The God Who Weeps is a book for believing Mormons seeking cultural-intellectual affirmation for their beliefs, as well as a slightly bigger tent, then The Crucible of Doubt is for Mormons who are beginning to wonder, in an era of MormonThink “objectivity,” if there is anything in the Church worth affirming. Like The God Who Weeps, therefore, it makes a case for Mormonism and faith drawing upon the great minds of the Western tradition, particularly the Romantics Terryl Givens so admires. Yet, the book is more ostensibly Mormon than its predecessor, particularly in the way it draws unabashedly from latter-day scripture and General Authorities. For me, this subtle change in approach is a necessary shift, considering their topic, because it reiterates the value of Mormonism’s intellectual tradition and heritage, which critical voices often disparage as thin and platitudinous.

Continue reading Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt: A Review

Personal Mormonism: A Review of Stephen Carter’s What of the Night?

The personal essay and Mormonism go way back. Joseph Smith wasn’t much of a writer, but he took every opportunity to dictate his life story to his scribes. More often than not, these dictations were rather mundane and clerically impersonal, revealing a life spent in meetings and councils and conferences. Occasionally, he would strike an anecdotal note, particularly when he wanted to set the record straight on his story. He would then narrate fantastic events and give them meaning. He would endow a common grove of trees with light or a brilliant meteor shower with apocalyptic grandeur.
At these times, Joseph Smith wore the hat of a personal essayist—and he wore it well.
Stephen Carter carries on this tradition with What of the Night? (Zarahemla Books, 2010), a rare collection of personal essays about Mormons by a Mormon—mostly for Mormons. Many Mormon readers already know Carter’s work, of course, from Sunstone magazine, that bastion of alternative Mormon thought that Carter has edited since 2008. Most of the essays in What of the Night?, in fact, first appeared in Sunstone or its bastion-brother Dialogue, which is not surprising considering the alternative Mormon story they tell.
Or seek to tell. Like Joseph Smith, Carter finds meaning everywhere—in the dead husk of a gutted fish, in the smoke circles of his brother’s cigarette habit, in the solid aftermath of a digested habanera—yet the conclusions he draws from these meanings are never as cocksure and conclusive as the Prophet’s. Joseph Smith wrote with a certainty that bordered for many of his contemporaries on righteous arrogance. Carter writes in an opposite vein, however: a kind of doubt fueled by wicked humility. Here, for example, is his take on the Priesthood and the weight it carries:
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have this weight. Sometimes I wish I could drop it: the power, the responsibility, the tradition, the expectations. I wish I could cut all the ropes and just fly for a little while, scope out the scenery and choose a nice place to visit. Sometimes I envy the people who can leave the Mormon church, who can forget about their priesthood, who can find a new tradition that suits them better, or create their own. What would happen if I didn’t have to wrestle this angel anymore? (Kindle Location 462)
Honest admissions like this are scattered throughout What of the Night? They give the collection a vulnerable voice that is all but absent from the writing in mainstream Mormon publications. In essays like “The Weight of Priesthood,” where the above quotation comes from, and “The Calling,” an account of Carter’s last month in the mission field, this vulnerability seems particularly gutsy because it exposes the often unspoken chinks in the armor of Mormon masculinity. Carter, in a sense, presents himself as a Thayeresque hero. Burdened with the legacy of Mormonism, awed and alarmed by the responsibility of manhood and priesthood, he struggles to reconcile the real of his experience with the ideal of his religious education. Like Harris Thatcher, the protagonist of The Tree House, he feels the vague presence of truth constantly, but never succeeds in holding it in his hand for very long. As he notes in “Writing as Repentance,” the last essay in the collection, this constant—sometimes futile—grasping for truth has placed him in the relatively unexplored canyon between the mountains of Mormon and anti-Mormon orthodoxy.
Despite its honesty, however, I felt that What of the Night? was missing something. In his essay about the priesthood, for example, Carter has much to say about his early experiences with the Priesthood, yet becomes vague when he describes his post-mission shift from orthodox belief to doubt. “Doubting is a difficult business in Mormonism,” he writes, “especially if you were raised in the church.” This is true, of course, but Carter largely leaves you to take his word for it. What is missing, in a sense, is the narrative of Carter’s own descent down the mountain of orthodox Mormon belief. As readers, we know that Carter doubts, but we never get the specifics of why. What happened in the “five years after [his] mission” that led him to doubt? What doctrines or ideas troubled him the most? What were the effects of this changes on those he cared most about? Detail are surprisingly few, especially considering the standard transparencyof the personal essay genre.
Lacking as well are other, less personal details. While I enjoyed his essays on Eugene England, I felt that they needed to supply more background on England himself, especially since the pre-Bloggernacle England and his legacy are becoming increasingly more distant as the years pass. Moreover, I felt that the collection was altogether too short. Carter is a fantastic writer who has a keen understanding of the American Mormon mind and culture. By the time I finished What of the Night?, I was ready for more.
Which is to say: What of the Night?, despite its unfortunate omissions, is worth your time. In fact, it is worth more time than it actually demands from its readers. It is, after all, a fairly quick read.
Finally—and I invoke the language of testimony—I would be ungrateful if I did not mention “The Departed,” the essay from the collection that resonated most with me. It is not, to be sure, the best essay in the collection—that would be “The Calling”—but it is the essay that speaks of what I value most in Mormonism outside of my own personal commitment to its doctrines and teachings: the Mormon artist. In this essay, the Artist is Mormon filmmaker Richard Dutcher, but Dutcher functions for Carter (and the reader) more as a symbol for Mormon creative potential in the essay than as a living, breathing artist. As Carter observes, Dutcher stands apart from his contemporary Mormon filmmakers—the Hesses, Ryan Little, Neil LaBute—because he “took Mormonism seriously in all its peculiarity, in all its promise, in all its paradox,” yet was met with a deaf ear by the Mormon community. Carter asks:
What can you do when a huge part of your community can’t or won’t hear the unique voice you’ve cultivated? What do you do when parts of your community condemn you for exercising your talents? What do you do when your community ignores or reviles the stories that nourish you? (Kindle Location 947)
As usual, Carter doesn’t give us the pleasing answer. The title of the essay—“The Departed”—references a kind of historical exodus of Mormon artist away from the community that nurtured them—a perpetual Lost Generation that includes not only Dutcher, but also poet May Swenson, Carter’s great aunt.  “Maybe one of Mormonism’s roles in the world, beside producing FBI agents, is to export artist to the world the way the Soviet Union used to,” Carter suggests. The notion troubles me immensely, but with Carter I regret that “the field of Mormon arts has been left to hard-working but only semi-talented artist [or, in my case, critics] like me.” I’m optimistic that the situation will improve—in fact, I’ve seen a lot of work lately that gives me great hope—but I still think we have miles and miles to go.
The good news is that we still have Stephen Carter. And that means we’ll likely have more books like What of the Night? in the future.  

Beyond Faithful Realism: A Review of Steven L. Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell

Sometimes I worry about Mormon fiction. Thirty years ago or so, when I was still a toddler haunting the playgrounds of BYU married student housing, writers like Douglas Thayer and Levi Peterson were reinventing the Mormon novel and short story with Summer Fire and Canyons of Grace. These works, perhaps by design, were unlike anything written by Mormon writers before. Welding the unflinching realism and literary craft of the Mormon Modernists of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s with the faith-affirming perspectives of the Home Literature writers, Thayer and Peterson showed that Art and Faith could work together to create something as appealing to the spirit as it was to the mind and heart. In the years that followed, their work inspired a whole generation of faithful realists—from Margaret Blair Young to Todd Robert Petersen—to push the boundaries of Mormon storytelling. Today, literary Mormon fiction is better because of their pioneering work.
But it is also getting a bit tired.
Don’t get me wrong: I think the past few years have given us excellent new works of Mormon fiction—like Long after Dark, Bound on Earth, and The Death of a Disco Dancer. However, I’m beginning to get over the novelty of seeing American Mormon life realistically played out in literary fiction. Yes, yes, I want Faithful Realism to continue as long as it can, or as long as it ought to, but I think Mormon literary fiction needs some variety to keep it vibrant. Something that isn’t so by the book, so Faithful Realist. It needs something a little off-kilter.  
Something like Steven L. Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell.
For a long time I have harbored the suspicion that Steven L. Peck is staging a kind of coup d’etatwithin Mormon letters. In 2011, he published the AML award-winning The Scholar of Moab and was anthologized in both Monsters & Mormons and Fire in the Pasture. Last year, he followed these successes up with A Short Stay inHell (more about this in a moment), TheRifts of Rime (a YA fantasy novel about warrior squirrels), a practical sweep of the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest (read his stories here and here), and a series of off-beat blog posts chronicling the career of fictional Mormon writer Gilda Trillim. While I haven’t read all of Peck’s work, what I have read of it screams something fresh. I hate hyperbole, but Steven L. Peck might be the Moses of Mormon Letters in the Twenty-First Century. Aspiring Mormon fictionists need—I repeat: need—to pay attention to his exodus from Faithful Realism.
In my opinion, A Short Stay in Hell (Strange Violin Editions, 2012) is a good place to start. A deliberate homage to Borges (with a bit of Kafka and Book of Mormon thrown in), the novella centers on Soren Johansson, a Mormon geologist who dies from cancer and ends up in a Zoroasterian hell rather than the spirit paradise of Mormon scripture. For Johansson, the realization that the afterlife is not what he always imagined throws him into an existential crisis that is only exacerbated by the nature of the hell he finds himself in: a seemingly endless library wherein every book that has ever been written or could have been written can be found. Johansson’s task is to find the one book that describes his “earthly life story (without errors, e.g., in spelling, grammer, etc.)” and feed it through a designated slot so that he can gain entrance into heaven, which is lorded over by the Zoroasterian god Ahura Mazda. The task seems simple enough, but the simplicity of this hell is deceiving. A Short Stay in Hell is only 108 pages, but it covers billions of years.
Johansson’s search takes a long, long time.
The book, however, is not about Johansson’s search—not entirely. Upon arriving in hell, he is informed that he is there “to learn something,” but warned that he shouldn’t “try to figure out what it is” because doing so would only be “frustrating and unproductive” (19). A Short Stay in Hell, therefore, is partly about finding meaning after every traditional framework and superstructure of meaning has been exploded. Johansson and his fellow hellmates—all of whom are white Americans from the post-war era—grasp for meaning at every opportunity, wresting the least bit of sense from the absurd gibberish contained in most of the books in the library. To a certain extent, they bring some meaning to their lives by organizing exploratory expeditions, holding award ceremonies, creating makeshift Zoroasterian religions, and founding a university.  For the most part, though, these efforts are futile and hollow. As one character notes:
The absurdity of it has never left me. We can’t care about anything here. We can’t make a difference—all meaning has been subtracted, we don’t now where anything comes from or where it goes. There’s no context in our lives. We’re all white, equal ciphers, instances of the same absurdity repeated over and over. We try to scratch some hope or meaning out of it with our university, but ultimately there is nothing to attach meaning to. We’re damned. (65)
But the lives of those in A Short Stay in Hell are not always as bleak as this character makes them sound. True, much of what Johansson experiences in hell lives up to its name. (While there is no fire and brimstone—no real fire and brimstone, that is—there are plenty of bad people in hell, including a demagogue named Dire Dan, who terrorizes its inhabitants with a sadistically corrupt religion.) Even so, Johansson still finds friendship, love, and hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. In the end, these glimmers of light may not add up to much against the absurdity of hell and the despair it cultivates, but the novella seems to suggest that these good things matter, regardless of how small or weak they may be.
A Short Stay in Hell, therefore, is not just about one man’s journey through hell, but our journey through life—which itself can seem absurd and meaningless at times, particularly when super-storms wreck cities and lone gunmen massacre movie-goers and schoolchildren. If anything, it asks us to consider how we make meaning out of the chaos God gives us—and how we make God (or variations of God) out of the chaos. This, I think, is where A Short Stay in Hell departs from the realm of Faithful Realism. It is not the novella’s fantastic setting or implausible premise that separates it from so much of literary Mormon fiction, but the ambiguous stance it takes to faith, belief, and other such things we Saints hold dear. It is heretical, in a sense, but in the same way the Book of Mormon or the Book of Job or Ecclesiastes are heretical. It breaks firmly anchored paradigms in order to clear the way for something deeper and more meaningful to emerge. It gets us thinking about what we can do to make better meaning from the meaning we already have.
And that is what we need more Mormon fiction to do. 

I Make a Pact with You, Sister Snow: A Review of "Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poems"

Over the past two years or so I’ve become an unwitting fan of nineteenth-century literature. During my undergraduate English studies, which began ten years ago this week, I was more interested in reading Medieval epics and William Faulkner than anything by Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville. Not much changed during the two years of my MA program, except that I stopped reading Dante and Chaucer and started reading more contemporary American and Mormon fiction. Even in my spare time, which was rare, I never picked up anything literary written before 1920.[1]
This changed when I started my Ph.D. and took two seminars on nineteenth-century American literature—one on the American Romantics, the other on women writers—that left me wondering why no one had clued me in on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and stories like Hawthorne’s “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” Poe’s “Hop-Frog,” and Melville’s “Bartleby.”
Now, one-third of the texts I’m reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams are Nineteenth-century American literary texts. My dissertation, of course, will still be on Mormon fiction, and contemporary American fiction will probably remain my primary area of expertise, but I’m actively looking into ways to make nineteenth-century America and its literature a more significant part of my research and studies. I mean, I like to keep my options open.[2]
I bring this up because I am yet to catch the nineteenth-century Mormon literature bug.[3] I have tried—earnestly—to get excited about it, but every time I pick up a poem by Parley P. Pratt, Orson F. Whitney, or John Lyon I get about half-way through it before I lose all consciousness in my brain and experience temporary paralysis in every fiber of my being.[4]
So, it is with some reluctance that I review this massive volume lying open on the floor beside me, Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson’s Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (Brigham Young University Press, 2009). I have neither read the entire book—I don’t know how anyone ever could—nor do I ever hope to. Part of this, I expect, has to do with my ambivalence toward poetry in general. While I have been known to write the occasional poem,[5] I don’t read much of it any more. Fiction is my thing. Poetry is more of a hobby.
Also, Sister Snow—even at her best—doesn’t really write the kind of poetry I like. In fact, no one in the nineteenth century, with the exception of maybe Emily Dickinson and a few other abnormalities, writes the kind of poetry I like.[6] For a reader like me, therefore, the value of a book like Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry is not in the poetry itself, but rather in the work of the editors.
In this respect, Eliza R. Snow shines. Not only does the introductory essay by Derr and Davidson provide an insightful, honest analysis of Snow’s talent, as well as a thorough overview of her life, but it also introduces each of its nine chapters and all 507 of its poems with commentary that is both impressive and essential for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper appreciation for Snow’s work.
One insight, for instance, that I have found most useful in my haphazard reading of the poems is Derr and Davidson’s observation that “Snow’s well-known public role [as “Zion’s poet laureate] complicated and sometimes obscured her self-expression.” Unlike Dickinson, in other words, whose poetry is often marked by the painful nakedness and intense interiority of its narrative voice, Snow, tightly buttoned, keeps her readers at more than arm’s length. Indeed, as Derr and Davidson note, “Contemporary readers” are not likely to warm up to Sister Snow and her poems because her apparent “reluctance to allow a personal, lyric, truly revealing voice to break through the persona of Zion’s Poetess” sometimes makes for chilly reading (xvi).[7]
Of course, reading their commentary on Snow’s poetry, it is clear that Derr and Davidson have great affection for Zion’s Poetess, although they readily acknowledge that not all of Snow’s poetry is of the highest aesthetic quality. “No poet’s reputation,” they write, “is likely to benefit from the publication of that poet’s complete works” (xv). This is certainly the case, for example, when you read a poem like “Lines, on the Death of Bishop N. K. Whitney” (#206), which begins
A mighty man, a man of worth,
            A father and a friend,
Has left the narrow sphere of earth
            His upward course to wend.
and limps along dismally until its predictable conclusion:
The stroke is with a heavy rod—
            But while our hearts deplore
His loss, we’ll own the hand of God,
            That God whom we adore. (404-405)
With poems like this in the mix, Derr and Davidson do a great service to their subject by reminding readers that “Snow deserves—as does any poet—to be judged by her best poems” (xv).[8] That means, of course, that readers are going to have to sift through a lot of Snow’s lesser poems—the trite memorial or missionary farewell pieces—to get at the heart of this book.
Obviously, tried-and-true Snow poems, like “My Father in Heaven” [“O My Father”] (#152) and “Sacramental Hymn” [“How great the wisdom and the love”] (#433), resonate with readers because of their enduring place as hymns in Latter-day Saint worship services. Other poems, like “Your Portrait” (#104), make up for their mediocre construction with keen observations, clever arguments, and unique views into nineteenth-century life. Snow, after all, wasn’t always a great poet, but she had a lot of important things to say about the big issues of her day. In fact, some of her most energetic—and surprising—poems are venomous responses to the United States government and its anti-polygamy crusade of the 1860s, 70s, and 80s:
My Country, O, my Country! My heart bleeds for thee—I mourn
thy corruption and degradation—thy glory has departed—thy fame
is extinguished—thy peace and honor, swindled; and “the dear old
flag” which once floated in glorious majesty, is now slowly and
solemnly undulating at half mast, as a requiem of thy departed
liberty, which thou has sacrificed on the shrine of political
emolument. (“My Country—A Lamentation,” [#424], 816)[9]
In their introduction, Derr and Davidson wisely direct readers to the best of Eliza R. Snow, poems like “A Winter Soliloquy” (#426), “Narcissa to Narcissus” (#51), “To Mrs. Heywood” (#231), and “My First View of a Western Prairie” (#433). For what it’s worth, my recommendation is that readers open the book at random and read until they find something that catches them. Out of 507 poems, readers are bound to find a few they like.  
Admittedly, my opinion of nineteenth-century Mormon poetry is not likely to change in the years to come, yet I am glad to have Eliza R. Snow on my bookshelf. As the only complete collection of Snow’s poetry, it is an invaluable resource for those, like me, who take Mormon literature seriously. Additionally, the fine editorial work of Derr and Davidson make it one of the more significant published contributions to Mormon literary studies in recent years. With any luck, a few enthusiastic graduate students with interests in Mormon poetry will get their hands on it and build upon the conversations Derr and Davidson have graciously begun within its pages.
Post Script: Speaking of Mormon poetry, I was pleased today to see that the cover of the latest anthology of Mormon poetry, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, was released by its publisher, Peculiar Pages.  If the fetching William Blake-esque cover is any indicator of the poetry contained therein, it promises to improve upon the great legacy of Sister Snow.  I look forward to reading and reviewing it.


[1] Unless you count the scriptures, of course.
[2] If you’re interested in my work on the ways the nineteenth century and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries intersect, check out my other blog, Fenimore’s Ghost.
[3] This is kind of ironic since most of the research I’ve done on contemporary Mormon literature—none of which I have published—looks back on nineteenth-century Mormon history. In fact, if everything goes according to plan—and I say this as a kind of teaser—nineteenth-century Mormon history will play a nice supporting role in my dissertation. Mormon literature from that time, however, will not.
[4] For this reason, I’ve made it a point never to read Elias: An Epic of the Ages and walk at the same time.
[5] But never an occasional poem.
[6] For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention here that I once had a dream in which I was caught in a love triangle involving both Emily Dickinson and Eliza R. Snow. I was an undergraduate at the time, probably taking an American literature survey, so try not to judge me too harshly. Since dreams have a way of not ending in any clear manner, I can’t remember who won out. I do remember, though, that Sister Snow’s hair was removable and made of the same material as a wasp’s nest. Analyze that.
[7] I’m resisting the temptation to evoke the surname of Zion’s Poetess here and make a pun bad enough to rival that used in Windows of Heaven, the short 1963 film about Eliza’s younger brother, Lorenzo, who became president of the LDS Church in 1898. In the film—if my memory is correct—President Snow (that is, the actor playing President Snow) cracks a smile behind his fake beard and says something like, “It will take more than a little sun to melt this snow!” I’ve probably botched the line, but you get the idea.  
[8] Having written my own share of dismal poems, I tend to agree with the editors.
[9] Should you continue on with this poem, you will find that Sister Snow warns the U.S.A. that “a day of retribution awaits thee.” And this was after the Civil War.