Regarding Carol Lynn Pearson

January 18, 2009 | 16 comments
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Over the holidays I discovered the poetry of Carol Lynn Pearson, which I have been enjoying. At times she spills over into the trite or saccharine, but on the whole I like it. There is nothing agonistic about it, which is the reason that Terryl Givens doesn’t much care for it. I think that he’s right, however, that by taking Emily Dickinson (another poetess I’ve recently started reading) as her model, the conciseness of her style frequently rescues her from smugness. At its best, there is an engaging naivete in her verse, a kind of simple purity that skates at the edge of being simplistic but manages not to be. At times there are even surprises. Consider this:

ANOTHER BIRTH

I did not bring
The anticipation
Of birth –
Of forging my spirit
With flesh.

As the moment
Neared,
I think
I held my breath
(If spirits breathe)
And made a
Reverent plunge
Into embodiment,
Mortality.

Yes –
Even unremembering
I know the
Wonderment,
The awe.
For I stand staring
At another birth
That swells my heart
With the hugeness
Of beginnings.
In a moment
I am born as wife –
Given another body
And another life.

As I began reading this poem, I thought that it would be about childbirth. Its structure looked predictable to me, telling the story of birth from both sides of the veil. Then in the final lines I learn that the birth is not of a child but of a marriage. The forging of spirit with flesh of the first lines is given a conjugal meaning in the final lines as the speaker gets another body. For me at any rate, the poem has a twist at the end. Along the way, it manages to pack in the images in Dickinson fashion. The plunge of the middle section, for example, calls forth images of diving into water, baptism, and even the water of birth. Finally, there is a wonderful Mormon sensibility about the whole poem. For me this shows up less in the theme of pre-existence per se, than in the parenthetical “(If spirits breath)”. There is a literalness in that phrase that recalls angels delivering plates and Joseph’s instructions on how to test for angels or Satanic spirits. Likewise, I can’t help but reading the imagery of spirits, bodies, and forging as covertly sexual, but a sexuality embedded in a religious enthusiasm for the physical.

On the whole, Pearson is not a deep well to which I see myself returning again and again, like Milton or Wordsworth. She, is however, at her best a well-tended flower garden.

[Cross-posted at Akrasia]

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16 Responses to Regarding Carol Lynn Pearson

  1. Marc Bohn on January 18, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    I love the “If spirits breathe” line

  2. NOYDMB on January 18, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    She’s the same author that wrote “I am reluctant to accept the precision of some as to what God considers an abomination.” even though modern apostles have taught: “Homosexual activity is and will always remain before the Lord and abominable sin.”
    she also wrote: “I find it hypocritical for the Church to appeal to emotions” “The heavy-handed orchestration of the Church”
    “…the Church is still very homophobic, oppressive, and exclusive” She describes the “dark side of religion as practiced by our congregations”
    http://www.fairlds.org/Reviews/Rvw200701.html
    Read the rest.
    Be aware what type of person you are promoting.

  3. jeans on January 18, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Her views on sexuality come from hard personal experience and have been tested by love. I was a fan as a teenager and I still like her poetry, thanks for re-reminding us why she’s such an important Mormon voice.

  4. queuno on January 18, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    NOYDMB – Certainly, reject the parts you don’t like, and celebrate those you do.

  5. Kent Larsen on January 18, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    NOYDMB:

    You are falling into the trap of judging overly harshly. After her experiences, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have been even more critical than she was.

    Let’s look at the statements you posted:

    “I am reluctant to accept the precision of some as to what God considers an abomination.” I don’t see what there is to object to here. She doesn’t say the General Authorities. She doesn’t claim that there is no sin. She only suggests that the definition of sin used by some in the Church is overly harsh or strict. I’ve certainly heard GAs suggest that some members go beyond the mark at times, so I’d bet that at least some of them would agree with this statement.

    You also quote her saying: “I find it hypocritical for the Church to appeal to emotions” “The heavy-handed orchestration of the Church” “…the Church is still very homophobic, oppressive, and exclusive” and say she describes the “dark side of religion as practiced by our congregations.” Without context these statements are a bit hard to parse. When she says “Church” does she mean the brethren? or does she mean the members of the Church? or some local leaders?

    I’ve certainly heard some horror stories about how local members and even some local leaders have treated members from time-to-time. Suggesting that what they do is the “dark side of religion as practiced by our congregations” doesn’t seem beyond the pale to me. If GAs will admit that they make errors on occasion (they are human, I’m sure they would admit to some errors), what is wrong with suggesting that local members and leaders err?

    We still have plenty of members of the Church who think that merely feeling attracted to someone of the same sex is a sin, even if the person that feels this attraction never acts on it. I’m sure some local leaders think this is true also. Heck, I even know of members who were excluded from a local choir because they had facial hair, as well as cases where members were excluded because they had homosexual feelings.

    The Church is made up of human beings. This kind of thing happens. What exactly is wrong with Carol Lynn Pearson saying that it is wrong to do these things?

  6. CatherineWO on January 18, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I have to agree that Carol Lynn Pearson’s poetry is beautiful, as is all her writing. Her moving memoir, _Goodbye, I Love You_, gives readers a different perspective on the whole gay/Mormon issue. Yes, she has some criticism of Church members, but she has my profound respect for her efforts to change attitudes both inside and outside of the Church while still remaining a member herself. She is a woman of strength and integrity who graciously shares her life experience (much of it heart-wrenching) with the rest of us through her writing.

  7. Matt W. on January 18, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Weird, My daughter justed handed me a rather ancient copy of “My Turn on Earth”, and we went through it, and I was thinking about doing a post on the simplified theology (Purpose of Mortal experience is to learn to love and receive love). Then I opened up LDSblogs and here we are discussing her at an entirely different level. I’m not much of a poetry person, and If I had to go with an LDS poem, I’d probably go with “Art thou in truth?” but interesting nonetheless.

  8. Left Field on January 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    NOYDMB,

    The review you cite provides us with quotations shorn from their context in Pearson’s book. Your selection of citations from the review further mangles their original meaning, as you are one step further removed from actually having read the book.

    In fact, you falsely attribute to Pearson four quotations that belong to others. The one quotation that you correctly attribute to Pearson takes a very different tone when read in the context of the paragraph from which it was lifted, rather than the false context provided by Byrd’s review. Further, the quotation you attribute to “modern apostles” is correctly attributed to one apostle and one seventy.

    There is some irony in your admonition to “read the rest.”

  9. DavidH on January 18, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I would take with a large grain of salt the criticisms by Dr. Byrd of Carol Lynn Pearson and her book.

    Dr. Byrd also lambasted Deseret Books’ In Quiet Desperation. The sharp criticisms by him and his coauthor of the book were directed (in their words) “not only with [respect to] the book’s authors, but also with [respect to] the publisher.” Among other things, they criticize the book’s failure to quote the Miracle of Forgiveness (and its extemely harsh statements about homosexuality) and the fact that some of the book’s “statements can be frequently found on gay activist Web sites,” (which obviously makes them incorrect). I suspect that Sherri Dew got a chuckle out of being implicitly labeled a gay rights supporter. http://www.fairlds.org/Reviews/Rvw200505.html

    I would be interested in seeing the FAIR review of God Loveth His Children.

  10. DavidH on January 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    should be “The sharp criticisms of the book by him and the review’s coauthor”

  11. MikeInWeHo on January 18, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    re: 2
    “Beware the type of person….”
    Wow. Harsh. My understanding is the CLP is an active member in good standing of the Church. Don’t know if she goes to temple these days or not. Anybody know?

  12. Ray on January 18, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I normally wouldn’t pile on when so many other people have done such a good job of addressing the problems with #2, but in this case I simply want to echo the overall sentiment that her dedication to the Church and to God cannot be questioned by anyone who sees even close to the full picture. I certainly don’t see anything close to the full picture, and yet the mere fact that she definitely is a member in good standing is important.

    It’s bad enough when we won’t associate with those who are merely disagree with us and don’t approve of our beliefs. It’s quite another thing when we begin to reject and ostracize our own – those who continue to worship with us despite their own crucibles.

    I won’t go further, but Sister Pearson has some important things to say – and sometimes how she says it is quite beautiful. If we can’t separate the beautiful from the common or recognize beauty in some things that might appear brutal, we’ve taken one step further toward losing the divine nature we are here to acquire.

  13. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    “Don’t know if she goes to temple these days or not. Anybody know?”

    Not any of our business. This post is about a poem, not the state of her soul. Time to move on, everyone, on both sides of the issue, or risk the heavy hand of the dreaded T & S admins.

  14. Sheldon on January 19, 2009 at 2:23 am

    Delightful.

    My regret: skimming past the poem, on to the rest of the post… Only to spoil for myself the surprise at the end of the poem.

  15. Ludlow on January 19, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Pearson is my hero!

  16. MikeInWeHo on January 19, 2009 at 3:31 am

    re: 12 You’re right, Julie. Sorry for going a bit too far in my comment. Obviously I have tremendous respect for her and over-reacted a bit to comment #2.