Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Passover Poem

The Passover story has numerous points of crisis and decision where people have to take significant risks to side with the Lord. There were Shiprah and Puah, who quietly disobeyed the Pharaoh. Moses' mother and his sister Miryam who took great risks to keep him alive and keep involved in his life.

Moses himself, of course, had plenty of chances to live comfortably in Egypt. And the people didn't have to accept him as a prophet when he returned from the desert--they knew full well there was a significant risk involved and went back and forth for years on whether it had been a good idea to trust him.

My aunt once pointed out that if the children of Israel had put blood on their doors and not been delivered, an Egyptian mob wouldn't have had any trouble going from home to home against them. And there are great stories about the parting of the sea--like a tradition that the waters didn't part until the first Jews to walk forward on Moses' counsel were chin-deep in them.

I wrote a poem for Passover this year with a related question: what might a person have thought while walking through the bottom of the sea? It was a miracle, yes, but wouldn't the awe of the event have been mixed with some degree of awareness that walls of water which rise up can also come back down? Wouldn't there have been a few people who wondered whether they'd really live to see the other shore?

Prayer on the Red Sea Shore

If these walls of water fall, O Lord,
let me drown with Moses.

And let me praise you with my final breath
for lending me his mad, prophetic dream
for letting me wander out past the edge of this world
beside a man who could see all the glory of Egypt
and still say that it wasn't enough

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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

AML Conference Tomorrow

The Association for Mormon Letters Conference will take place at the UVU library tomorrow. A few cool things for anyone interested in dropping by during the free event:

1) There will be two scholarly presentations about my novel The Five Books of Jesus (which is free today through Friday on the Kindle) during the 11:30 session.

One, by teacher and poet Jonathon Penny, will also talk about paintings by J. Kirk Richards and may take a detour into how Richards and I are using familiar genres in unfamiliar ways in ways that remind Penny of what Donne and Milton did with form and content in their time. The other, by my brother Mattathias Singh Goldberg Westwood, will talk about the role of the Old Testament in my text, not only in direct quotations of scripture but also in the way the narrative itself is told.

2) Erin Jackson, Emily Harris Adams and I will be reading depictions of Jesus in our own works in a panel at 4 pm at the conference.

Erin Jackson has a short story about a shark and Jesus which I found both quite funny and extremely thought-provoking. I understand that a comic story about a shark and Jesus doesn't fit into everyone's sensibilities, but if you're up to it there are some valuable questions about agency and maybe even what it means to deny the Holy Ghost. Erin is a smart, engaging writer and it's a great piece.

Emily Harris Adams is one of my favorite young Mormon writers. She'll be sharing three poems which deal with Jesus in different ways. She's really a master of indirect portrayals of the Savior, showing in verse how traces of him appear at times in unexpected places. Also: Thomas S. Monson has quoted her poetry in Conference before. Pretty awesome.

3) During the same 11:30 a.m. session as my brother's presentation on my book, I will be presenting on "Jesus in Joanna Brooks' Book of Mormon Girl."

I got the idea for my presentation when a friend who knew I had Book of Mormon Girl on my Kindle asked me to look up references to Jesus for some informal research she was doing. I was immediately struck by the results: the handful of passages with references to Jesus were almost all stories of conflict--between children and parents, Mormons and Evangelicals, the "institutional church" and independent thinkers, Prop 8 supporters and opponents--in which Jesus was used as a weapon between sides to indict each other.

And yet there was very little detail as to what exactly Jesus meant to Brooks. It's possible, of course, that this is simply a narrative omission: Brooks didn't want to go into detail about her view of Jesus because it's tangential to the book's rhetorical purpose. On the other hand, I wonder what Jesus would look like set against the sorts of questions, assumptions, and values that permeate Book of Mormon Girl. How might a person reconcile the gospels' Jesus with the book's distaste for apocalyptic thinking, move from a sin/repentance model for wrong and right in favor of an injustice/activism model, and skepticism about the church's authority to call people to discipleship?

In any case--sorry for the late notice, but be sure to say hi if you come to the AML Conference tomorrow. Sorry also for not blogging here much lately (though many of my readers here might be interested in the "Toward Marriage Clarity" post on my other blog).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mormon Lit Blitz Call for Submissions

Now announcing the Second Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Writing Contest. Send up to three submissions by 27 April 2013 to for a chance to win a Kindle and more.

What we want:
Short work for Mormons to be published and read online.

The details:
“Short” means under 1,000 words.
“Work” means creative writing in any genre, from literary realism to far future science fiction, and in any form: fiction, essay, poetry, comics, playlet, etc. Give us a tiny, polished gem we can show off to people who love Mormonism and love great writing but “know not where to find” a place where the two meet.
“For Mormons” means for committed Latter-day Saints. Yes, that’s an extremely diverse audience (see the “I’m a Mormon” campaign—and your ward members), but it’s also an audience with distinctive shared values and history that don’t often get attention in creative work. We want you to write something that will appeal to us as people who believe in the sacred, who have ridiculous numbers of brothers and sisters we see every week, who worry about being good and faithful servants no matter what our day jobs are and wonder what it will be like to meet our grandparents’ grandparents in heaven. We don’t need your pieces to preach to us. We do need them to combine your creativity and religious commitment in a way that excites us and gives us something cool to talk about with our Mormon friends.
“To be published and read online” means we’re going to post six to twelve finalists’ pieces on Everyday Mormon Writer ( and then ask readers to vote on their favorites. [Update 4/13: we've been having problems with the Everyday Mormon Writer website and so will post finalists here if we're unable to fix it.]
One catch: since even 1,000 words can be intimidating on a screen, your piece needs a strong hook of no more than 120 words (or eight lines for poetry) to be visible on the main blog page. Mark the end of your hook with [MORE]. Even our editors will only read further if you’ve piqued their interest.

Submission Guidelines:
Submissions must have fewer than 1,000 words (or 30 lines for poetry) with a hook no longer than 120 words (or eight lines for poetry). Submissions must be engaging to Latter-day Saints and engage with their Mormon identity in some way.
Authors may submit up to three works. Each submission must be attached to an email as a .doc or .pdf file. The selection process is blind, so the author’s name should not appear on the document.
Email any questions and your submissions to Submission emails should contain the author’s name, the titles of each submission, and contact information (telephone number or email address).
By submitting, authors give us the one-time rights to publish their work electronically. Previously published work is OK if you still have the rights to the piece and if it meets the above contest requirements (don’t forget to add a [MORE] tag to the end of your hook).

The prize:
The contest editors will select six to twelve finalists. All finalists will have their short works published online in May 2013 and actively promoted across the LDS blogosphere by the Mormon Lit Blitz team.
After all pieces have been published, readers will vote on a single Grand Prize Winner, who will receive a Kindle and a small library with LDS literary works in eBook format, including Parley P. Pratt’s classic short “A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil,” Peculiar Pages’ recent Monsters & Mormons anthology, Zarahemla Books’ Dispensation: Latter-day Fictions, the poetry anthology Fire in the Pasture, and James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A couplet

What does the cloud-mist think of the river before it falls down as rain?
Before we came down from heaven, what did we think of pain?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Some Numbered Proverbs

Talks today often include numbered lists, but their organization is primarily logical. I enjoy the numbered lists in the Book of Proverbs because their organization is primarily poetic.

So recently, I tried writing some numbered proverbs of my own. 

Five things are heavy to be borne:
the expectations of a friend in need
the body of a sleeping child 
the shame of freshly shattered pride
the mass of possessions that gather in a house
and the burden placed on a bishop's heart

Four things are difficult to change:
the assumptions of a people
a reputation built up over time
a thoughtlessly-formed habit 
and an offended person's mind

Three things calm a woman who grinds teeth when she sleeps: 
an old debt finally settled
a child who takes a righteous spouse
and a silent answer to a cried-out prayer


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