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Podcast transcription: Lance Larsen's New Poems: What the Body Knows

Glen Nelson: Welcome to the Center's Studio Podcast. I'm your host, Glen Nelson. Today, I'm on the road, and I'm on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. And I'm sitting with poet Lance Larson. Thanks for hosting and letting me turn your office into a recording studio.

 

Lance Larsen: A great privilege. Thank you.

 

Glen Nelson: Now you don't strike me as the kind of guy who loves to listen to his own bio. Is that probably true?

 

Lance Larsen: It's true.

 

Glen Nelson: So I'll give a 20-second version for the benefit of listeners, and you can just put your hands over your ears: former state Poet Laureate, current University Department Chair, National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Pushcart Prize winner, five published collections of poetry, with many of those works having first appeared in the most powerful literary journals of the country. I could list them one by one and dazzle and intimidate the people who recognize their names, but basically, Larsen's poems have been published everywhere a serious contemporary poet in this country yearns to be. I'm sounding kind of glib about it, but this is crazy-impressive. Congratulations. That's just amazing. And you're still a young whippersnapper with decades more of poetry to come.

 

Lance Larsen: I hope at least another decade.

 

Glen Nelson: Knock wood. Today, what I'd like to do rather than go too broad and cover too much ground at a superficial level, is to concentrate on your most recent book, What the Body Knows. Cool? 

 

Lance Larsen: Great.

 

Glen Nelson: When I first saw the title, the first thing that came to my mind was Jasper Johns. In 1959, he started painting these mundane things like flags and targets. And when he was asked about it, Johns said, "I used things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels." So that "things the mind already knows" became his calling card. Does that resonate with you at all?

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, it absolutely does. I'm a big fan of Jasper Johns and just saw some of his paintings in California a couple weeks ago. But I love the power of the common object and the secret republics it holds within.

 

Glen Nelson: I mean, you've been on record as saying that someone you like is Robert Rauschenberg. So Rauschenberg and Johns were together at the time. Is Rauschenberg's fondness for juxtaposing imagery another thing that appeals to you?

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: How did the title for this new book come about? It's the title of one of the poems in the book, but why did you choose that?

 

Lance Larsen: I think titles for books are especially difficult, and they take me a long time to figure out. I went through all the titles of the poems to see if any would work. And this was one of the many candidates, or the handful of candidates. And I don't necessarily choose a title. I winnow away until titles are left, and this one just had resonance for me, and I like the way it evoked common experience and wasn't a fancy, poetic title. I've had titles like that for books, but I just wanted something plain.

 

Glen Nelson: Well, it speaks to the familiar, too.

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: A lot of the images in the book I think anyone can relate to, having had a glimpse of them in their own life, somehow.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah. In March 2018, this collection of 53 poems was published by University of Tampa Press, and they've published four of your five books, is that right?

 

Lance Larsen: That's right.

 

Glen Nelson: So tell me about the press.

 

Lance Larsen: University of Tampa Press is, as it is implied by its title, is located in Tampa. It's a private university, and they run a national competition. And they also have a really handsome journal that's hardcover. I think it's the only hardcover journal published. So I can't remember, but I don't think I had published any poems there, but I certainly knew about it. And they have an annual contest, and I was lucky enough to end up winning that that particular year, and I've stuck with them ever since. Been lucky enough that they would take me back.

 

Glen Nelson: What makes this book of poetry different from earlier books?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, the biggest difference is that they are prose poems, rather than lineated poems. I think what happened for me was after four collections of lineated poems, I found that I spend most of my time taking things out, and I wanted to put more things in. And so I decided, if I wasn't worried about line breaks, I could write a longer poem or discursive, digressive poem, a more essayistic poem, and I wanted to do some experimentation. And I was really tempted by big blocks of texts rather than the intricacies of poetry, of straight poetry.

 

Glen Nelson: I don't know if it's a good idea or a stupid idea to ask a poet to define things....

 

Lance Larsen: It's a bad idea.

 

Glen Nelson: It's a bad idea. It can either be like one sentence or 1000 pages, is how it works, but let's make an easier question. What does a prose poem look like on a page?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, it doesn't have deliberate line breaks. So it's just like prose in that regard. So it avails itself of all the other tropes and devices of poetry: metaphor, simile, juxtaposition, assonance, slant rhyme, etc., etc., pacing, metrics. But there are no line breaks at the end of.... Or rather the typesetter or the computer decides where the lines are broken instead of the poet.

 

Glen Nelson: There's a randomness in a way?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, that's how prose is. You're not worried about where the line breaks. The difference is a poem is built out of lines, and prose is built out of sentences. So in a sense, I traded one unit of measure for another because it gave me more flexibility. I felt as if I could tell longer, different kinds of stories than I would have had I been writing lineated poetry.

 

Glen Nelson: When I first opened the book and I noticed that these were prose poems, instinctively I saw these blocks of text, and I thought, "Okay, here comes a story of some kind," but I don't think the poems are necessarily more narrative than anything that you've done previously. It's just that the format made them feel that way to me, and I was looking for the storytelling in them more than maybe I had in the past.

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, that's interesting. I think there's something to that, absolutely. You have different expectations when you read prose than when you read poetry, and actually, some of these pieces, I think, could probably work as lineated poems as well. But when you're reading them on the page, they would have maybe a lighter feel if they were poetry. And with prose--I don't want to say that they would have a heavy feel--but there's something that's more everyday about them in prose.

 

Glen Nelson: On the acknowledgements page, you list 25 separate publications in which these poems first appeared. So let's delve into that a tiny bit. How does that process work? Like, I assume that you constantly have poems zipping around looking for a potential home? Is that right?

 

Lance Larsen: That's absolutely right.

 

Glen Nelson: So how do you determine, after you finish a poem, where you should send it? Is it like, okay, the Paris Reviewlikes this kind of poem, and American Poetry Reviewlikes this kind, and New York Review of Bookslike this kind of poem?

 

Lance Larsen: There's something to that. Certainly, there are certain poetry venues that prefer formal poetry, for instance, and there are others that want extremely experimental imagery. I would say most of the most highly-regarded journals publish a variety of things. But the first thing that catches my eye is the reputation, that is, who else has published here? Do I like the poems that I see in those magazines? So I have a list of--it's a pretty ample list, really, of--50 to 100 places where I would like to have my pieces appear. And then you cycle around, some of them you've published in before so you know that the editor might be a little more sympathetic. Others you're cold contacting. I have certain journals where I still haven't landed anything. And so there they must be the best journals because I don't want my work. [Laughs.] But anyway, it's sort of like entering the lottery. Maybe 1% of the poems that they receive get published, sometimes 1/10 of 1%, so you do have to try poems in a lot of different places for them to land.

 

Glen Nelson: So at any given time, how many poems are flying through the air looking for a home?

 

Lance Larsen: I would say, usually between 20 and 30.

 

Glen Nelson: So you have this spreadsheet, do you know where they are? Because you have to, you have to wait until somebody says something like, you know that they decline it before you send it to another place, right?

 

Lance Larsen: Actually, that practice has changed. There's a thing called simultaneous submissions, and I would say that 90-95% of the journals allow that. But if a poem lands somewhere and is accepted, then you have to withdraw it from the other places. So you do have to keep very good records.

 

Glen Nelson: What about emerging publications, you know, online publications and things like that? I imagine that's changing.

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, it's changed dramatically. I remember when years ago I submitted some poems to a place called AGNIout of Boston. It's spelled AGNI but you pronounce it, "ON-yee," I guess, and they accepted one of my poems for an online publication. And I thought that was like a consolation prize, and I wasn't very happy, but I wasn't going to withdraw it because then I'd irritate the editor who would never published anything else by me.

 

Glen Nelson: Right.

 

Lance Larsen: Now I don't care whether it's online or in paper. There are different kinds of venues, and they both have their advantages.

 

Glen Nelson: Because you've had so much success getting poems published in these fine journals, are you jaded now? It's like, "Oh, ho-hum. Another poem today got published"?

 

Lance Larsen: Not at all. I'm actually much more pleased when a poem gets accepted. So it's usually an email note--I love those--than when it actually comes out in the magazine. But it's still a thrill to land a poem in a journal where I've never had one before, or to have another poem in Southern Review. You just count your blessings. You see who's in there and think, "This is pretty great company. I don't really I don't deserve to be here."

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, well, I'm a fan of modesty as much as the next guy, but it really is an extraordinary accomplishment. And, you know, that statistic that you threw out a minute ago about the percentage of poems that are accepted rings true with my experience. Seeing the number of your poems that have seen the light of day in these publications is pretty astounding. I can't imagine that when you started as a poet, you said, "Okay, I'm going to have this kind of luck," or were you....

 

Lance Larsen: No, I had no idea how things would turn out. There's a quote by Molly Peacock about submission. She says, "Keep your standards high, but your expectations low." And I just think that's such great advice. I don't always follow it, but it's, it's aspirational, right?

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah. Well, in life, that's a life lesson there. That's like, almost good enough to be a tattoo, really. You've said elsewhere that you tend to start a lot of poems that you don't finish, that you make numerous drafts of a poem, and sometimes you put a poem them away for a while before coming back to it. So let's leave the creative magic part unchronicled. I kind of don't like asking artists to demystify their work. Do you agree with me? Do you like describing what your work is about?

 

Lance Larsen: No, I don't mind describing it in certain terms. I don't think that you can ever encapsulate or demystify it, completely. So I don't mind talking about it in certain terms because the poem.... A good poem is always smarter than its maker and resists any attempt to sum it up. You can you can explicate thing something to death. Absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: I do think though, that many people are curious and don't understand the publishing side of poetry. It appears or it doesn't appear; that's as much as they know. So what I thought it might be fun to do is to take a single poem and then track its publication lifespan. So why don't we take the poem that ended up being the title poem of the collection, "What the Body Knows," and sort of walk through it. So the creation process was, you know, whatever it was, and lasted however long it lasted, but once it was in a certain shape, then what happened?

 

Lance Larsen: What I try to do is take a poem as far as I can on my own, and that may take anywhere from two to three to ten drafts and, who knows, maybe six to ten hours. And then I take it to my writing group and let them have at it. They make recommendations, and they see things that I'm absolutely blind to. I go and have another try at the poem. And sometimes I bring it back, usually I bring it back a second time or I abandon the poem because I realize it has chronic flaws that I wasn't aware of. But the best of them get tweaked some more, go through more drafts, and then eventually I'll send one off.

 

Glen Nelson: You mentioned on your acknowledgement page this group, and I'm wondering if that's your writers group.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: You said, "...my regulars who saw these pieces in various stages of undress...and helped me clothe them." And what kind of response do they give you?

 

Lance Larsen: We're really generous with each other, but also frank, I mean, that's what I like about a good writing group is that you can trust their response. Of course, what you're always hoping for is, "This is really polished and almost finished." Usually you don't get that response, but that's what you're hoping for.

 

Glen Nelson: And these are other poets?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, other poets. I also show my work to my wife, Jacqui, who is a painter and has a good ear. She doesn't necessarily help me finesse specific lines, but she can point out things that don't make sense, where there are dead spots in the poem, or where something is especially lively.

 

Glen Nelson: Or, "Did you know that word is also slang for this other thing that is really offensive."

 

Lance Larsen: Right. There's some of that. Yeah, she's a good barometer.

 

Glen Nelson: All right. So then off it goes to a literary journal. And in the case of this poem, the American Poetry Reviewpublished it in their September/October, issue 2017 with about 20 other writers. At some point, you gather a few dozen poems together and collect them into a book of poetry. So with this group of poetry that's all prose poems, had you just been writing prose poetry for a little while, or did that go back further for you? 

 

Lance Larsen: I had experimented with prose poems, and there are occasional prose poems in earlier collections, but I decided at this point, I'm going to just write an entire collection and see what this formal decision does to the work that I'm in the middle of.

 

Glen Nelson: For a period of time, you focused on it.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, that's what I did. I mean, I wrote some shorter poems that weren't prose poems. I just put them aside, and they may show up in a later collection. But I decided the next ones that I write are going to be in this mode.

 

Glen Nelson: So the poems in this book then are written more or less the same time period?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, over about the same four or five years.

 

Glen Nelson: Okay. Who initiates the discussion to publish a collection of poems as a book?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, if you don't have a previous relationship with a publisher, then you have to do a lot of cold contacting, enter contests which take forever--the odds are stacked against you, sometimes there might be 200 to 600 manuscripts, and they'll publish one or two. If you have a previous relationship with the editor, and they want to publish your work, then the poet is usually the one who approaches the other and says, "I have a collection. Do you want to take look at it?" And then there's some negotiation that goes back and forth. And sometimes they have a kind of heavy hand, but usually not. They trust the poet.

 

Glen Nelson: In your career starting with Erasable Wallsin 1998, you've had books appear at regular intervals spaced out every five or six years, it looks like. Is that's about right?

 

Lance Larsen: Four or five, yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: What does the publication of a book of poems represent to you?

 

Lance Larsen: I think a book is an opportunity to bring poems together. There's a Kafka quote, see if I can remember it: "The book should serve as the axe to the frozen sea within us." I think a book whether it's in poetry or prose ought to do that, it frees us up. Most poems are better if they're in conversation with other poems. And there's a cumulative effect of reading a book from beginning to end that you don't get with a single poem, so you're trying to create a constellation where a handful of poems belong.

 

Glen Nelson: It's not like you wrote these poems in a specific sequence, though.

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely not. There are a handful of poets who know the architecture of a collection before they begin. I'm not one of those poets. On the other hand, I think one's obsessions and anxieties, ticks and voice, allow whatever you're working on to coalesce into a larger whole, so that there are continuities that you may not be aware of and that you probably don't have control of. There's the famous saying that "The poets just writes one poem over and over." So there's a way in which what they're doing if they're mature poet will cause a book to hang together.

 

Glen Nelson: My guess is that when you're putting the poems in sequence, there are a lot of surprises.

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely. Yeah. So that's one of the things that you do, and you always have someone else looking over your shoulder to make suggestions. But then you're looking at how does this poem end, how does the next poem begin? And one other decision that is important in putting a book together is, will you have sections or will you just have one poem leaning all the way through, or one after another? So in the first four books, I had sections, like four sections, three sections, seven sections. So you think of that subset as a grouping that ought to have some sort of emotional or intellectual arc. When you put them together in one long sequence, there's a different rhythm. And that's what I did for this last book. I always wanted to do that but always chickened out. I didn't feel...for some reason, it seemed like a difficult thing.

 

Glen Nelson: For the reader, it's fun because you don't know how random things are when it's like that. And so you're reading a poem about the little girl at the Louvre who's drawing, and then the very next poem is this poem about a chronicle of famous poets who killed themselves. You realize that there are little things, these little connections that you weren't aware of the first time, and I would even imagine, maybe even now you're unaware of some of these things. Is that possible?

 

Lance Larsen: That's absolutely true. Yeah, as I said, a good poem or a good poetry collection is always smarter than it's creator.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah. I don't know the total number of your poems, but my sense is that in these five collections of about 50 poems per book represent maybe five years' of work each, or roughly a poem a month. Is that like the ballpark?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, maybe. I hadn't really thought of it in those terms, but yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: I want to get into your head now. [Laughs.] And so like, you know, the month of February passes, and you haven't completed a poem.... This reminds me of how successful contemporary painters work. So they're constantly making new work, and a new painting will appear at this art fair, or that group show, or something like that. But every couple of years, there's a solo exhibition of new works. And so maybe that's more or less the rhythm of you and publishing. You know, spaced out a tiny bit more.

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely, I'd agree with that.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah. And, you know, your financial compensation is completely the same as a famous painter, too....

 

Lance Larsen: [Laughts.] That's why most poets teach.

 

Glen Nelson: Yes, I imagine that. All right, so, let's shift to some poems. By the way, do you like reading poems aloud?

 

Lance Larsen: I do like.... I mean I love reading poems, other people's poems aloud and mine as well. Sometimes readings can be a bit intimidating because the transfer of energy is not exactly one way. My ideal would be to visit a class and read some poems and talk, ask questions, answer questions. I like the exchange.

 

Glen Nelson: Because if a poet is just standing in front reading poetry, it's, you know, it's very much a performance.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: And you're less comfortable with that?

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, I'm comfortable.

 

Glen Nelson: You'd like more conversation?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, in a perfect world. Of course, if you write poems that have some humor, you do have a response. There can be sighs of pleasure, I suppose, but those tend to go unnoticed. So you don't always know how a reading is going. We have an inkling.

 

Glen Nelson: When you read poems, let's say to some group who might not know you personally, do they come with this bias that it's going to be serious, and then when you read--a bunch of your poems are really funny--so can you see that they're surprised by that?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, I think that's true. You try to figure out what's the background of an audience? What are their assumptions? And then you try to make connections with them. The way that American poets do that is with what's called "patter"--introducing a poem, talking about between the poems--and that's very much an American pattern. There are European poets who aren't so fond of that. They think that that's a way of degrading the poem. So anyway, it's interesting to just see how different cultural expectations are built into readings.

 

Glen Nelson: In contemporary music, that's what's going on right now. Even more than poetry, audiences are just very skeptical about new music: the sounds are weird, and they don't know what to make of them, and they don't have a background. It's not like they, you know, studied this stuff wherever they went to school. And so these ensembles are just chatting, you know, before each piece, and they're saying, "Oh, we met this composer, and he's really fun, and we asked him about this piece, and here's what happened, and in the middle of this, listen for this little thing that connects to this thing or that thing," and I think it just makes everybody feel like that they've been drawn into the conversation. When I've gone to concerts like that they really, really work a lot better.

 

Lance Larsen: I agree.

 

Glen Nelson: So I'm not I'm not against this idea.

 

Lance Larsen: I'm not either. I think you can talk too much and over-explain a poem. But on the other hand, a little bit of patter and introduction, I think, is a way of sort of sharpening the audience and creating community.

 

Glen Nelson: Before we move away entirely from discussing prose poems as a type, I have four versions of the title poem in front of me. The first one is how it appeared in the American Poetry Review. So it's....

 

Lance Larsen: You've done some homework here.

 

Glen Nelson: Well, the big money.... I'm getting big paycheck for this. [Laughs.] Okay, so that's how it looks. And obviously, if you're listening, you can't see it, but it's not right-justified. So it's a block of text, but it's not like a newspaper column where the far right side forms a line.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: But when it was published in the collection, that's how it looks. So it's blockier.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: So what are the other differences in these two poems?

 

Lance Larsen: I'd have to go through line by line, it's possible that I changed a few things.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, there are a couple of lines that were removed from the first version as a journal into the second version in the book, but also the way that these lines end: they're different words entirely.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: So how were those determinations made?

 

Lance Larsen: That's just determined by the publisher or typesetter. So that's what I'm saying. There's nothing deliberate about where the lines end. That's the difference between prose and lineated poetry.

 

Glen Nelson: When I was in college, we would look at new poems, and the first thing we would do is look at how they appeared on the page, and we tried to decide, you know, is that a sonnet? Is it a, whatever? And does it have a rhyme scheme? Does it have all that kind of stuff? So I guess I still have a little bit that training, so when I was looking at the poem, the first version, I was kind of looking pretty closely, and I noticed it had, you know, body parts of the beginning and body parts of the end and some reference to a navel in the middle, and I thought, "Oh, isn't Lance clever?" [Laughs.] But then the second version...

 

Lance Larsen: I intended all of that. [Laughs.]

 

Glen Nelson: ...when it wraps around differently, you know, some of that's not entirely the same. Okay, so I have two other versions. These are unauthorized versions that I made of your poem.

 

Lance Larsen: Oh my.

 

Glen Nelson: So the first one is what your poem would look like if each line is a full sentence.

 

Lance Larsen: All right.

 

Glen Nelson: All right, because it's a prose poem. And then the last one, I randomly chose to do dodecasyllabic lines--that's 12 syllables on a line--so I divided your 27 lines into three-line stanzas. And so that's how the poem looks like if I arbitrarily decide that it should have 12 syllables on a line. So I'm pretty sure that my two versions of the poem don't work, but I would be curious to know why you would think they don't work.

 

Lance Larsen: Well, I would say that with lineated poetry, line breaks are everything, and you're trying to figure out what happens.... The word at the end of the line is a pivot. And so the rule that I set for myself and that I recommend to students is that you should try to break lines on nouns, and verbs, and strong adjectives. Now sometimes they'll break in other places, but what happens as a result is that the poem is tethered, it feels more concrete, those words seem louder because they have space at the end, especially if you're writing a poem in stanzas, the line break at the end of a stanza has a lot of power, as well. And so you're also trying to mix things up. Are the ends of lines end-stopped by punctuation? Or are they enjambed, that is, does the syntax naturally carry over to the next line? And I think most good poems will mix that up. So there is a tendency in contemporary poetry to write a poem that consists of nothing but end-stopped lines. So you just have sentence, sentence, sentence. And there is a pleasure in that, but I think in most cases, I prefer a different kind of mix. So you're looking for serendipity. How can I squeeze more meaning out of this adjective at the end of the line? And then it wraps around and means something else because it modifies or describes a noun?

 

Glen Nelson: Right, and so a lot of these are rhythmic and musical concerns.

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: So in a prose poem, then, are you saying, "I'm less interested in rhythm and music"?

 

Lance Larsen: I wouldn't say less. Well, the rhythm...

 

Glen Nelson: There are consequences, for sure.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah. I would say that if you were to hear both of them, you might hear the same rhythms, but your eye creates a rhythm, as well. So it's kind of a visual rhythm, if that makes sense.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, yeah.

 

Lance Larsen: So in a way, you're giving up the power of the metric unit of the line in favor of the metric unit of the sentence. And so there are pluses and minuses. There are all kinds of trade-offs.

 

Glen Nelson: I don't know poets are aware when they're writing, but you're also dictating the breath of the reader.

 

Lance Larsen: Well, earlier, you mentioned reading poems aloud. Every serious poet will read his or her poems aloud as they're composing, and they're trying to hear the poem as someone in an audience. And so you make adjustments. You shorten things. You break a long sentence into a shorter one. You have little asides. You change the punctuation: all those little sorts of markings will affect the end product and how it resonates in the readers mind.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, let's kind of move on to another topic.

 

Lance Larsen: Sure.

 

Glen Nelson: There are four poems in the book that have a Q&A format.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: And I just love them. The first one is titled "Q&A: Decoy Boyfriend." That was not going to be the title of the book....

 

Lance Larsen: No.

 

Glen Nelson: ...is my guess. It's hilarious. It's about this high school cheerleader who finds this guy who will pose as a boyfriend whenever it's convenient for her, mostly as a shield. So here's a tiny bit it. Q: And you went along?

 Lance Larsen: A: Had to. I wanted to spend time with her. And that's what decoy boyfriends do. It was a lot like voodoo only I was pushing pins into myself.

Glen Nelson: [Laughs.] Then a second of these Q&A poems has the same format, but the questions are entirely left blank. The title is "Q&A Concerning the Making of Mosaics in Mrs. Schweitzer's Art Class." So I'm intrigued by the empty Qs, these empty questions. It made me as a reader imagine that I was in the poem somehow, that like I was, I mean.... I don't know. That was just my own reaction.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: So in your head, what was that designed to do?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, here's a confession. I workshopped that poem with my writing group. And one of the poets said, "Most of these questions are already implied by the answers. You don't need that," and she wanted to make some cuts. And so I took it one step further and said, "Well, what if I just lose all of the questions and just have the answers?" And it just opened the poem up in other ways, and I thought just made it much stronger...

 

Glen Nelson: Completely works.

 

Lance Larsen: ...that particular one.

 

Glen Nelson: The third of these four Q&A poems, "Q&A Concerning What Falls from the Sky" has this narrator who's kind of sort of a casual personality, kind of an interviewer. And this made me smile, too, because I found myself as I was reading, pretending that I was an interviewer asking questions.

 

Lance Larsen: But you are an interviewer. [Laughs.]

 

Glen Nelson: I don't know. I thought that was just awesome. The last of the four, "Q&A Concerning My Father's Painting" is a more complex poem, I think. Each time the question asks something, there's an answer, and then the same question is repeated for a second time, which elicits a different response. So the same question gets two answers. And the way that those answers contrast and develop from each other, I think, it's really, really terrific. It has the effect of saying, in essence, "Yeah, that's what you're saying. But what's the real thing?" So tell me what this group of Q&A poems explores and accomplishes for you--because it's different than what you've done in the past, I think.

 

Lance Larsen: Right. I think you're right about that. The last one that you described, where the same question is asked twice is a pattern that I first saw in a poem by Mark Strand. I thought you might ask about it. So I actually have a few lines that maybe I could share with you.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, I noticed that you had given him an acknowledgement after the last poem.

 

Lance Larsen: So this is from a long poem called "Elegy for My Father."

 

Glen Nelson: Of yours or Strand's?

 

Lance Larsen: Strand's. Sorry. And it's written in sections. So this is from the second section. There are more lines than these, but this will give you an idea of how it works.

 

Lance Larsen: What did you wear?/ I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks./ What did you wear?/ I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm./ Who did you sleep with?/ I slept with a different woman each night./ Who did you sleep with?/ I slept alone. I have always slept alone. [from "Elegy for My Father," by Mark Strand]

 

Lance Larsen: So that pattern was just irresistible. And that's probably at the heart of these Q&As. I've read a lot of Q&A stories and Q&A nonfiction, and I just wanted to try my hand at it. I'm drawn to fiction, but I don't feel as if I can tell a straight story. So I wanted to tell a story the way a poet might, and this seemed like a way that I could entertain or satisfy both muses at the same time, as a way for me write poems, or at least lyrical blocks of text, but also write something that came closer to resembling a story.

 

Glen Nelson: They're kind of like catechisms, too.

 

Lance Larsen: Right. Oh, interesting.Yeah, because I love the repetitions.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, I really, really like that. I hope I won't offend you when I say this, but I sense in some of your poems, the same kind of observational storytelling of a stand up comedian like Jerry Seinfeld, or Mike Birbiglia. So this is an annoyingly lowbrow question, but what's the difference between what you do and what Seinfeld, the writer, does?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, Jerry Seinfeld makes money at what he does. That's the first answer.

 

Glen Nelson: [Laughs.] He can pack the Beacon.

 

Lance Larsen: Right. I love good stand-up comedy, because--or just exchange clever dialogue in sitcoms, or whatever it might be--because it does share certain qualities of writing on the page. Good poetry always has what I call, what what critics call, a turn, a "volta," which comes from the Italian. Petrarchan sonnets were composed in such way that there were eight lines, and then the poem changed gears and did something different in the next six. And so there's a turn. All good comics have a turn. They have a delivery. They have a punch line. Good haiku have a turn. Good aphorisms, good poems: they all have turns. So I would say that poets are always looking for a way to optimize timing, and to shift gears, and to surprise the reader. So again, I love good humor and aphorisms and they have a lot in common.

 

Glen Nelson: So there's that element of the ending, but also the observational side of it. I don't want to go as far as to say that your poems are autobiographical. I frankly don't care if the person named Jacqui in the poem is the same as the person named Jacqui that lives in your house.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: It doesn't..., I mean..., I don't really need to know. But I do think I'm safe in saying that you're observing things in your life and putting them into these poems. And that's what comedians tend to do.

 

Lance Larsen: Sure. I think some poets are extremely autobiographical, some are less so. But I think most poems gain in authenticity and common-lived experience if they grow out of matters of the heart, matters that are important to the poet. Of course, poets will camouflage them in different ways. But I find that my poems are usually... seem just more authentic, if they participate in my own life, to some degree or another.

 

Glen Nelson: Right. A number of these poems appear to me to have been written when you were living in Europe recently or were inspired by that. So the characters in the poems visit museums and parks and places that I assume that you visited, too. I'd be curious to know how a change of scenery inspires new ideas in poetry.

 

Lance Larsen: It's a way to get the cobwebs out, I suppose. There's a long tradition of poets going abroad to find their way. I'm thinking of someone like James Baldwin, an African American writer who went to Switzerland or Elizabeth Bishop who traveled to Brazil--she thought she would stay for two or three weeks and ended up staying 11 or 15 years. Even Hemingway in Paris. There's something remarkable about being unmoored, being out of the familiar, that brings out strangeness and juxtapositions and vulnerability. I think good poems require that the speaker or the protagonist be vulnerable in some way.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, you know, when you go to a new place--it doesn't have to be a distant place--but your senses are keener, you're awake to things.

 

Lance Larsen: That's true.

 

Glen Nelson: And a poet who's not observing isn't probably a very good poet. And so I can imagine there's a nice connection. Well, we haven't had you read something yet. So is there a poem that you might like to read for us?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, let me read...which one? Maybe I'll read "Work Experience." Once Philip Levine was on campus, a poet from Michigan whom I greatly admire, and during a Q&A, a student said, "Are all of your poems autobiographical?" And he said, "Why would I write about myself if I could write about someone interesting?" So they gave the impression of being autobiographical, but he made a lot of things up. So this poem is called "Work Experience," and it started with me listing some of the weird jobs that I'd had, but they weren't weird enough. They were sort of run of the mill. And so I thought, well, what if I wasn't employed as a human entity? And so I tried some others. So this is a kind of resume. "Work Experience." Well, let’s see, in my life as a lizard I lost my tail twice; as a penny I never came up heads; as a foxglove I spilled my pollen helter-skelter thanks to bees that buffeted and ants that climbed; as an abacus I favored geishas; as a subway saxophone I busked broken ballads at forty-five miles of darkness per hour; as a cookbook I savored spills shaped like Florida; as a wormy apple I was munched by a flirty mare but never took root; as a rabbit’s foot I glowed neon orange which multiplied people’s luck--all of it bad; as a soldier fly I had no organ to drink with but lord what papery wings; as a storm cloud I herded picnickers back into their dented cars and kept the naked bluff to myself; as a used dictionary I tore in half between lusty and lute and fell apart in a rainy alley; as a funeral vase I drank nothing but air; but as a raspberry sucker traveling mouth to mouth between two sisters on a bus, all the way to Poughkeepsie, I was sweet sweet sweet. ["Work Experience" from What the Body Knows, 2018]

 

Glen Nelson: I never know exactly how to respond to the end of a poem, I want to like, applaud or something. When you're at a reading, what do people do? Do they applaud to the end of a poem?

 

Lance Larsen: If it's a conventional reading, usually not, unless there's one that's especially stirring. If you're reading as part of a group reading and only reading a few, they might applaud.

 

Glen Nelson: You were talking a minute ago about the endings of poems, and I kind of wanted to go into that just a tiny bit more.

 

Lance Larsen: Sure.

 

Glen Nelson: As I was reading through the collection, I found myself being in a rhythm of being lulled into, like, you know, the landscape of the poem, finding my way, finding my balance in it, but then often at the end there would be something that would be startling to me. And it's a sensation that I admire in the works of Wallace Stevens, and Czesław Miłosz, and other people. So, tell me about the effects of endings in poems in general. You mentioned earlier, how it can kind of be a deliberate attempt to summarize or to shift something, or to bring something into focus. But a poem that doesn't really have a good ending tends not to really be a good poem.

 

Lance Larsen: I totally agree. The ending sort of recalibrates everything that has come before.

 

Glen Nelson: Sometimes yours are kind of startling.

 

Lance Larsen: And so you're trying to strike a balance. If the ending can be predicted from what has come before, that's probably not very good. If it comes out of nowhere, that's not good either.

 

Glen Nelson: If it feels random?

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah. So a good ending--and I think this was said by a fiction writer, maybe Forster--a good ending should be surprising and inevitable, so that it comes through what has been written before, but there's also a surprise. I once received the advice from Leslie Norris, that after you write a poem, leave it alone for a while, then cut off the first five lines and the last five lines because too often in a conclusion, or an ending, you're too overtly summing it up, and it feels overworked and over-deliberate. So sometimes, what I find myself doing when I'm composing a poem is I'll write a number of lines but not think of them as a conclusion, and then look at them after the fact and say, "Oh now, this one could work as a conclusion," but I didn't think of it in those terms. And so it even surprises me. The editor is deciding what happens, but I didn't decide on the ending as an ending until after the fact. So that's one way to add a little spark.

 

Glen Nelson: Right. You mentioned Forster. Authors of his era--and Joyce especially, you know--when you write a short story, there's no unwinding of it. You know, the character has this epiphany somehow, has a catharsis, some moment of enlightenment, and then it's over. And so I think poems can sometimes be like that. Do you agree?

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: It's been a few years, you know..., well, let's just say it, it's been decades since I read Frank Kermode's, "The Sense of an Ending." And that essay was about in a post-Nietzsche world that it's just difficult to finish a work of fiction. Its catharsis is less possible without a belief of God, in an Aristotelian kind of way. Do you feel that poems are hard to finish, that fiction, too, is--because I know you write creative things--that the endings are difficult for an audience?

 

Lance Larsen: Endings are always the hardest part. And as I said, you can think your way through an ending, and they usually don't work. You have to have faith in the larger process, and that you can surprise yourself. This isn't exactly about endings, but it illustrates the larger point. Yeats once had a manuscript that he sent to the printer. And there was a line describing a woman's face, and he had written that he described her face as "a mass of shadows." When it came back from the printer, it said, "mess of shadows." You can imagine him reaching for a pen and saying, "Oh, that's wrong. No, no, no, that's right." So he had enough sense to go with the surprise that he had not intended. So I think that an ending can do that, whether through juxtaposition or by taking a line at the beginning and switching it out, trying some things, so that there's a certain randomness so that you're not in control of the materials.

 

Glen Nelson: I've known about your work for years, but the first time we work together in some way was 2010, when I commissioned a group of six composers to create art songs using contemporary poetry. And even then, I don't think we actually met. For that project called Song/Cycles, all the poets and composers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Daniel Bradshaw, who lives in Hawaii and teaches at the BYU campus there, chose one of your longer poems, "The Dead Praying for Me," and set it for piano and tenor. Do you remember your thoughts about that when you were approached for this? It was sort of out of the blue, probably. 

 

Lance Larsen: Bafflement and I felt a great sense of intrigue. Poets are mostly like old dogs: they like to be scratched, and if somebody wants to set their poems to music, unless the intent is to make fun of them--maybe even that's a compliment of sorts--most would be very happy to have that happen.

 

Glen Nelson: Let's listen to the last of the four songs in the cycle. Again, this is music by Daniel Bradshaw with Brian Stucki, tenor, and Tracy Bradshaw--that's Daniel's sister--at the piano. [Listen: "The Dead Praying for Me" by Daniel Bradshaw] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdzXwHbfTg4]

 

Glen Nelson: So what's going on in your mind as you listen to that?

 

Lance Larsen: Wow. I think it's fascinating to see how music transforms what I saw as a fairly simple lament. You talked about a sense of an ending, and often what writers do is they put off that ending as long as they can. And it seems to me that what happens--I don't have the vocabulary to talk about this in musical terms--but if I were to read that poem, I could read it in, say, a minute and a half, and the musical composition is...

 

Glen Nelson: Six.

 

Lance Larsen: ...six minutes. So time slows down. And it seems as if the emotions are multiplied and made more complex. The language takes the backseat to the music, and it almost seems as if....

 

Glen Nelson: But you're more aware of each word, though, in a way, too.

 

Lance Larsen: You are. You're aware of it, but at the same time, I think most people would have a harder time constructing what the whole thing is saying. They would have maybe a clear sense of the complexities of emotion as it kicks in.

 

Glen Nelson: Right. The mood...

 

Lance Larsen: The mood.

 

Glen Nelson: ...of it is atmospheric.

 

Lance Larsen: Exactly. And so I think a poem is trying to do something simpler and more modest. So it's remarkable. In a way, this will sound egotistical, but to have the poem taken so seriously....

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, I know what you mean.

 

Lance Larsen: [Laughs.] ...and wow, somebody spent this much time finding a--not exactly a musical equivalent, but a musical complement. And this third entity is created in the process. I just find it remarkable.

 

Glen Nelson: When a poet turns over text to be set, they're really giving over to it. I mean, sometimes there are things that you don't like. Like, you're used to dictating a rhythm of the thing in a poem, and then when somebody else is in charge of that...

 

Lance Larsen: Sure.

 

Glen Nelson: ...it can sometimes be counter to what you intended. And so you have to decide if it still works, or if it doesn't work anymore. In this poem, if you were reading it, when you get to the part about the ouija board or your lost ATM card, if I were reading it, I would probably just smile, but this made it feel, I don't know, it made it feel....

 

Lance Larsen: It's more epic.

 

Glen Nelson: Epic, it's meaningful, it's...

 

Lance Larsen: ...more layered. And I would say that the lamentation is more serious, in a way. In a way, I see the poem is being a little bit ironic, like, here's a small experience, let me extrapolate. Maybe it's this way, but I don't really believe the story I'm even telling you. It seems as if, because of the detail and the orchestration, it feels...more epic, more timeless....

 

Glen Nelson: It's a scale issue.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, scale. That's a good way....

 

Glen Nelson: You know, if another composer we're setting it, which would be a really fun experiment--I mean, Shostakovich, you know, sardonic--he probably would have picked up on all of that stuff, and it would have been a completely different thing. This feels, to me, earnest, you know, and also maybe because of your shared spirituality, more in touch with that idea of transitory beings, and so on.

 

Lance Larsen: Right, right.

 

Glen Nelson: So that's also the way that I read this song, because about the time that Daniel wrote this, my mom was dying, and my father had just died. Both of them were victims of atomic testing fallout in Southern Utah...

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, my gosh.

 

Glen Nelson: ...so those cancers that pop up years later. Anyway, so my mom was at home doing hospice, and I was at her bedside for the last week of her life. And Daniel just sent me this. It was new to me, and I was excited. And it was a new project I was working on. But I also was in the perfect moment for it. And I think I listened to it on a loop, like, dozens and dozens of times. So I have to thank you. This made a big impact on me. It was a really big deal for me. And I don't know if it would have without the music. It was a combination, I think. And my mom was an opera singer, so there was that, too.

 

Lance Larsen: I love that art can do that, that it catches you at the right time, and something just stays with you and is the perfect manna that you need for that moment.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, have you ever worked with composers before?

 

Lance Larsen: I had not.

 

Glen Nelson: Arg! So I've only been asked to speak on this campus once, and it was to a group of musicians. You know, it was a [student] composers' seminar or something like that. And I assumed they were all trotting over to the English department and looking for lyricists, and librettists, and whatever, and they looked at me like I was the idiot that knew nothing, like, "Ooh, why would we want to do that?" And so I said to them, "Name me a composer who never worked with text." And they had a pretty hard time because that's a pretty hard answer to come up with. But I wish there was more collaboration going on.

 

Lance Larsen: I agree. This issue sometimes comes up, but more in the visual arts or sometimes there are students on both sides, whether English or the visual arts, who want to incorporate another medium in their work. What I find a little bit distressing is that they often don't give much thought to the other medium. So if they are a visual artist, they'll take a class and think, okay, I can write a poem, and it will be exactly what I want for my work. And usually what happens is that they have great talent in one area, but not in the other, and vice versa. And so I think you have to be careful not to celebrate one at the expense of the other.

 

Glen Nelson: Yes. Also, if they're not just writing their own bad poetry...

 

Lance Larsen: Thank you. [Laughs.]

 

Glen Nelson: ...but if they're if they're taking someone else's poems--Michael Hicks has a word for this: tandemizing. Isn't that nice?

 

Lance Larsen: Yes.

 

Glen Nelson: So it's immediately at a lower level of respect. It's just sort of....

 

Lance Larsen: Tandemizing.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, it's kind of cheaper. But, you know, composers, though, I wonder how they can even graduate from a university having never set a line of text. It doesn't makes sense because in the real world, that's sort of what you're going to be doing.

 

Lance Larsen: Right.

 

Glen Nelson: You and the painter Jacqui Larsen are married. Have the two of you collaborated?

 

Lance Larsen: Well, I would say that the collaborations that no one sees are just the conversations that go back and forth and how I learn things about my work from looking at hers.

 

Glen Nelson: But in her work has she incorporated your texts?

 

Lance Larsen: She has, yeah. So we have collaborated more directly and done two shows together. One was here at BYU, and then couple years ago we did a show in Springville. And I would say it's 90% her and 10% poetry, but she incorporated some of the lines in her paintings so there's actual writing. Sometimes there's a placard at the side. So that they sort of speak to each other.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, a wall text.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, there's a long tradition of that. When I was in California, as I mentioned earlier, there's a Twombly piece which had a line or two from a Rilke sonnet incorporated, just handwritten in there. And it's a terrific piece on its own. If you just look at the text, the fact that it's handwritten, even if you didn't read it, and see what it meant, it had a architectural dimension, kind of a ghost quality, but if you read it, it made both of them better.

 

Glen Nelson: That's harder to pull off right now, I think, because we're so used to seeing memes that we immediately think that we're going to be, you know, it's going to be some glib kind of saying. So I don't know if that's as easy to pull off right now.

 

Lance Larsen 55:47

That's interesting. That's interesting.

 

Glen Nelson: Well, I can occasionally be interesting. [Laughs.] I have a quota, like, five minutes a day. In addition to poetry, you're an award-winning essayist. Are there additional genres of interest?

 

Lance Larsen: I've published a few stories. For instance, the Q&A that you mentioned earlier came out as a story. And I guess I've published two other stories besides that. I don't call myself a fiction writer.

 

Glen Nelson: Well, as What the Body Knowsarrived, I was just finishing reading George Saunders' poetic novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. And I thought to myself, I wonder if Lance has a novel in him.

 

Lance Larsen: I wish that I did. I don't think I do. If I had another genre that I wanted to pursue, it would be playwriting. I mean, I've toyed with the idea because I've led four study abroads, or been a co-director on four study abroads that focus on theater. So I've seen a lot of good theater. And frankly, there are some plays produced that just aren't that great. And so there's part of me.... That doesn't mean that I can write one. But I love the rhythms.

 

Glen Nelson: I love plays by poets.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: I mean, it's a really long history of it....

 

Lance Larsen: Yes there is.

 

Glen Nelson: And not just Cats

 

Lance Larsen: Right, right.

 

Glen Nelson: Even musicals. I mean, I'm just looking up at here on your wall: Derek Walcott, you know, he wrote a musical, The Capeman, with Paul Simon--although I don't know if Broadway is where you should aim your energy.

 

Lance Larsen: I love the theatricality and the performative quality of lines spoken to an audience live. There's something that's just breathtaking about that. And having been a part of so many of those plays, and, you know, weeping at some of them, and laughing, and being moved, I would love at some point to try my hand. It's a different animal. I think there's a steep learning curve.

 

Glen Nelson: It's kind of different in the way that a sprinter isn't necessarily a marathoner, but you can't really use that because then you have the whole epic poet side. So I don't want to give you outs, entirely. If somebody came to you and said, you know, "I'd like to work with you to do an opera libretto," what would you say?

 

Lance Larsen: I'd say yes. I think I'd say yes.

 

Glen Nelson: Or an oratorio or something?

 

Lance Larsen: Especially if I respected that person's work and saw my way to writing something that I thought was authentic, that I wasn't just making my way through.

 

Glen Nelson: I think your temperament's perfect for that kind of collaboration. Because we've spent more than 15 minutes together, and now I can judge you. [Laughs.] Okay, so I have one last question. See, this hasn't been all that painful.

 

Lance Larsen: No it hasn't. It's been very pleasant, actually.

 

Glen Nelson: All right. In my experience, all poets are eager to encourage readers to discover more poetry. So I'd like to hear any ideas you have for how people can get more poetry in their lives.

 

Lance Larsen: Buy poetry books.

 

Glen Nelson: Where do you buy them?

 

Lance Larsen: Purchase them at your local bookstore, at Amazon, at readings. You can find things online, but buy books, and then put them in places where they will get read. One of my mentors, a fiction writer named Darrell Spencer, had four copies of a Grace Paley short story collection-- she's a New York short story writer. I think the collection was The Little Disturbances of Man-- had one in his car, and his office, in his kitchen, and she was always available. You know, this was before the internet, of course. Another thing you can do is listen to poems in podcasts, on YouTube. 

 

Glen Nelson: Have you done that?

 

Lance Larsen: Absolutely. Yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: So you're YouTube-able?

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, have I? I have one poem on YouTube. Yeah, I thought you meant have I been one who listens...

 

Glen Nelson: Sought them out, right.

 

Lance Larsen: I'm listening right now to one of Hemingway's novels. So I think that's a great way to mainline literature, as it were.

 

Glen Nelson: Where I am, on the subways of New York, there's poetry in all the subways.

 

Lance Larsen: Right, right. Exactly. Yeah, when I was there in the summer, there was a W. S. Merwin poem that I was not aware of, and I copied it out. It was great reading it there. Another thing I would say is memorize poems, either copy them out on an index card, print them out, and learn them by heart.

 

Glen Nelson: What does that do for somebody?

 

Lance Larsen: It helps you understand a poem in a way that you didn't understand it before. In most literature classes, we try to apprehend something, critically. But if you read a poem 10 times or 20 times, you come to understand it, rhythmically. There's something much more powerful and elemental about the poetry if you learn things that way. There's an E. A. Robinson poem called "Richard Cory," which was made popular by Simon and Garfunkel--They changed it up. It was better as a poem, even though I very much like the song--I memorized this years ago, and sometimes I will recite it to myself when I run. The last stanza is always tricky, and I can't remember which lines go where, but the rhyme always leads me so that I can correct it until I get it right. And so I just think that it's powerful to have poems in your head, and scraps of them come back and echo.

 

Glen Nelson: One year I decided that I would memorize Stevens' [The Man

With the] Blue Guitar.

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah.

 

Glen Nelson: What are some other ideas for getting more poetry in your life?

 

Lance Larsen: Attend poetry readings.

 

Glen Nelson: How do you find them? Every university...

 

Lance Larsen: Yeah, every university has them. If you were to get online and just google "poetry" and the place where you live, you'll find poetry readings.

 

Glen Nelson: Libraries, public libraries?

 

Lance Larsen: Libraries, bars, cafes. Yeah, all of those.

 

Glen Nelson: Isn't there some online thing like, I think some of your poems have appeared in this poem-a-day kind of thing, right?

 

Lance Larsen: There's a couple. There's one called Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. And then Poem-a-day's another one.

 

Glen Nelson: Do you subscribe to them, or something?

 

Lance Larsen: Yes, exactly. So you can subscribe, and they just show up in your inbox. And you can read them. Right now I'm subscribed to a similar feature from Paris Review, and they feature a poem from their archives, one per day. So it's kind of fun, to read someone famous and discover a poem that you didn't know or discover that it was published there first because you read it in a collection or an anthology, but you didn't see its first life, and now you can.

 

Glen Nelson: What would you say the state of poetry is today in America? Is that too broad of a question?

 

Lance Larsen: No, it's a great question. Poetry remains a rarefied art. And there are always people who are predicting its demise, and other people who are saying it's going to take over the world. Both of those, I think, are a little naive. Two responses: after 9/11, it was a common fact that a lot of bookstores sold out of poetry. People were trying to find some kind of solace, some kind of understanding. Traditional religion doesn't work for many people. Poetry is a kind of...it has a kind of religious authority.

 

Glen Nelson: Because it's contemplative by nature?

 

Lance Larsen: I think so. And the language, you mentioned earlier, there's something litany-like about some poems. So I think it appeals in that way. It's about as close as we come to wisdom literature. That said, I also like Richard Howard's response when someone was telling him, what can we do to promote poetry during poetry month, which is April, and he said, "Poetry has always been a rarefied art, let's just keep it a secret." [Laughs.] So it'll always be there. It's never going to be a blockbuster. But it contributes in surreptitious ways that we can't fully comprehend.

 

Glen Nelson: I looked recently at some study that said, that was kind of charting different art forms and how they're doing, whatever. You'll be pleased to know that poetry isn't at the bottom of the heap. Opera is at the bottom of the heap. But then if you were to talk to somebody who's involved with contemporary opera, they're nothing but excited. Like, there's a million exciting things going on, you know, it's not going to be the next Marvel blockbuster moment.

 

Lance Larsen: At the same time, I would say here's some other inroads. If you look at spoken word poetry, that's quite a powerful thing. Poetry slams. I think the kind of poetry that works in those venues is perhaps a lower common denominator than the best literary work, but there's overlap, and I like the poems that could work in multiple venues. There are novels that have won national prizes that are written in poetry, perhaps more in young adult genres, but I think people have rediscovered it. And it probably has a stronger presence than it did, say, thirty or forty years ago.

 

Glen Nelson: It's not the same, I know, but hip hop....

 

Lance Larsen: Oh, absolutely.

 

Glen Nelson: So I went to Hamilton, which I know is not pure hip hop--don't yell at me for suggesting it--but I hadn't heard the music before. So this was when it was relatively new. And I have never been in the theater and had people listening so closely. They were listening to the words, and there are a lot of words, you know, compared to a musical and everything takes so long to get out of your mouth. Hip hop's exactly the opposite of that. And people were just hanging on it. And then, I was talking a few weeks later to people who live far from where that performance was ever going to likely be, and all their teenage kids had memorized the album already, so...

 

Lance Larsen: Astonishing.

 

Glen Nelson: I wouldn't rule out anything.

 

Lance Larsen: No, I think you're exactly right. I'm not one who loves musicals, but I saw Hamilton in London and did not know most of the music going in. And I just found it a remarkable cultural experience on so many levels. It just brought everything together. And it really is as good as the hype makes it out to be.

 

Glen Nelson: Yeah, it's so funny, because you've got all these historians who love it because they thought, "Oh, wait. History can be popular? Like, is that impossible?"

 

Glen Nelson: Alright, so I want to thank Lance Larsen for today's podcast episode. His books of poetry are available on Amazon, speaking of purchasing poetry. I highly recommend all of them. And I want to thank you listeners, too. The music you've heard on this episode is by Daniel Bradshaw. Daniel posted these works on YouTube if you'd like to listen and follow along in the score, do that. This podcast was recorded on January 31, 2019. It's our 12th podcast episode. If this one appealed to you, take a look at the other interviews with artists on literary topics, such as LDS allusions in the works of James Joyce, the history of Mormon cinema, or American farming of the 18th century. Those are three previous podcast topics. I think you'll be surprised and delighted. Thanks again for listening. G'bye.

Glen Nelson