Introduction on responding to Tyler Chadwick’s
Field Notes on Language and Kinship
Sometimes, from the first time, you know someone matters. I have no memory of knowing Tyler without expecting he would prove our generation’s most important explainer of Mormon poetry. And now, in 2015, anyone with the slightest experience in the field can speak on what he hath wrought.
And the premier thing he hath wrought, of course, is Fire in the Pasture (Peculiar Pages, 2011), the landmark collection of 21st-century Mormon poetry, a massive achievement bringing together the work of eight-two poets. Tyler’s clarity of vision and certainty of insight gleaned the best from the good, and the book stands as his second witness.
Although I expected this excellence, when the Fire galleys finally arrived and spent a month at my bedside, I was still vulnerable to astonishment—every night, no matter what page I turned to, the printed words astounded and moved and provoked. The book deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it and more besides. (Tell your friends! Unless Peculiar Pages sells many more copies, Tyler will never get the riches he deserves!)
That Glen Nelson of Mormon Artists Group asked Tyler to engage in a booklength reflection on the work and art and language of putting together Fire in the Pasture has resulted in a further gift we dared not anticipate.
In his introduction to Field Notes, Tyler speaks of how he intended to write essays on each Fire poet’s work, but, over time, as he enwrapt himself in their language, something new was born. Like proteins forming in the primeval sea only to suddenly stand upon land as snarling dimetrodons, words don’t always do as they’re told. I began reading Field Notes intending to produce no writing beyond an online review. Instead, I was immediately intoxicated by its language and filled a notebook with poems grown from the rich organic sea that is Field Notes.
Sometimes in these poems I follow Tyler quite closely. Sometimes I build a new road away from a single word or a simple phrase. I’ve included a dash of satire and a mountain of homage. But my work is merely an echo. Tyler curated. He riffed. I can merely respond.
And so the poets’ words and Tyler’s words and my words meld together and become something new. Some of these poems I won’t defend individually, but collectively they are my response. Some may be mere sketches of longer poems. Some are primitive stanzas preserved in limestone. Some lie broken on the side of the freeway, beautiful only in what they might have been. I know better than to defend my poetic work in comparison to his. But I also know better than to not continue the conversation.
Thus, from the tangential to the shamelessly plagiaristic, I remixed in order to feel, in order to understand, in order to bring forth from chaos, in order to create new life upon my own blank pages. Assume the best phrases are milked not from my pen, but from those of Tyler and them he curated.
If Tyler does nothing more than teach Mormon culture that we are capable not only of poetic greatness, but of poetic beginnings, then he has done a great thing indeed.
Yours in beginnings,
El Cerrito, California
May 23, 2014
February 7, 2015