Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry

By Houston, Gail Turley | Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry


Houston, Gail Turley, Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought


Mother, May We? Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. Edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido. El Cerrito, Calif.: Peculiar Pages, 2018. 400 pp. Paper: $21.99. ISBN: 9781732030206.

She is willful. She is in the other room. She is "the feminine / present subjunctive." She is "tessellating." She is "throneless, / wanders." She is "queen of heaven." She is a "Heavenly Hausfrau." She is "Medusa in the kingdom." She is the "Pillar of Womanhood." She is "executrix." She is a "mahogany" woman. She is "the Holy Soul." She is.

These are among the things we learn about Mother in Heaven in Dove Song. It is glorious.

Edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido, Dove Song is an anthology of almost two centuries of Mormon poetry about Mother in Heaven. A hefty tome at four hundred pages, it is not to be read in one sitting. Treasure it. We need this book, says Susan Elizabeth Howe in her introduction, for it is a "work of history" and a "sacred record" of not only Heavenly Mother's existence but the "personal quest of the poets to learn about their Mother in Heaven" (21). Indeed, Dove Song gets it so right by foregrounding the historical significance of the "expansive state of contemporary Mormon poetry" that contemplates Heavenly Mother, in other words, to do for her what art works have done for over two thousand years in establishing, legitimizing, and authorizing the Christian God the Father and Jesus Christ, who were shunned and ridiculed before Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313 CE (8).

The task is enormous. To overturn centuries of patriarchy's occlusion, elision, and assault on the Great Mother, the Goddess, Mother Mary, Inanna, Isis, who came before. After that erasure "eons of / amnesia" about and "partial / prints" are left of her, her "chapters purged" from the "book of history," as so poignantly inscribed in Ann Gardner Stone's "Mother," Tara Timpson's, "Missing Her," and Paul Swenson's "Motherless Child" (109, 268, and 135). As the editors of this volume tersely record, the "canon of scripture includes no direct, individual revelation of our Heavenly Mother" (24). Put Mother in Heaven's tepid entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism against Jesus and God the Father and, yes, she is a cipher. With no edict from Salt Lake City regarding her authority, we are left to "infer" it from "hints" and a hymn by Eliza R. Snow.1

In their variety of genres, tones, and imagery, the poetry in this volume illustrates the understanding that a god has no crown nor scepter without art. The building, singing, painting, lyricizing, sculpting, and dancing are the infrastructure for the edifice of worship. The arts no god can essay; it is left to the realm of mortals to create-mortals who make mythologies for their gods. Many of the writers in this volume project that obligation to make a mythology for her theology: In "I Can't Imagine Her," Marilyn Bushman-Carlton writes, "I need to know an office you can claim / here on earth where we and myth exist" (271). Tiffany Moss Singer assumes the mantle of authority when she proclaims, "Mine is the mythos of Mother, in all her iterations" ("Flesh and Bones," 259). Alex Caldiero, too, lyricizes the "mythic / moment" of becoming conscious of the Goddess ("Once Upon a Time," 144). Maxine Hanks is particularly drawn to the mythos of the goddess, as in "Truth Eternal," which limns Heavenly Mother as an "endless divine archetype" (96).

But there is more than myth-making here. Joyful exploration of so many genres praise and appraise her. Here, splendid visions and revisions of the Bible dance upon the page: psalms that "cry for wisdom" (Nola Wallace's " A Psalm," 117); a witty rewriting of that old misogynist St. Paul (S. E. Page, "To the Unknown Goddess"); an edgy, tongue-in-cheek Song of Solomon of sorts from Steven L. Peck ("My Turn on Earth"). One is bent with grace to hear Mother say, "how often / would I have gathered you as an eagle / feeds her fledglings" in Howe's stunning parable "Mother God" (277). …

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