Poets Josh Bell (Harvard University), Kevin Prufer (University of Houston) and Melissa Range (Lawrence University) presented selections of their poetry at the final session of BYU’s Illuminating the Word Symposium.
PROVO, Utah (Nov. 21, 2014)— From reflections on surgeons leaving surgical equipment inside their patients to all creation mourning the death of Christ, devotional poetry embodies multiple perspectives of spiritual expression. At the Illuminating the Word Symposium, poets Josh Bell, Kevin Prufer and Melissa Range read selections of their devotional works and discussed what inspired their poetry.
“Rather than look askance at pop culture or to merely tip his hat, Josh Bell has a more reliable method,” said Lance Larsen, professor of English and BYU English department associate chair. “Coat yourself in pop culture the way certain exuberant pooches roll in road kill. Josh Bell makes it new, whatever it is, in ways Ezra Pound could never have anticipated. Paradoxically, this maneuver is all a bit more alive and teaches us what to love.”
Josh Bell began the reading with a selection of his poems, including “Notes Toward an Imperial Poetry” and “Where the I Comes From,” among others.
Before reading “Where the I Comes From,” Bell explained, “I often have my students write origin stories for their voice. Comic book stories often have origin stories. It tends to make you think more about the ‘I’ that you’re using.”
Following Josh Bell, Kevin Prufer read a selection of his work, including poems such as “In the Wheat Field,” “In Some Parts of the Movie we’re Comrades,” “On Mercy,” “Inside the Body” and “Churches.”
“Prufer is a poet of juxtapositions, one who takes three or four stories that don’t belong in the same poem and makes them not just comfortable bedfellows but one creature,” said Larsen. “He possesses a novelists narrative reach and a poet’s precision, shot through with a gift for contemporary witness.”
Prufer described the inspiration behind his poem, “Inside the Body,” citing his fascination with an article he had read about the frequency with which surgeons leave surgical equipment inside their patients’ bodies.
“There are three perspectives in this poem,” said Prufer. “One of them is from the perspective of the body on the table being operated on. One of the perspectives is that of the surgeon. The third is like a Greek chorus of English professors commenting on what happens.”
Following Kevin Prufer, Melissa Range read a selection of poems entitled, “Horse and Rider,” “Gold Leaf,” “Lamp Black” and “All Creation Wept.”
Range explained that her first book of poetry, Horse and Rider, is based on a verse from Exodus known as the song of Miriam. “Sing unto the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has cast into the sea,” said Range, citing the verse.
“When I was in theology school, I was taking Hebrew Bible and my Hebrew professor said that scholars think this is the oldest fragment of poetry in the Bible,” she continued. “That was interesting to me, so this poem came out of it.”
Range also shared what inspired her poem “All Creation Wept,” a poem she says she wrote in dialogue with “Dream of the Rood,” one of the earliest Old English poems.
“I was taking an Old English class and learning how to read Old English and translate it,” explained Range. “There’s a phrase in the poem that was translated as ‘all creation wept.’ I raised my hand and said, ‘All creation? Everything? Rocks, pieces of paper, everything?’ The teacher said, ‘Everything.’ That blew my mind, so I wrote this poem.”
For more information about Josh Bell, Kevin Prufer, and Melissa Range, visit their university profiles.
–Sylvia Cutler, BA English ‘17