Award-winning poet Lance Larsen is the editor of Literature and Belief, the literary journal of Brigham Young University, where some of my poems have been privileged to appear. In this 2003 interview, he discusses writing and faith with Doug Talley at Meridian Magazine, a publication of Provo College in Utah. Highlights:
MERIDIAN: Do you see yourself as tending toward melancholy, and if so, why?
LARSEN: I don’t see myself as being melancholy, at least not unusually so. G.J. Nathan once said, “Show me an optimist and, almost without exception, I’ll show you a bad poet.” Why? Because bad poets don’t usually wade into trouble; they don’t dive. If the scriptures and classic literature can be trusted, and I think they can, only trouble is of much interest. At heart I’m a romantic—but a romantic who believes that visions aren’t worth much if they aren’t tested by everyday living.
MERIDIAN: …Do you, yourself, see the poems as largely autobiographical, or were you trying, instead, to speak from a persona, a fictionalized voice?
LARSEN: I love what Philip Levine says about this: “Why be yourself, if you can be someone interesting?” Like Levine, I’m always making things up in my poems. Exaggerating, telescoping, cutting and splicing.
MERIDIAN: Tell us how your faith, and anything about Mormon beliefs in particular, has influenced your poetry and your approach to your work.
LARSEN: At times I have written very directly about my Mormon experience. I’ve written at least four poems about the sacrament, a poem about collecting fast offerings, and poems about a church court, baptism, and a baptismal interview. More often, however, my poems are infused with my beliefs in a more subtle way. In a review of Erasable Walls, one reviewer refers to this belief as “the gravitational pull of the divine” one can feel “along the margins of the text.” Nicely put, I think. This is how most poetry makes its argument, through the back door, as it were. Not by pounding the pulpit, or lecturing, or proof texting from the scriptures.
Read the full interview and sample poems from Larsen’s collection Erasable Walls, a finalist for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, here.