One of the great perks of working on the Segullah staff is meeting so many bright, faithful, and talented women. Darlene Young is a great example. A successful artist in several writing genres, her work has been published in Irreantum, Dialogue, Exponent II, and church magazines.. Darlene is secretary of the Association for Mormon Letters (AML). She has a tenacious testimony and a keen mind. And her poetry is the kind I love best—artful, yet down-to-earth.
Read on for more info about this up-and-coming artist!
Darlene, you’ve had a lot of involvement in the LDS literary scene. Do you think it’s a challenge for LDS to create art that’s appreciated outside of LDS circles?
Not if it’s good art. If it’s completely true (which is not the same as preachy OR critical) and well-told, I think it will be appreciated by members and non-members alike. For example, look at some of the stories from other religious traditions that have been well-accepted by the general public. (Death Comes for the Archbishop, or The Ladies Auxiliary, for example.) But I do think it’s a challenge for Latter-day Saints to create good art. We have that pressure to produce results fast, so we sometimes neglect to put in the time to really get good at it. There are too many slip-shod pieces that would never sell outside of LDS markets but which still sell within the LDS markets just because we are so hungry to hear our own stories (and because there’s not enough really good stuff about us out there yet).
Why this hunger?
That’s a good question. I think everyone enjoys hearing stories about herself or people like her. But we Mormons are story-oriented people. The scriptures, our magazines, even our church meetings are full of stories. We are immersed in discourse from nursery on up. Unfortunately, though, I think we tend to keep the most intense stories, the ones we could learn from the most if they were shared, private, often out of fear and a desire to keep up appearances or to fit in. That’s where fiction and poetry can really help, because the stories are not “true” (so they don’t embarrass anyone), but they contain truth that we can learn from.
Tell us about your background in the Church, and how your approach to living the gospel has changed over the years.
Utah Marmon barn ‘n raised. My testimony grew a lot, though, when I spent four years in Berkeley, CA (for my husband’s graduate work). While I was there, I formed my own definitions of what makes a converted member (as opposed to culturally converted) and what parts of the gospel are absolutely imperative and what parts are sort of just cultural baggage. I also became comfortable with my own questions and doubts, and the role that faith plays when you exercise it IN SPITE of your doubts. I consider myself absolutely converted and 100% faithful but nowhere near where I’d like to be in terms of pureness of heart. I’m a work in progress.
Any turning points in your life that stand out in hindsight?
Yikes. Ummm, one of the most defining things that ever happened to me was that I broke off an engagement three weeks before the wedding. That experience really changed my life and my understanding about God and what he wants for me.
How has your involvement with Mormon literature contributed to your spiritual growth?
Interesting question. At first I expected it to be the other way around—how has my spiritual growth contributed to my involvement with Mormon literature? They’re kind of mutually dependent. I have always been an avid reader, in part because for me, reading fiction and poetry is a way of drawing closer to God, because it is the way I learn about what it’s like to be another person. I grow in charity as I read great literature. My desires to share how I see the world are probably somewhat like missionary work (although that thought makes me wince)—but only because I’ve seen what good has come into my own life when I have read TRUTH from someone else’s point of view.
So, you’ve always been a reader–at what point did you discover that you’re a writer?
Hmmmm. That’s the big question of my life. I struggle with it all the time—am I a writer or not? At one point, probably not long after I won my first adult contest a few years ago, I made a conscious decision to call myself a writer, because I liked how it felt to give myself permission to pursue this little hobby (passion? calling?—yikes!) of mine. Also, because I learn a lot about people by their reactions after I tell them I am a writer.
I don’t know why it is such a struggle for me—and for many others—to decide whether or not I am a “writer.” Possibly, it has something to do with the covenants I have made about using my time and talents, etc. I feel I need to justify the time I spend writing (and away from my family, for example), so there’s a lot of pressure to produce results. When I have a bad writing month, or year, I doubt whether it’s fair to say I am a writer, and whether it’s right to invest more time in this. It’s an ongoing thing, but I’m finally getting better at accepting the evidence: that is, looking back over my life, it seems obvious that I have consistently made the decision to write. I can’t get away from it. I must be a writer.
What are the challenges and benefits of being a SAHM and a writer?
Well, everybody’s situation is unique. I remember reading an interview in “Irreantum” with a SAHM who was a successful writer. Possibly it was Rachel Nunes or Anita Stansfield—one of those women. Anyway, she told about how many hours a day she wrote, and the picture accompanying the article showed her typing happily at the computer, while her infant sat smiling in a baby swing just behind her. I stared and stared at that picture. I have NEVER had a baby who would sit happily in a baby swing while I typed. Where can I get that kind of kid? I’ve never been able to write while I’m in primary charge of my kids. I just can’t split my attention—I get too lost in what I’m doing.
So how do I do it? It’s my husband. (Orson Scott Card has said that every good writer needs just two things: a big ego and a supportive spouse.) My sweet hubby makes sure I get time to write, usually one night a week. (He also gave me a laptop for Christmas!) This is doubly meaningful to me because he is not into books or writing at all.
I do think, however, that SAHM’s who want to write have it easier than working moms or working dads. Because, for people who work, it would be awfully hard to make a decision to sacrifice some of your rare and precious family time to write. I would have a really hard time making that decision, and I imagine the pressure to produce results quickly (in order to justify the time) would be so much greater. For me, I’ve been with the kids all day. No one minds if I spend some time AWAY from them for a while.
I also think it’s really good for the kids to see me working, and to hear their father say, “Don’t bug Mom! She’s working.” I’m raising boys. I want them to grow up and give their wives time to write—or scrapbook, or whatever they’re passions are.
What have you been writing lately?
Well, this year has been really helpful to me in defining my talents and where I want to focus. I attended the BYU conference on writing for children, and explored that a little. I have about ten childrens’ book manuscripts right now, and some of them are being sent around and have received favorable reviews. But really, I’m concentrating on poetry lately. I think it’s becoming more clear to me that that’s where my skills are strongest, and where my heart is. It’s the kind of writing that feels the least like work to me now, and the most rewarding. I’ve got six or so poems in various stages of polishing, and notes for another twenty or so just waiting to be written. I get new ideas every day. Wish I had time to write them all.
Which poets do you read?
This year I discovered Billy Collins, whom I’ve really enjoyed, and Marilyn Bushman-Carlton, an LDS poetess whose work I admire. I loved reading “Discoveries,” a collection of Mormon women’s poetry. There are many good things in there. I read last year’s “Best Poetry of the Year” compilation and find that there’s a lot of modern poetry that is criticallyacclaimed that I can’t stand. This Gertrude Stein-ish trend of sticking words together because of sound without much reference to meaning—YUCK. Poetry should communicate. I re-read some old favorites regularly—Gerard Manly Hopkins, John Donne, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot.
Which LDS artists do you most admire?
As for LDS poets, I like. Lance Larsen and Dennis Clark, among others. LDS fiction writers I’ve enjoyed are Neal Chandler, Louise Plummer, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Thayer, and Donald Smurthwaite. Scott Bronson, a friend of mine, is doing some amazing things with theater, as is Eric Samuelson. There are a lot more, too. LDS literature is growing up!
I’ve tried to write poetry, and I’ve found it to be really challenging–much harder than prose. Why do you think it’s such a demanding art form?
There are just so many ways to do it. It’s a trick to find your own voice, and to choose which rules you’d like to follow. In some ways, it’s harder because there are too many ways to do it right. It’s also really hard to revise—it takes a lot of sweat and work. It’s a difficult thing to critique, as well, since style varies so much.
What do you think makes a good poem?
I think a poem should say something new, or say something old in a new way. Even just a very personal, particular way of TELLING THE TRUTH EXACTLY seems new and original and makes a poem sparkle. A good poem should make you say, “Yeah! That’s how it is!” Or, “Wow, is that how it is for her?” but should bring some delight during the journey to that realization. (Some good poems are simply that—a delightful journey. The delight comes in the sounds, of course, and the images. There may not even be any new insight other than just the delight of it.)
What advice to you have for beginning poets?
Read poetry. No, let me amend that. Read good poetry. Read some of the old famous masters—and read them over and over again. Analyze why they pack the punch that they do. I just don’t think there is any way to get to be really good at poetry if you’re not reading poetry.
One more thing—if you are just starting out, try not to rhyme. Write lots and lots of poems, and polish them and make them great WITHOUT rhyme. So many times people mistake rhyme for poetry. Often they even take what could be a fantastic poem and ruin it by forcing it to rhyme. Once you’re really good at writing poetry, you can start trying to rhyme. But it should come much later, so that you learn how to not sacrifice what’s best about a poem in order to make it rhyme.
Thanks, Darlene. I know we’ll continue to see great writing from you.
Readers, any questions for Darlene?