Notes on Field Notes


The release of Tyler Chadwick’s Field Notes on Language and Kinship was, in my mind, cause for celebration for several reasons. Here are a few:

1. Tyler’s work on Fire in the Pasture may be the most important bit of editing so far this century. Any public access to his insights is inherently valuable.

2. Mormon Artists Group makes beautiful objects that double as books. Tyler’s work deserves this treatment.

3. Although Fire in the Pasture has a terrific reputation, has been featured on a BYU Bookstore endcap during graduation, and is appearing on class reading lists, Peculiar Pages has yet to turn a profit on it. And those objects I spoke of? MAG sells them for real money and so I held out hope that Tyler would finally see some income for the thousand hours of work he’s put into Mormon poetry.

And so when Field Notes was announced, I promptly dropped it into my Amazon basket with the intention of purchasing it as soon as I hit the required minimum for free shipping. Before that happened, Tyler offered me a gratis copy. I accepted. (So much for helping him get income.)

My expectation was that I would get the book, read the book, enjoy the book, write a review of the book. No big deal.

What happened instead was that almost as soon as I started reading I had to break out a new notebook because his use of language forced me to engage in a more direct and visceral fashion, and by the end of my read I had about fifty poems that had not existed before.

This is the power of Tyler’s writing.

If you’ve read his writing at AMV or or Chasing the Long White Cloud, you have a sense of what I mean. But a post is one thing and holding a book of his writing, where each word of his both follows and proceeds another word of his—words enough to keep you reading for days—is another experience entirely. I felt a bit like those who saw Enoch off in the distance and went off yonder to behold the poet, for he singeth, and now this is a strange thing in our land—a wild man hath come among us—a wild man to be followed all the way to heaven.

Most of the book is not “poetry” although its nature is ever poetic. And each essay or poem is prefaced by a brief note on its genesis, which generally reveals Tyler living the life he thrust me into. He lives in communion with the poems of Fire and they now breathe through him. For instance, in the book’s introduction, he cites of a time a Neil Aitken line came into his mind, providing “shape . . . to [his] meditation on loss” (3).

This experience gets to why these are “field notes”:

While I try to embody the immediacy of my encounters with Fire in the Pasture in the form of field notes, I’ve tried to make my field notes more immediate and representative of those encounters by mimicking the feel of my field work: placing the fruit of my observations—the essays and poems that grew out of my encounters—beside some notes that provide context about those observations and the moments of encounter out of which they grew. My hope in constructing my narrative this way—as a multi-genre encounter with Fire in the Pasture‘s poets and poetries—has been to depict the many ways poetry affects me as a person. It has been to show how I play with poems intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually—how I engage and learn from and wrestle with the world, human relationships, and my humanity through poetry. (7)

This is what poetry—language—can do for us. It can open up our lives. Let me draw your attention not to the three obvious adverbs in that passage, but to “physically.” One of the earliest memories I have of Tyler is reading about his work with Sharon Olds‘s famously physical (some say pornographic) poetry. As I was then actively working on my LDS Eros series, his thinking about how the body and sex and physicality tie into a distinctively Mormon worldview compelled.

Field Notes digs deeply into these questions of the physical and the spiritual—in part by frequent excavations into the second most important story of our cosmology: Adam and Eve—but Tyler also finds the spiritual in the physical by engaging with the Mormon ideas of a physical god (parents who conceive, a son who dies), and the tactile reality of our everyday lives.

And by a recurring interest in the tongue.

Chadwick uses the tongue as a symbol of humanity’s unavoidably symbolic engagement with the world. Air passes over our tongue and we send waves of energy through the air that impact another human’s ears and thus, through the physical, we create meaning. for Tyler, the tongue stands in for intercourses both spiritual and sexual, each of which we engage in as crude approximations of our divine parents.

We all need to head out to the fields of nature and the fields of language and uncover meaning for ourselves. Field Notes shows us how this might be accomplished.

Start your own journey with an experienced guide.


About Theric Jepson

Theric Jepson writes (and writes about) fiction, comics, movies, and other unholy things.
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6 Responses to Notes on Field Notes

  1. SteveP says:

    Wow, this sounds fantastic. I just ordered a copy!

  2. I’m a big Tyler Chadwick groupie (and a MAG groupie, too). Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Succinct and wonderful review for a book I love. Kudos.

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