Her Side of It: Poems
Emerson in “The American Scholar”  said:
I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is Greek art, or Provençal minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and gait of the body; —show me the ultimate reason of these matters [. . .]—and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order [. . .].
Replace Emerson’s “the ultimate” with something more modest, like “a proximate” (which Emerson would not approve, as he would not approve the elision of “sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause” and “eternal law”), and you have something like the spirit that animates Marilyn Bushman-Carlton’s substantial collection Her Side of It
. The book quietly but clearly announces its main project in a prosy-titled prologue poem, “In the small town of Spring City, Utah, during a plein air painting competition, my husband and I watch an artist”: the painter transforms the given world before her and thus reveals it in a composition that affords a “path [. . .] at the bottom edge [. . .] so anyone can ramble in,” and the speaker reflects,
We two grew up together
in a small town such as this
where flies swooned over buckets of milk
and hay was trussed into what seemed then
just mundane shapes.
So in the poems that follow, Bushman-Carlton attends to what seem “just mundane shapes” and details and moments of our temporal life, Emerson’s “familiar” and “low,” this world’s “miscellany,” and discovers “insight into today” and “form and order” among “the perfumes of Pledge and Joy,” a woman who “kept busy doing average things,” “feet itching inside three-inch heels,” “lips [. . .] perpetually carnal with color”; the members of a string quartet, “Just Men,” playing Smetana, whose “human breaths, / like those demanded by a doctor / when a patient’s shirt lies crumpled on the chair,” are “breaking out the phrasing / and swallowing up the music.” The poems “contemplat[e] ordinary notions” and call up the music and the wit glossed over in ordinary talk, as in the joke that lurks in lines that say “The Fallopian Tubes deserve / a standing ovation.” They notice the “almost” enviable “uncomeliness” and “unapologetic tenderness” of a couple “too full / of gratitude / to be foolish, // too dull / to want more / than happiness,” and thus nudge us to wonder complicatedly how we’ve been living and what for. Or they hear, in “Late March,” how “Winter, sonorous and weighty, / chugs through the park creek over frozen / black stones.” They know to ask “Ten Questions to the Tulip,” like “Do your lips ache / from smiling all day, // your toes from / clutching the soil?” And of sparrows, “numbered” but with “no apparent beauty,” they justly judge that “Being ordinary is their province.” One’s temptation is to cite title after title, quote line upon line—and thus spoil readers’ pleasures. Without pinning its Mormon-ness to its sleeve with doctrinal tags, Her Side of It
embodies and enacts a pervading and perduring Mormon sensibility tuned attentively to “all these things” that “shall give [us] experience.” The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor Marilyn Bushman-Carlton for Her Side of It