Lance Larsen neither sees nor hears the world the way we do. Hence, we have come to savor the fresh delight of his remarkable poems. At first glance, these poems appear to do nothing more than retell a heightened version of the poet’s ordinary life. We hear the voices of children, see the common artifacts of our lives, witness the quotidian. We assume they are the poet’s children. The swings must reside in his backyard. The everyday is surely his everyday. Alert and disciplined reading soon enough reveals what we should have recognized all along: a re-created world in the image of the poet. Larsen’s Backyard Alchemy speaks softly and leads our souls where they yearn to wander. Each poem takes us to a familiar place, renders the place new, and seems to suggest that wisdom resides in the simplicity of the ordinary. The voices of children speak surprising words, carefully juxtaposed, like “Bird leaf.” Perhaps the child’s eye or ear is the source of wisdom? At the very moment we feel confident that the poet affirms our own complacency and that we therefore have comprehended him, however, Larsen undoes it all. This is especially true for Mormon readers. We speak blithely of becoming little children. We believe wisdom is common sense. In the ordinary we find salvation. This poet reveals the rich tensions of the ordinary. He awakens in our minds subtle new realizations about what we have taken for granted. He finds us at ease and leaves us upliftingly unsure with images of birds, flight, capture, and release. What were once pigeons suddenly “iridesce like jewels.” His poems release us from easy orthodoxy and carry us to the hopeful realms of uncertainty. He draws us toward the divine. The Association for Mormon letters is pleased to present the 2009 award in poetry to Lance Larsen for Backyard Alchemy
, published by the University of Tampa Press and beautifully illustrated by Jacqui Larsen.