Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Poetry 7: Laura Hamblin

Laura Hamblin's book, The Eyes of a Flounder, was published by Signature in 2005. I don't know whether she is local, but she definitely has an LDS background and interacts with LDS people and culture. Some of her poems are not comfortable reading, but all are fascinating and rich. The poem I've taken this excerpt from, "To Baptize," talks about her frustration with a church that says that an 8-year-old is in need of baptism. Probably I don't need to tell you, my loyal blog audience, that I don't share her opinions here. Still, I think it's an extremely interesting poem.

from "To Baptize"
by Laura Hamblin

They want to baptize my son,
take his slight body,
immerse him in the wetness
of water, make him stainless,
wash him from sins
he did not commit, sins
that belong to no one.
They want to stand him
in the water, have him
shudder and pimple,
soak his paleness
in a pool of solvent,
dilute him into a true person,
bleach him to the dry
white of dead sailor's bones.



Tyler said...

Wow. The tone here is a stark contrast to Lance Larsen's "Water" (I posted on this one April 3). Hamblin is bitter, accusatory, self righteous, more worried, it seems, about putting up barriers between God/the ordinance/the Church/her son and herself than with seeking connection. Larsen, on the other hand, seems intent on learning from these kids, from the baptismal process; on helping them learn what baptism is and what it means, at least to the degree they can understand; and on forging connections between the world, himself, these kids, and the God he longs to follow.

Interesting the different routes people take in writing about the Church. To each their own, I guess. I, for one, connect with Larsen's interrogative faith better than with Hamblin's accusatory doubt.

Thanks for providing the fuel for my juxtaposition.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Tyler on the "bitter, accusatory, self righteous" assessment. Interesting language, but a whiny message.

Darlene said...

I don't see that. I don't see how this is whiny and self-righteous. To me, this describes in an un-whiny way a person's inability to understand the need for baptism. Although I feel very differently about baptism, I feel this is an expertly-crafted picture of a person's feelings when she does not believe in or understand baptism. From her other poems, I get the feeling that Hamblin may not even believe in the concept of sin. Not my belief, but I still feel moved by this poem, and can understand the emotions described here, and imagine sharing them if I shared her beliefs.

Besides all that, I think the imagery is breathtaking: "shudder and pimple."

Tyler said...

I'm not saying her imagery and her language isn't wonderful: they are. And I'm not saying this isn't a carefully crafted look at baptism. I completely agree with you on those points.

What I am saying is that her repetition of "they" and her failure to connect with the true purpose of baptism (at least in this portion of the poem)---covenants, communion, connection with God---comes across to me as bitter and accusatory, as if she's saying, "What do they know? He's my son. I know him better than they do. They can't have him." This use of "they" further creates an us/them dichotomy that contradicts the notion of baptism as an initiatory and sacramental means to fellowship with the Saints and with God, to help this son rise to his full potential, to become his best, "true person." In a sense, these barriers are what really "dilute" the experience into nothing more than a dead ritual.

Of course, reading this outside the context of her other poems, I have to hedge my commentary somewhat by saying "IMO." But this is what I read in the fifteen lines you've given us here. This is why I labeled the speaker, the tone "self-righteous," breath-taking imagery notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

She's "self-identified" as "no longer Mormon," which is frankly what I would have guessed. So the "they" in the poem could be neighbors or a Primary president or bishop, but is in my opinion more likely a husband or ex-husband, grandparents, siblings, or in-laws, and I don't see how you could be one of the "they" and not feel that the tone of the poem were hostile to you. Since I'm generally in favor of baptizing 8-year-olds into the LDS church, I find that I include myself in the "they" as well, so the poem feels hostile towards me. Of course, we can't know what the exes or in-laws might have done to warrant the hostility, but that doesn't mean (in my opinion) the hostility's not there.

In my brief Googling I also came across an article that said Hamblin had a son who was 24 in 2005 and "was a vegan who questioned capitalism and sang about social oppression in a punk rock band," who drowned in a Provo Canyon cave in that same year. (The fact that his last name was different from his mother's kinda confirms my otherwise-totally-random guess at Hamblin's having an ex-spouse.)

Nowadays Hamblin has been to Amman, Jordan to interview female Iraqi refugees, which does sound like a pretty fascinating (if harrowing) field of research. (I'd love to have a reason, academic or otherwise, to return to Jordan.)