Although it might seem contradictory to suggest that Mapping the Bones of the World, a collection of long narrative poems, is economical—as if the poet had composed from a frugal rhetorical budget, determined to compress experience into as tight a linguistic vessel as he could craft in order to get the most out of his poet’s mite—the true economy of Scott’s poems resides not in poetic thrift. Indeed, the poet is very generous with his words, both in terms of rhetorical kindness—his narratives are accessible, marked with compassion for his subject matter and for his readers—and the measured sprawl of his line. Rather, his poetic economy manifests in the way he explores the rich narrative resources of his past and of his place (rural, wild, even suburban Utah), meandering through language and experience as he follows wisps of grace from astrology mapped on a lover’s skin to the snap of Grandma’s bed sheets, along the vistas and salt valleys of memory.
“The Fine and Dying Art of Shaping Light into Words” is a good illustration of this economy. This poetic argument, more of a conversational dialectic really, centers on the interaction between the poet, a woman (I assume the poet’s wife), and his daughters, all of whom “speak” to one another one night using flashlights and Morse code.
This conversation of lights illustrates for me a family’s shared sense of grace, developed in shared reaching for meaning, using a common, familial, even out-of-use language to create intimate connections between generations and across time and space. As here: after the poet, sitting on the hillside behind their neighborhood, has scoured the houses, the park for a familiar, familial shape, he “tap[s] out” his companion’s name in light: “c-l-a-i-r-e, hello” (19, 21). And then: “She sees on the hill’s lip my sudden blink of light—I am here. / And she knows with the first blink all the following stabs / and stutters of light. And she blinks back steven” (24-6).
“I am here”: so the light says. So our light says: “I’m here, watching for you, waiting for you, searching for the light you’ll send in return, for the spark that will tell me, ‘Yes, I’m here, too.'” Such is the human quest to find grace, to understand, to connect, to shape words into meaning that can bind us together beyond the textual sign.
(This post first appeared in Mormon Artist [scroll down])