The Well-Tempered Tantrum
John Talbot's collection The Well-Tempered Tantrum begins with a light touch
in "Kindling," a love poem of sorts. The beautiful words (pith, kiss,
knotty-hearted pine) work both syntactically and aurally to create the
physicality the speaker is seeking. The emptiness of the last line comes as
a surprise, despite warning in the first stanza that the lover is not
present: "and soon the room was warm enough / but I was not."
Considering Talbot's background, it's only natural that he would present us
with a collection of poems carefully crafted after the classical masters.
While Talbot's subject matter is not explicitly Mormon, his close attention
to form coincides with the formal sensibilities of Mormon literature. The
ode, the aubade, and the epithalamion all make an appearance. Every word
seems to have been carefully weighed and measured before being placed in
Talbot's poetry, creating not the word-chewing one would expect, but a
comfortable story-telling rhythm.
Even in the classical forms, Talbot shows a keen awareness of contemporary
thought. For example, in his "Eight Horatian Odes for the Fourth of July,"
we are confronted with US currency, Independence Hall, George Washington,
our tendency to enshrine Washington, and WWII's Pacific Theatre. The
marriage of classical form and contemporary subjects creates an intense
reverence in the poems, a deep, though questioning and curious respect. The
Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to present its 2004 Award for
Poetry to The Well-Tempered Tantrum.